With a minute to go in the third period, Whitehorse hockey fans witnessed a rare sight. It doubtless left a few spectators confused.
The Whitehorse Huskies didn’t just need to win March 30 against the Kelowna Sparta, they needed to win by two goals to secure the bye to the Coy Cup final.
So while leading by a goal the Huskies pulled their goalie to try for a two-goal win. The gamble didn’t pay off.
The Sparta tied with an empty-netter, securing the bye to the final for themselves, leaving the Huskies to face the Terrace River Kings in the March 31 semifinal.
“Our boys aren’t down, we’re just starting to hit our stride,” said Huskies head coach Michael Tuton. “You look at the last two games, the last four, five periods, we’ve been getting better every period. It’s odd to hang your head over a tie when you pull your goalie, but what the heck — we went for it.”
The Huskies and Sparta tied 5-5 in both teams’ third and final round robin game at Takhini Arena on March 30.
The previous game saw the departure of the North Island Capitals — eliminated with a third straight loss, falling 3-2 to the River Kings.
Had the Huskies won on Thursday, they would have tied Sparta and the River Kings with a round robin record of two wins and a loss. The tie would be settled by goals for, divided by goals for and against (not counting games involving the Capitals). The Sparta topped Terrace 3-2 on March 28, the day before Whitehorse lost to Terrace 7-6.
“We’re not seeing it as a loss or a tie — we played well enough for the win,” said Huskies captain Evan Campbell.
It was the first time in Campbell’s hockey career he’s been on a team that pulled its goalie in a winning situation. “Absolutely,” he said. “I’m sure some of the people in the crowd were wondering what was going on.”
“I thought we played a very good game,” he added. “Our goalie played well, our defence really played a good game and our forwards were disciplined, played well all night. It was our best game of the tournament and that’s what we’re here to do: get better every game.”
Having the bye slip through their fingers was made worse by the fact the Huskies had a two-goal lead for a few minutes in the third. Forward Kevin Petovello sniped a goal from the wing to make it 5-3 with 6:51 to go. Twenty-six seconds later Huskies defenceman Charles Dagostin was given a game misconduct on a boarding call, leaving his team down a man for five minutes. The Huskies killed off all but 12 seconds of the penalty before Sparta forward Shawn Mueller cut the lead to one on a goal that pinballed off the glass and off the skate of Huskies goalie J.J. Gainsforth.
“Coming into the third we knew we had to win it by two goals and that we were going to go after it,” said Tuton. “It’s pretty tough to kill a five-minute penalty off, but we started gaining more momentum off that. They got a terrible bounce off the glass and off the back of J.J.’s skate and in she went. Our boys aren’t hanging their heads, they’re ready to go tomorrow.”
Huskies forwards Kane Dawe and Derek Klassen each had two goals. Forward Ted Stephens logged three assists. Defenceman Alex Dzielski notched two assists and Petovello had an assist to go with his goal.
Mueller scored his second for Sparta to tie the game with six seconds to go. Kevin Walrod, Scott Wasden and Layne Stopanski also scored for Kelowna.
The Sparta, a new team making their first Coy Cup appearance, also had fresher legs on Thursday. They played with two lines in their first two games before reinforcements in the order of eight more players flew in the day of their game against the Huskies.
If the last five minutes of Terrace’s win over the Huskies is any indication, tonight’s semifinal will be a battle. The third period got heated, both in play and tempers, as the Huskies cut Terrace’s three-goal lead to two. The Huskies scored two goals 13 seconds apart to pull within one and put a flurry of shots on net but couldn’t get one past River Kings tender Patrick Leal to tie.
If the Huskies win tonight, it’ll be a first. Whitehorse is 0-2 against Terrace, including a loss at last year’s Coy Cup — the B.C. senior men’s AA championship.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Tuton.
Contact Tom Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org