If the gold medal midget hockey game is any more exciting than the Yukon-Alaska semifinal, valium will be required for spectators. Paramedics may be required.
A valiant comeback attempt by Yukon sent fans of both sides into a frenzy at the Arctic Winter Games on Thursday.
In the end Yukon lost 8-6 to the Alaskans in midget male hockey, sending Yukon to the bronze game and Alaska to the gold.
“It was probably one of the more entertaining hockey games they’ll see here,” said Yukon head coach John Grant. “I noticed none of the fans were leaving.”
The building shook with the stomping of feet and vibrated from screams in the stands. Spectators directed unpleasant criticisms at referees immediately before loudly applauding their astute officiating.
It was an emotional event on and off the ice. It was the right atmosphere to propose marriage or plan a murder, depending on the period and who you were cheering for.
The game had all the indications of a barnburner right from the start.
Yukon winger Jarrett Malchow scored just 21 seconds after the puck dropped. Alaska responded with four goals over the next six minutes and ended the first period up 4-1.
Malchow’s line-mate Wyatt Gale didn’t let Alaska get off so easy. He scored a natural hat trick in the second as Yukon made it a game again, going into the second intermission down 6-4.
“We dug ourselves quite a hole there in the first period, but they sure didn’t quit at all,” said Grant. “I’m sure not disappointed with the effort, that’s for sure. They did a good job, came back.
“There’s definitely a little bit of disappointment in (the locker room) but they should be proud of themselves. They didn’t fold up. They could have turtled in the first period after being down 4-1.”
The ice surface may have struggled to remain solid as things really heated up in the third.
Yukon pulled within one of Alaska on a goal from Alex Hanson, assisted by Gale and centre Riley Pettitt.
Pettitt, who assisted every Yukon goal in the game, then had the weight of the world tossed on his shoulders.
Coming out of the penalty box, Pettitt stormed into a breakaway, getting pulled down as he ringed the puck off the post.
Yukon fans groaned as he put the ensuing penalty shot off the post as well.
“It’s probably going to eat away at me for a long time,” said Pettitt. “I knew I had that side on him and it hit the post. What else could I do? It’s heartbreaking, knowing that could have been the deciding factor in the game.”
There was pushing and shoving between whistles as tempers flared. The two teams tied 6-6 the previous day with Alaska scoring four third-period goals to take a 6-5 lead before Pettitt scored on a breakaway with 1:41 left to force the stalemate.
“They were ready to come out in the third – they did it to us yesterday in the third,” said Grant. “We knew we had a good chance if we just bear down and give it everything we have and we just came up a little bit short.”
Even when Alaska scored a shorthanded goal with 3:30 left to make it 7-5, Yukon wouldn’t roll over.
Malchow scored his fourth of the game on a two-on-one rush with 1:19 left as Yukon goalie Tomas Jirousek skated to the bench to get the extra attacker on.
Alaska put the final nail in the coffin with an empty-netter with 33 seconds on the clock.
“It’s pretty heartbreaking,” said Pettitt. “We’re the defending champions and we know we could have beat this team. With a few bounces their way, it didn’t come out the way we wanted it to.”
Not only did Pettitt assist every goal, when Gale wasn’t scoring, he was assisting. The two had 12 points between them in the semifinal.
Gale and Pettitt are now the tournament’s top scorers. Gale has seven goals and six assists and Pettitt has four goals and eight assists.
“Me, Jarrett and Wyatt have been playing together a long time,” said Pettitt. “Coming back and playing with the guys one last time has been great from the get-go. It’s been easy to gel. We all know how each other play, so it’s been easy to play with them.”
Yukon will face Nunavut for the bronze Friday afternoon in Fairbanks. Yukon defeated Nunavut 6-1 on Tuesday.
“We’re just going to go out and give it our all,” said Pettitt. “It’s our last kick at the can for all of us. So we might as well go out there and show them what we’ve got.”
Contact Tom Patrick at