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Tunnel rivalry heats up as PJHL season hits stretch run

Delta edges Richmond 4-3 as teams battle for playoff positions
Ice Hawks Sockeyes 2
Delta Ice Hawks edged the Richmond Sockeyes 4-3 Tuesday in Ladner as the teams head into the stretch run of the PJHL regular season

There would be plenty of people happy on both sides of the Massey Tunnel if the Delta Ice Hawks and Richmond Sockeyes could extend their junior “B” hockey rivalry into April.

That’s what happened four years ago when the Ice Hawks captured the Pacific Junior Hockey League championship and ultimately lost to the host Sockeyes in the gold medal game at the Cyclone Taylor Cup. In about three months, the roles would have to be reversed with Delta hosting the four-team provincial showcase tournament for the first time in franchise history, April 7-10.

The teams, which are loaded with players from both cities, showed what they were capable of on Tuesday night with the Ice Hawks skating to a 4-3 victory. It gives them a 3-2 edge in the six-game season-long Tunnel Cup series that concludes Feb. 10 at Minoru Arenas. More importantly, the win widened the gap to seven points between the second and fourth place teams in the PJHL’s Tom Shaw Conference.

The Hawks erased an early 1-0 deficit by dominating the final 15 minutes of the opening period and getting goals from Dalton MacGillivray, Kyle Robinson and Alex Lucchesi to open up a 3-1 lead.

The Sockeyes came back in the second and appeared to have all of the momentum when a power play goal from Ryan Watson tied the game with 1:08 left in the frame as Delta ran into deep penalty trouble. Top two scorers Alec Scouras and MacGillivray were handed unsportsmanlike penalties for their displeasure with the officiating. It was an even a worse outcome for Carson Hemenway as the league’s top scoring d-man was given a 10-minute misconduct, then a game misconduct.

Richmond began the third with a 50-second two-man advantage. However, the visitors couldn’t capitalize and MacGillivray came out of the box to set-up Carson Merriman for a shorthanded goal at the 1:14 mark that proved to be the game winner.

“To be in that situation and find a way to get two points and not have them get a point is big,” said Ice Hawks GM and head coach Steve Robinson. “If we can roll and play four lines and three d-pairs against any team in the league I like our chances.”

The Ice Hawks got another strong performance from Braedy Euerby in net as the 19-year-old from Ladner was coming off his best outing of the season in a 3-2 road win over the White Rock Whalers last Saturday. His counterpart Jovan Kheleh was equally impressive at the other end.

Next month’s playoffs will be intriguing with at least six teams capable of winning it all.

It’s a stark contrast to 2018 when the Ice Hawks and Sockeyes were widely-regarded as the top two teams in the league and proved it. This time, both will have their hands full trying to get out of the opening round with the first place North Vancouver Wolf Pack and third place White Rock enjoying strong seasons. In the other conference, Langley, Ridge Meadows and even the expansion Chilliwack Jets can’t be discounted.

The Ice Hawks travel to Port Moody and Grandview on Saturday and Sunday night respectively before hosting the Wolf Pack next Tuesday at 7:35 p.m.

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