Trailing three games to one, the Aldergrove Kodiaks used a stingy defence and great goaltending in rallying to capture the PJHL championship title over the Richmond Sockeyes.
“We just believed in each other,” said Kodiaks coach Brad Rihela.
“All the players knew that if we took it one game at a time, we would be able to pull it off.”
The Kodiaks staved off elimination with a 3-0 win in game five last week (March 27) and then needed a Scott McHaffie overtime goal in game six on Saturday, a 3-2 victory, to force a seventh and deciding game.
And the comeback was complete in game seven on Monday night as the Kodiaks built an early lead and cruised to the 5-1 victory at Minoru Arenas in Richmond.
Spencer McHaffie scored twice in the first period and Jeremy Lagler and Jonathan Philley stretched the lead to 4-0 in the second period.
And after Daniel Oakley got the Sockeyes on the board, Stephen Ryan snuffed out any momentum Richmond may have hoped to get from that goal by making it 5-1 43 seconds later.
Goaltender Jordan Liem did the rest, stopping 44 of 45 shots he faced as the Kodiaks were outshot 45-26.
The Sockeyes — who scored 13 goals in the first two games — were held to just three goals over the final three games.
Liem, who was pulled in game one, had an .885 save percentage over the first four games, but stopped 104 of 107 shots in games five through seven, a save percentage of .972.
“Jordan was outstanding,” Rihela said of his goaltender.
“He was a rock for us and was phenomenal in net and made a huge difference.”
Rihela said it was a combination of factors that allowed Aldergrove to get back in the series.
“You need to get the bounces and I am a firm believer you have to earn the bounces on the ice and we got a lot of those down the stretch,” he said.
“We were able to take away the middle of the ice from them and make them go to the outside and that made a huge difference.”
Leading the way offensively all post-season have been twin brothers Spencer and Scott McHaffie, who finished first and fourth, respectively, in playoff scoring.
Spencer McHaffie had 12 goals and 22 points in 16 games while Scott McHaffie had seven goals and 17 points in 15 games.
The victory is a measure of revenge for the Kodiaks who were swept in four games last year by Richmond in the PJHL finals.
Eight players were on last year’s team, but this is Rihela’s first year as the head coach.
“They deserve all the credit in the world, they are just a fantastic group of kids and they come to work every day and are prepared to do what it takes,” he said.
Rihela also heaped praise on the Sockeyes and said he knew it would be a lengthy series between the two teams who finished one point apart atop the PJHL regular season standings.
“(Richmond) is a phenomenal team and a first-class organization,” he said. “Can’t say enough about them.”
Aldergrove, which joined the league in 2008, last won the PJHL championship in 2010.
Aldergrove advances to the Cyclone Taylor Cup, which will be hosted by the Nelson Leafs from April 10 to 13.
In addition to the Leafs and the Kodiaks, the other teams will be the Victoria Cougars (Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League champions) and the Beaver Valley Nitehawks (Kootenay Junior Hockey League champions).
The winner of the Cyclone Taylor Cup advances to the Keystone Cup, which is the western Canadian championships.
The Keystone Cup will be hosted by the Abbotsford Pilots, and features the provincial champions from B.C., Alberta, Manitoba and Northern Ontario, as well as the host Pilots.