It was the heavyweight match-up of the Pacific Junior Hockey League Winter Classic that lived up to the billing but didn’t produce the ultimate result for the hosts.
The North Vancouver Wolf Pack and Richmond Sockeyes closed out the three-day showcase at Minoru Arenas with a thriller that wasn’t decided until the dying moments.
Nathan Haaksma’s goal with just three seconds remaining gave the Wolf Pack a 3-2 victory to improve their record to a sizzling 31-1-0-1. They have now won 19 consecutive games and are well their way to establishing the best regular season record in league history.
The defending champions’ last regulation time loss happened to be to the same Sockeyes way back in late September.
Tom Sweeney’s power play goal in the late stages of the second period made it 2-1 for the hosts. They proceeded to do an effective job playing with the lead until the Wolf Pack cranked up their intensity over the final 10 minutes.
Ryan Stack tied the game with 8:13 remaining and the visitors kept coming at goaltender Braedy Euerby — firing 19 shots in the period. The 17-year-old newcomer had no chance on Haaksma’s game winner as the defenceman snuck into the slot and wired the puck home.
It was his eighth of the season and typical of what North Van has been doing all season with a veteran group of mobile blueliners that don’t hesitate to jump into the play.
The Sockeyes finish the season series 1-3-0 against the Wolf Pack and hope they see them again in the playoffs.
“We had a game plan that we executed for the most part. They are dangerous and you have to have your head on swivel at all times with the way their d-man joining in on play,” said Sockeyes head coach Brett Reusch. “To be three seconds away from taking a least a point off of them stings.
“You have to be ready and play a full 60 minutes. You can’t take a shift or two off. We need to get pucks deep with good puck management. That’s what it’s going to take to beat this team.”
Michael Araki-Young had the other Richmond goal.
The Sockeyes were riding a five-game win streak into the contest after exploding for eight unanswered third period goals in Friday’s 10-2 drubbing of the Abbotsford Pilots. Rookies Garrett Wicks and Ryan Watson led the way with four points each.
Richmond will be looking to clinch the Tunnel Cup when the Delta Ice Hawks visit Minoru on Thursday at 7 p.m.