After extinguishing the Flames, the Aldergrove Kodiaks' next challenge is to keep a high-flying Pilots team grounded.
Last Wednesday (Feb. 27) at Aldergrove Arena, the host Kodiaks eliminated the Ridge Meadows Flames from the Pacific Junior Hockey League playoffs.
A 4-1 Kodiaks win gave Aldergrove's junior Bs a four games to one victory over the Flames in the teams' best-of-seven, opening round series, and a ticket to the second round, where they will meet the Abbotsford Pilots.
Kodiaks head coach Ron Johnson said the deciding game of a series is often the most difficult to win, but he commended his squad for playing patient, disciplined hockey.
The Kodiaks were heavy favourites going into the series.
They finished second in the PJHL Harold Brittain Conference standings with a 28-15-0-1 record.
The Flames were well behind in third place, at 16-21-2-5.
Adding to the David versus Goliath storyline was the Kodiaks winning all six regular season meetings with the Flames.
And while numbers weren't on his team's side, Flames head coach Jamie Fiset was confident his team would match up well against the Kodiaks - and for short stretches, they did.
The Flames pulled off an upset in the series opener, edging the Kodiaks 4-3 in overtime Feb. 18 at Aldergrove Arena.
After that, the Kodiaks proceeded to win the next four games, including the series clincher.
In the end, the Kodiaks were the better team.
"It was a good series," Fiset said. "They proved why they are one of the top teams in the league. They're very well coached, they've got depth on that team, and they have really good leaders."
"It's a game of bounces and when you don't get the bounces some nights, it isn't going to go your way," Fiset added.
Johnson said the Flames didn't make things easy on the Kodiaks, but the Aldergrove squad persevered.
"We focused on the task at hand, and we learned from our mistakes in the first game. Even though we were 6-0 against them [during the regular season] you have to always respect your opponent."
The first round series had its share of intensity and rough stuff.
"There was a lot of stuff going on," Johnson added. "This was a character builder for us. There were a lot of things happening behind the play, but by them doing that to us, it's really going to help us next series."
In the decisive game, the Kodiaks struck early as Joshua Cronin scored 45 seconds after the opening puck drop.
The Kodiaks tacked on goals half a minute apart late in the second period to take a 3-0 lead into the third.
After Spencer McHaffie scored on an Aldergrove powerplay at the 15: 25 mark, Adam Callegari gave the Kodiaks a three-goal cushion 31 seconds later.
Ridge Meadows captain Alex Smith scored his team's final goal of the season at the 7: 43 mark of the third period.
With 17 seconds to go in regulation, Callegari rounded out the scoring when he deposited the puck into the empty net. At the time, the Flames, desperate to get back into the game, had pulled goaltender Wesley McLeod for the extra attacker.
Callegari was named first star on the strength of his two-goal night. Kodiaks netminder Mark Menicucci stopped 31 of 32 shots to earn second star honours.
Smith received a third star selection. "It was a fairly close game," Fiset said. "We were hoping to get out to a good start, but 45 seconds into the game they scored a real fluky goal and that was a tough one to recover from."
Fiset said the Flames played some inspired hockey when facing elimination in the third period.
"The third period was backs against the wall. We had to come out and get the first goal and we did. The downside for us is we just ran out of time."
Johnson said the Flames didn't go down without a fight.
"They [the Flames] battled very hard and there were a couple of opportune moments when the game could have turned," Johnson said.
The Kodiaks now have the Pilots to contend with in the second round. Abbotsford, which finished first in the Harold Brittain during the regular season with a stellar 32-10-0-2 record, plowed past fourth-place Mission City in four games in their best-of-seven series.
"I think they're a very skilled hockey team," Johnson said, regarding the Pilots. "We've proven we can play against them but the playoffs is a different season.
They have a very talented team but we do, too, and both teams have very good goaltending. It should be an exciting series to watch."
Both teams will have had close to a week off to rest and recover from their first round series. Most importantly for the Kodiaks, they'll have the top-scoring defenceman in the PJHL back in the fold. Stefan Gonzales was hurt early in the Ridge Meadows series but should be ready to suit up against Abbotsford.
Game one of the Harold Brittain Conference final goes tonight at Abbotsford's MSA Arena, starting at 7 p.m.
The teams rematch Wednesday (March 6) at Aldergrove Arena with a 7: 15 p.m. opening puck drop.
Meanwhile, the Richmond Sockeyes meet the Delta Ice Hawks in the Tom Shaw Conference final.
The conference champions will face each other in a best-of-seven series to decide the PJHL champion.
@ Copyright 2013