The Red Deer Optimist Chiefs and Okanagan Rockets met four times this season and the difference came down to one goal.
It was a goal by Liam Finlay at 5:40 of the first overtime period that gave the Rockets a 3-2 victory and the Pacific Cup midget AAA hockey championship before a standing room only crowd at the Arena Sunday afternoon.
The Rockets, who tied the Chiefs 3-3 in the Mac’s tournament, won the best-of-three series 2-1. They won the opening game 3-1 Friday with Red Deer coming back to record a 7-1 victory Saturday.
The outcome was similar to last year when the Chiefs won the Pacific Cup in double overtime in Vancouver against the Giants.
“That’s the way it goes,” said Chiefs head coach Doug Quinn. “We talked about that you can’t control the outcome. As long as the guys work hard for me and have a good attitude that’s all I can ask of them.”
The Chiefs, who trailed 1-0 after the first period and led 2-1 after 40 minutes, had their chances to win Sunday. In fact in the second period alone they could have put the game away, but hit two posts and a crossbar.
“We had the opportunity to make it 3-1 and didn’t capitalize,” said Quinn. “At the end of the day they have some highly elite players and they were the difference. They got their one opportunity and scored on it.”
The Rockets did a much better job of moving the puck than they did Saturday and were creating more pressure on Red Deer netminder Jayden Sittler.
“They came with more energy than yesterday,” agreed Quinn, who was playing two forwards short after losing Quentin Greenwood with a leg injury Saturday.
“We were down to three lines and while everyone worked hard we wore out a bit,” said Quinn. “It give them a bit more room and that was the difference. We were tiring and they made the plays.”
Rockets head coach Mack O’Rourke felt his team did a better job of moving the puck than they did Saturday.
“It wasn’t what we wanted yesterday, but I think it gave us some life,” he said. “We came out watching the game, while today we were into the game and got 17 shots in the first period (actually 15). Playing the way we did and getting the upper hand with the first goal gave us huge momentum.
“I thought the defencemen played with more urgency as well. They made the right play most of the time, while Saturday they were turning back. It was like the guys were afraid as they were playing a champion like Red Deer. They respected them that much and were nervous.
“We told them today that they’re 15, 16 and 17 year-olds just like the other kids. We won a lot this year and they won a lot this year so just go out and play your game. We got back to basics and that’s what changed it for us.”
Brett Young gave the Rockets a 1-0 lead at 18:44 of the first period on a puck that went in off his leg.
The second period belonged to Red Deer as Jordie Lawson tied it at 7:06 on a shot that went between goaltender Brendan Barry’s legs. Tyler Steenbergen made it 2-1 at 11:08, converting a rebound on the power play. The score remained the same until 11:56 of the third period when Tanner Browne had his point shot trickle through Sittler.
The loss denied the Chiefs from going for a third straight national title, but the players can hold their heads high, said Quinn, who won his fifth straight league title this year.
“There’s a lot of dedication from those kids who go hard for eight months,” he said. “You start the season in September with a group of individuals and continue to get stronger and stronger and at the end of the day you have a real team. It’s an old cliche, but you win as a team and lose as a team and we definitely did that.”
The Rockets finished with 34 shots on Sittler while the Chiefs had 33 on Barry.
On Saturday, the line of Jeff de Wit, Trey deGraaf and Steenbergen dominated the game.
De Wit scored twice and added two assists while deGraaf had three goals and Steenbergen two assists. Teagan Kooman added two goals as the Chiefs led 3-0 and 3-1 by periods.
They scored three times within 39 seconds in the third period to grab a 6-1 lead and end the day for Barry, who faced 41 shots. Reid Kilburn faced 11 shots. Sittler made 21 saves and the only goal, which was credited to Branden Wagner, was knocked in out of the air by his own teammate.
The Rockets will represent the Pacific region at the Telus Cup, April 21-27 in Moose Jaw.