The Delta Ice Hawks are PJHL champions after a hard-fought overtime win against the Ridge Meadows Flames Sunday night (April 2).
With the Stonehouse Cup on the line, the Ice Hawks bounced back from a 7-3 loss in game five on Thursday — a game that saw the Flames score five unanswered goals in the third period to take a 3-2 series lead — with a pair of do-or-die wins over the weekend and punched their ticket to the Cyclone Taylor Cup, B.C.’s Junior B championship.
For the team’s veteran players, Sunday’s win brings them one step closer to vindication after a heart-breaking end to last season’s quest for the cup.
“We had a really good team last year and we ended up getting knocked out in the semi-finals of the [PJHL] playoffs, and then because we were hosting [the] Cyclone [Taylor Cup] we got to play in it anyway, won three games straight and then lost in the gold medal game to Langley on home ice. For me and the 10 or 11 players that came back from that team, from that day we’ve been on a mission to come back, avenge that loss and earn our way back,” Ice Hawks general manager and head coach Steve Robinson told the Reporter.
“We planned out the road to [Revelstoke] and set season goals we call the ‘Triple Crown’: regular season champs, playoff champs and then Cyclone champs. So even after the game last night, what I liked about the guys’ reaction — I mean they were obviously happy — but it was kind of like, okay that’s two-thirds of our journey and two-thirds of our goals done. Now let’s get up to Cyclone and win that, finish it off the way we all want to.”
After topping the regular season standings and winning both of their previous playoff series 4-1, Delta had their work cut out for them as they dropped the first two games of the finals to Ridge Meadows, each by a single goal.
“It was the first time we were kind of up against it,” Robinson said. “Losing the first two games at home was definitely jarring to the guys I think. They had so much success this season, I think it was the first time they really maybe had some kind of doubt in their minds.”
Robinson said he’s proud of the way the team was able to deal with adversity and turn the series around.
“For them to be able to dig deep and win four out of [the next] five [games], it was huge,” he said.
Delta edged out a 2-1 road win against Ridge Meadows on Saturday to force game seven, with goals from Kyle Robinson (his first of the playoffs, assisted by Tye Hemenway and Austin Kofler) and Yuji Akimoto (also assisted by Kofler).
Jack Foster, who had a hat trick in game five, scored the lone goal for the Flames, assisted by Brandon Osborne and Lukas Ravenstein.
Going into game seven, neither team had won on home ice so far this series.
Though Delta was considered the home team, Sunday’s final was played on “neutral” ice at the George Preston Arena in Langley as the ice had already been removed from the Ladner Leisure Centre.
Flames defenceman Matthew Wise opened the scoring with the lone goal of the first period, a powerplay tally assisted by Brandon Osborne and Cohen Muc.
The Ice Hawks responded just under five minutes into the second, with Colin Jang one-timing a pass from Mykhaylo Sheludchenko to even the score.
Flames forward Theo Kochan put up another powerplay goal just after the 14-minute mark of the period, assisted by Lukas Ravenstein and Jordan Kujala, to give his team a 2-1 lead, but the Ice Hawks evened the score two minutes later as Conner Merriman, fresh off the bench, took a pass from Carson Hemenway and went five-hole on Flames goalie Cam Connolly.
Delta got its first lead of the game early in the third on a shot from Carson Hemenway that ticked off a Flames stick on its way to the net. Hemenway’s one-timer came off a pass from Conner Merriman, with an additional assist from his brother Tye Hemenway.
However, Ridge Meadows answered with a mid-period goal from Pierce Whyte (assisted by Brandon Osborne) to tie the game 3-3.
“When we took the lead early in the third, that was the first time we were leading in that game, so it’d sort of been a struggle all game,” Robinson said. “When they tied it up there was still about 10 minutes to go, so I didn’t feel too much panic on the bench. I think we were just resilient, like hey it’s going to be tough and we’ve got to keep working and find a balance.”
With the game in overtime and both teams pushing hard, it was Kyle Robinson who scored the winning goal for the Ice Hawks, picking up the rebound from a Yuji Akimoto shot and finding the back of the net with just 3:49 left on the clock.
“Fortunately we were able to get that lucky break and get an opportunity to get one and put [the game] away. It really could have gone either way,” Robinson said. “I felt for those guys [Ridge Meadows] ‘cause I’ve been on both ends of it and those kids on the other team would feel pretty crushed under that circumstance, to be that close. But obviously we’re thankful we were able to find a way to get it done.”
Through a little over 66 minutes of play, Ice Hawks goalie Merik Erickson stopped 33 of the 36 shots he faced, while Connolly stopped 30 of 34 for the Flames.
KYLE ROBINSON SCORES THE WINNER FOR THE ICE HAWKS!— Delta Ice Hawks (@deltaicehawks) April 3, 2023
STONEHOUSE CUP CHAMPS! pic.twitter.com/p7YwaakIGJ
With the fight for the Stonehouse Cup behind them, the team is now preparing to face the host Revelstoke Grizzlies and the yet-to-be-determined champions from the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League and the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League for the Cyclone Taylor Cup next week (April 13-16).
“Effectively, we’ve got a week or so to regroup and take a breath,” Robinson said, adding that with no ice at the Ladner Leisure Centre, team workouts and practices are moving to Tilbury Ice starting Wednesday (April 5).
“For the returning guys that I have from last year, a few of which are ‘02s and are aging out [of the league], they feel really motivated, so I like the vibe of the team, the mood of the team, and I think we have a great chance.”
“When I look at it (…) there’s 24 players in the group, we had three AP [affiliate player] kids playing, then you’ve got six staff members, you’ve got [owner] Eduard [Epshtein] and his wife, you’ve got a bunch of volunteers — there’s 40, 45 people that are all invested in [the team], and I think pretty much everyone is going to Revelstoke. So it should be quite an adventure and quite a memory for everybody.”
Battling it out for the Teck Cup in the KIJHL finals are the Kimberley Dynamiters and Princeton Posse. Kimberly has a 2-1 series lead, with game four taking place Tuesday night (April 4) at the Kimberley Civic Centre.
Meantime, in the VIJHL, the Oceanside Generals lead the Saanich Predators 2-1 in the hunt for the Brent Patterson Memorial Trophy. Game four is set for Tuesday at George Pearkes Arena in Saanich.
Fresh off last night’s win, Hawks players Danylo Bereza and Mykhaylo Sheludchenko are leaving today for Angers, France to represent Ukraine 🇺🇦 at the U18 World Junior Championship! Best of luck, Shelly and Danny, and to Team Ukraine!! #DeltaHawkey pic.twitter.com/O3jbtTjdHr— Delta Ice Hawks (@deltaicehawks) April 3, 2023