A three-for-one special on Tuesday night at the Ladner Leisure Centre has the Richmond Sockeyes on the verge of advancing to the Pacific International Junior Hockey League championship series for the third time in four years.
The Sockeyes erased a three-goal deficit with a dominating second period then held off a late surge from the Delta Ice Hawks to pull out a highly entertaining 6-5 victory and take a commanding 3-1 series lead in the Tom Shaw Conference finals.
The home team had prevailed in the first three games and the trend seemed certain to continue when the Hawks jumped out to a big first period lead on goals by Alex Martin, Mitch Walter and Matthew Dawson. However, Sockeyes coach Aaron Wilbur was thinking differently after watching his club squander a number of quality scoring opportunities.
"I think we had more Grade 'A' chances in the first period than we had in any other period of playoffs," he said. "I think the hockey gods knew we hadn't showed up to play at the start and were going to make us work extra hard to get back into the game.
"But I told the boys if they got the next (goal) it was game over. (Laughing) There was a horseshoe halfway up my butt when I said that."
The Sockeyes still had a weather an early second period flurry thanks to some excellent work by goalie William Lattimer, who had replaced Kootenay Alder midway through the opening period. Derek Hughes put the Sockeyes on the board and the floodgates would open soon after. Six minutes later, the game was tied on Jeremy Hamaguchi's power play goal.
Delta regained the lead on Aaron Merrick's early third period goal during a two-man advantage but Dean Allison answered with a pair in less than a minute, chasing Hawks goalie Alex Anhert after his floater from outside the blueline fooled him.
Hamaguchi's second of the night provided the Sockeyes with a cushion and they would need it as Ryan Procyshyn pulled the hosts within one with nearly nine minutes remaining. Anthony Brito appeared to score the equalizer with 23 secondsleft but the goal was waved off when Mak Barden was penalized for goalie interference.
The 11 goal outburst was contradictory to the tight checking games fans are accustomed to seeing in the playoffs between these two longtime rivals. It proved what a offensively deep Sockeyes team is capable of.
"We had out backs against the wall and started to play with some desperation," said Wilbur. "It showed our explosiveness. Sometimes in the playoffs your best players have to be your best players. Tonight we found a way.
"The last five period of hockey, our team has put its heart on its sleeve and showed a lot of character. I'm really proud of them."
The Sockeyes' power play scored on two of eight opportunities but looked far more dangerous than that, typically spending the entire two minutes in the Ice Hawks' zone. The momentum gained from those dominating spurts played a big part in the outcome.
"They go down low with three guys at the goalline and like to move the puck across," said Ice Hawks head coach Dave McLellan. "If you don't make a stick play, they are whacking the puck into the backside of the net. We tried to make an adjustment but they are pretty good at what they are doing.
"We just can't afford to have lapses and give up untimely goals at this time of year. The only good thing about tonight is the guys didn't quit and showed some perseverance."
Game five goes tonight at Minrou Arena. An Ice Hawks win would send the series back to Ladner on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m.