Shaky goaltending and blowing leads are hardly ingredients for a key win over your biggest rival unless you happen to be the Delta Ice Hawks.
The high-flying Pacific Junior Hockey League club needed its offence firing on all cylinders in a wild 7-6 win over the Richmond Sockeyes to close out the annual PJHL Winter Classic at Minoru Arenas on New Year’s Day.
Delta has reeled off three more victories since then and will take a league best 29-5-0-0 record back to Richmond on Thursday, looking to secure the Tunnel Cup regular season rivalry series.
The Ice Hawks twice squandered two goal leads (2-0 and 4-2) and that was enough to chase starting goaltender Merik Erickson in the process. The Sockeyes erased 5-4 and 6-5 deficits in the third period, but didn’t have an answer for Brayden Sinclair’s hat trick goal with 64 seconds remaining.
The 17-year-old rookie standout, who has committed to the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Brooks Bandits next season, sits third in league scoring with 61 points in 32 games. He is one of 10 Ice Hawks averaging a point-per-game or more.
“When you are blowing leads like that it is easy to get frustrated, but the level of determination I saw on that last shift, that created that goal, you could tell the boys weren’t going to be denied and they were pissed off,” said Ice Hawks GM and head coach Steve Robinson. “They stayed in the moment and weren’t getting too caught up on what had happened by just continuing to work hard. That was a good thing to see, just the resiliency to stay with it.
“We gave up 40 shots that game and they scored some nice goals while playing with a lot of jump. You knew they were going to be highly motivated and ready for that game.”
The Sockeyes and Ice Hawks are currently tied for top spot in the Tom Shaw Conference with Delta enjoying four games in hand.
“I think if we end up splitting (the final two head-to-head games) it will keep (the battle for first) competitive where if we win both it pretty much solidifies getting to where we want to get to,” continued Robinson. “I know the boys are going to be beefed up for (Thursday). Whether we win or not, who knows. I think they have a little venom for us like we do for them. That’s why it’s a rivalry series.”
Down the stretch, Robinson wants to see better and more consistent performances at the Ladner Leisure Centre where his team has suffered four of its five losses. The Ice Hawks are in position to secure home ice advantage throughout the PJHL playoffs that get underway next month. They defeated Chilliwack 4-0 on Tuesday behind Erickson's 30-save shutout performance.
“We know whomever will play in the first or second round they are going to be tough opponents. You just want to have the mentality of let’s finish first in our division. Let’s make home a fortress and let’s have that home ice advantage,” added Robinson. “I told the guys we are 16-4 at home with four games left. We want to run the table and have that kind of mentality where you don’t lose at home.”
The Ice Hawks also have a home-and-home series against Port Moody with the return match on Tuesday in Ladner at 7:30 p.m.