Sockeyes, Ice Hawks prepare for Tunnel Series
It was no work of art, but with a 4-3 Game 4 victory over the North Delta Devils Wednesday at Minoru Arenas, the Richmond Sockeyes have moved on to the Pacific Junior Hockey League playoff semifinals.
Despite outshooting North Delta by a two-to-one margin, the Sockeyes often seemed to lack passion in the final game of their first-round series sweep. But the regular-season champions got the job done, and will now face the Delta Ice Hawks in a best-of-seven playoff beginning Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at Ladner Leisure Centre. The winner will go on to face either the Abbotsford Pilots or Aldergrove Kodiaks for the PJHL playoff title.
“If you look at the big picture, we did a real good job (early) of creating some good scoring chances, but then we didn’t finish the plays off,” said Richmond coach Aaron Wilbur. “After that, I thought we played well enough (to win big) but once we got up 3-1 I think we started to look like a team that felt it was entitled. We talked about that as a group, that this time of the year you have to keep going every shift.”
Richmond won Game 1 of the series 3-0, Game 2 by a 3-2 count in overtime, and then dominated Game 3, winning 13-2.
North Delta goaltender Tyler Read deserves much credit for keeping at least two of the games close. The diminutive five-foot-nine goaltender showed his competitive spirit throughout the series, notably in Game 4 when he made 41 saves after needing several stitches to close a cut just above his knee from a previous outing.
“It’s a real credit the way he came back to play so well,” said Wilbur.
This will be the second year in a row the Sockeyes and Ice Hawks have met in the playoff semifinals. Richmond won the opening game last year, 4-2, but lost Game 2 by a 3-2 count in overtime and eventually the series in six games. The Hawks then went on to defeat the Pilots in the playoff final. Richmond finished two points up on Delta in the 2012-13 regular season, with each team winning three games. Delta won the last meeting 3-2 in overtime.
Wilbur is looking forward to playing the Ice Hawks.
“It’s a challenge we’ve got to be really excited about,” he said. “It’s tough to make case for an emotional edge (for either team), but I think it’s great. Those kind of rivalries is what makes junior hockey great. And there’s no question we have a lot of respect for them. They are the defending champion, so we’ve got to play our butts off. I think, like in all playoffs at every level, come down to a few things notably goaltending and special teams. Discipline is also going to be a factor.
“As a coach, I’m excited for our group to have this opportunity,” Wilbur continued. “Players can really grow from an experience like this, and if you want to prove your mettle now is the time to do it. It’s great to go and put up points in a 13-2 games but let’s see if you can do it now. And if I’m a hockey fan in this area, I want to see these games. I think it’s going to be real exciting and intense.”