A thin bench and perhaps looking a little too far ahead caught up with the defending champions at the 32nd annual Richmond International Midget Hockey Tournament.
With a roster chock full of inexperience, the Richmond A1 Blues entered the grueling event with nothing more than guarded optimism.
That outlook changed when the hosts rolled to a 4-0 record to capture their round-robin group and set up a favourable quarter-final match-up with the Port Moody Panthers on Sunday morning at the Richmond Ice Centre. Their opponent had already exceeded expectations by reaching the final eight, after limping into the holiday break with a 1-8-3 record in tier II league play.
However, the Panthers relied on some solid goaltending and smothering defensive zone coverage to hang around long enough to produce a third period power play goal and squeeze out a 2-1 victory.
"The kids are disappointed because the expectations were there, especially in this game particularly," said Blues coach Glenn Wheeler. "There was a little pressure involved too and you could see the youth in this team with the boys squeezing their sticks a bit.
"Give them credit. We had them pinned in their own end for a lot of game and they were just throwing the puck up to the neutral zone hoping for a bounce. Sometimes that's what you have to do."
Just when it looked like the Blues might be close to full strength for the first time since the early stages of the season, the injury bug bit them again. Three players were sidelined during the tournament and another was sick, leaving just 14 skaters available for the playoff tilt. It meant additional ice time for some and the extra minutes caught up to them.
"I think we just ran out of gas," continued Wheeler. "Our top guys were getting a lot of ice and that's something we try to limit when we have a full squad. At this level, you have to have three lines minimum just to eat up the ice time.
"When you look at the teams that do well at these kind of tournaments, they have longer benches with more experience."
Richmond opened the scoring near the midway mark of the second period when Elvis Jansons notched his team leading sixth goal of the tournament. He finished with 10 points in the five games to rank seventh among all scorers.
The Panthers tied it in the late stages of the second, then scored the winner at the 5: 24 mark of the third.
Evan Thomas also enjoyed a productive tournament for Richmond with eight points, including four goals. Ryan Voster added a goal and four assists.
Other goal scorers included Arjun Sodhi and Alex Bernardini with two each. Singles went to Kieran Docherty, Ryan Hart and Jeremy White.
Goaltender Brandon Wheeler finished with a 2-1 record, that included a 1.33 goals against average and a shutout. George Eliopoulos was in net for the other two wins.
The Richmond A2 Blues also concluded tournament play on Sunday with a 5-0 loss to the Juan De Fuca Grizzlies. Richmond went 1-3 in round-robin play, highlighted by a 4-2 win over Edmonton's Maple Leaf Athletic Club. Jason Huber led the Blues with a goal and an assist.