The Delta Ice Hawks began the weekend fighting to keep their season alive. They finished it in the conference finals and deadlocked with the defending champions.
In about as memorable of a 72 hour stretch there has been in franchise history, the Ice Hawks played three games in as many days in three different cities and are right in the mix to win their third ever Pacific International Junior Hockey League championship.
After eliminating the North Delta Devils with a 6-3 game seven win on Friday night, the Hawks went right back to work Saturday in the Tom Shaw Conference finals against the Richmond Sockeyes. The league's best regular season team opened the series with a 4-2 home ice win at Minoru Arena. But Delta returned the favour 24 hours later with a dramatic 3-2 double overtime victory.
The Ice Hawks finished the week having played five games in six nights. If that wasn't enough adversity, Friday and Sunday's home games were played in Vancouver and North Vancouver respectively with the Ladner Leisure Centre being unavailable.
After a well deserved day off, the series resumes Tuesday in Ladner (7:30 p.m.). Games four and five then shifts to Minoru Arena on Thursday and Friday.
"As a general manager, I feel tired from doing all the stuff over the past few days so I can't even imagine how the players feel," said Peter Zerbinos. "We couldn't ask much more from the guys. As an organization, we are very proud of them."
On Sunday, Delta relied on a fast start then some terrific work by rookie goaltender Glenn Ferguson to extend the game to overtime. Following a 10-minute scoreless session, the teams enjoyed a full intermission break and played nearly another full 20-minute period of hockey before captain Cody Smith blasted a shot from the face-off circle past Sockeyes goaltender Kootenay Alder.
Ferguson finished the night with 64 saves, including 22 in overtime. The Ice Hawks also killed off six Richmond power play opportunities.
"We have a lot of faith in him and when he comes up with a couple of big saves it just pumps the whole team up," said Zerbinos of Ferguson.
"The boys fought through some penalties and faced a lot of adversity but obviously rose to the occasion. You know you have nothing left but keep digging deep and finding something for that next shift. We did that tonight."
After a solid effort in the series opener, the Ice Hawks got off to a terrific start in game two when Alex Martin scored on the power play and Spencer Traher doubled the margin when the Sockeyes were caught running around in their own end. The goal prompted Richmond head coach Judd Lambert to call a timeout to settle down his team. The strategy worked as Jeremy Hamaguchi cut the margin in half before the first intermission and the Sockeyes dominated much of the territorial play the rest of the way against it weary opponent.
However, the slow start was significant given the extent of the damage and how both teams have taken a "defence comes first" comes first approach to this series.
"We were a team of individuals in the first period. It costs us two goals and that was the difference," said Sockeyes head coach Judd Lambert. "We can't play any length of time like we did in the first and that's the bottom line.
"They don't want to open up against us and to be honest we don't want to against them. It was like that last year too and I think you are going to see more of the same situation. No one wants to give up an odd man rush."
Game seven against North Delta saw the Ice Hawks erase a 1-0 deficit after 20 minutes on second period goals by Traher, Ryan Stewart, Mitch Pacey and Cody Smith to take control. Kolten Grieve and Smith, with his second of the night, rounded out the scoring.
The goals for Smith and Traher were their first of the series.
Ladner's Harry Fredeman had another strong out in the North Delta net, making 36 saves in the final game of his junior career.