The Ice Hawks pulled out a 3-2 overtime win but squandered a potential first place finish in the Tom Shaw Conference by blowing a two goal third period lead. The comeback earned the Sockeyes a valuable single point which should be enough to own the league's best record for the third consecutive year.
Given what was at stake, the game should have served as a potential post-season preview between these longtime rivals. Instead, it looked more like another regular season game in September.
The Ice Hawks showed plenty of jump in the opening period and had goals from Mac Barden and Ryan Procyshyn to show for it. However, they sat back the rest of the way, especially in the third when the Sockeyes' domination led to goals from Jeremy Hamaguchi and Dean Allison. Anthony Brito salvaged the two points by scoring in overtime, with the teams playing three-on-three, but the damage had been done.
"We were just horrible in the third period," said Hawks general manager Peter Zerbinos. "It's almost seemed like we decided to lay back then started to make mistakes that are only going to be magnified against a team like the Sockeyes.
"We came out so strong then basically gave them the last two periods."
An excellent final 20 minutes was small consolation for Richmond head coach Aaron Wilbur who watched his team lose for the third time in overtime in the past five days. The Sockeyes dropped a pair of 4-3 scores to Abbotsford and Aldergrove on Friday and Saturday.
"I think we have a lot of guys in the (locker room) that need to go look at the calendar and realize the playoffs are around the corner," said Wilbur. "Everybody else in the league is playing playoff hockey and we have a lot of guys who aren't. At some point you have to get (mad) and win a hockey game.
"I thought we created enough chances tonight with our skill but if we were playing with more determination, and with a little sandpaper to our game, we would be finishing more of those off."
The Ice Hawks and Sockeyes will have to get past the ever-improving North Vancouver Wolf Pack and North Delta Devils respectively to set the stage for another tunnel series in the Tom Shaw Conference finals. Wilbur suggests it could be a big mistake if either team thinks it's going to be a waltz through the opening round.
"There was hometown NHL club last year that came up against opponent that was playing playoff hockey down the stretch and we saw what happened," said Wilbur. "Putting on a Sockeyes jersey doesn't guarantee anything. You have to come out with the mentality that nothing is going to be given to us and we have to earn everything."
The Ice Hawks have more to worry about than raising their intensity level for the playoffs.
Head coach Dave McLellan has been handed his second lengthy suspension of the season from B.C. Amateur Hockey, this one lasting 60 days, for a gross misconduct in a game against Richmond on Jan. 31. McLellan can still run practices but can't be with his team 90 minutes before or after each game
"It's a very big concern," said Zerbinos. "We have some great assistant coaches and that will help us out a lot. It's hard to run a team from the stands so will be naming an interim head coach before we start the playoffs."
Delta will likely host North Vancouver to open the playoffs on Tuesday.