What made the Aldergrove Kodiaksâ€™ win over the Richmond Sockeyes in the Pacific Junior Hockey League championship series so impressive?
The answer to that question can be summed up in two parts:
First and foremost, the Kodiaks posted four wins against a powerhouse team that only lost five times throughout the 44-game PJHL regular season, and led not only the Tom Shaw Conference but the entire league with a 34-5-3-2 record.
And secondly, the Aldergrove junior Bs erased a 3-1 series deficit to win the playoff title in seven contests.
The series was a repeat of the 2013 championship set, in which the Sockeyes swept the Kodiaks in four straight contests.
This year, the Kodiaks (who lost the first two contests) won the final three games of the series: 3-0 last Thursday, March 27 at Richmondâ€™s Minoru Arena; 3-2 in overtime Saturday (March 29) at Aldergrove Arena; and 5-1 in the seventh and deciding game Monday (March 31) at Minoru Arena.
â€œI felt the key was executing on our opportunities,â€ Kodiaks head coach Brad Rihela said. â€œThe players realized they had to take it one game at a time and climb back into the series.â€
Even with the Kodiaks on the verge of elimination at the hands of the Sockeyes, they didnâ€™t lose faith, according to their bench boss.
â€œAt that point, we agreed as a group to take it one period at a time and one game at a time, and control what we could control,â€ Rihela said. â€œWe knew that we had a lot of hard work ahead of us and we put our best foot forward.â€
Kodiaks 5, Sockeyes 1
During Mondayâ€™s series finale played in front of more than 1,000 fans, Spencer McHaffie scored twice in the opening period to stake the Kodiaks to a 2-0 lead.
Goals by Jeremy Lagler and Jonathan Philley padded the visitorsâ€™ advantage to 4-0 before the second period was seven minutes old.
Daniel Oakley scored the Sockeyes lone goal of the night, narrowing his teamâ€™s deficit to 4-1 at the 9:43 mark of the middle frame.
Forty-three seconds later, winger Stephen Ryan gave the Kodiaks momentum back by scoring Aldergroveâ€™s fifth goal.
The Kodiaks won handily despite being outshot 45-26 through three periods of action.
Kodiaks goaltender Jordan Liem made 44 saves and was named the gameâ€™s first star.
Rihela gave full marks to a Sockeyes team that had a dominant campaign, despite losing its final game.
â€œThey were extremely tough, well coached with very smart hockey players,â€ Rihela said, regarding the Sockeyes. â€œThey are a fantastic group and they won the regular season title for a reason. They were definitely a tough test for us.â€
The playoff title adds to what has been an excellent season for the Kodiaks, who finished on top of the Harold Brittain Conference with a 34-6-2-2 regular season record before beating the Mission City Outlaws in four games and Abbotsford Pilots in five games in the first two rounds of the post-season.
The Kodiaksâ€™ season continues when they head to Nelson to play in the Cyclone Taylor Cup. The B.C. junior B championship tournament begins April 10 and runs until April 13.
The tourney includes the Kodiaks, Nelson Leafs, Victoria Cougars, and either the Beaver Valley Nitehawks or Kamloops Storm, who are currently battling for Kootenay International Junior Hockey League supremacy.
â€œWere looking to win,â€ Rihela said. â€œThatâ€™s the plan. Weâ€™re going to put some hard work in this week and continue to do our homework on all the other teams. Weâ€™re going there to win a championship – thatâ€™s the goal.â€
ICE CHIPS: Spencer McHaffie led all PJHL playoff scorers in goals (12), points (22), and points-per-game (1.4).
His brother Scott also had a terrific post-season by racking up seven goals and 10 assists.
The Kodiaks finished with a 12-3-0-1 record during the PJHL playoffs and had nine skaters record 10 points or more during their run.