A masked man almost stole a playoff victory from the Cariboo Cougars.
Friday afternoon at the Coliseum, the Cougars outshot the South Island Royals 53-19 in Game 1 of a best-of-three quarterfinal series but, instead of blowing out their opponent, recorded a tension-filled 4-3 victory. The tying and winning goals for the Cats came in the last four minutes when they finally squeezed a couple pucks past South Island goaltender Jesse Jenks, who was brilliant between the pipes.
Game 2 of the B.C. Hockey Major Midget League series goes today at 1 p.m. at the Coliseum. The first order of business for the Cougars will be to create more traffic in front of the six-foot-two, 180-pound Jenks, who looked even bigger than that to Cariboo shooters in Friday's opener.
"He made the difference in the game," said Cougars head coach Trevor Sprague. "Jesse Jenks did a great job. He has come a long ways this year and played well against us today."
The Cougars led 1-0 after the first period but the Royals had a 3-2 advantage after the second. With Jenks seemingly unbeatable, they stayed in front until the 16:08 mark of the third period when Cariboo defenceman Stephen Penner hammered home a slap shot while skating down the right boards. Then, at 17:22, while Thomas Sercombe of the Royals was serving a delay of game penalty, Penner let go with another blast and Liam Blackburn scored on the rebound. Blackburn's marker stood up as the winner.
"It was amazing," said Blackburn, who led the Cougars in regular-season scoring with 35 goals and 85 points in 40 games. "This is the first playoffs I've ever been a part of and to start off on a good note and get the game-winner, that's huge for me."
The second-seeded Cougars entered the series against the seventh-ranked Royals as heavy favourites. During the season, the Cariboo club went 4-0 against South Island and outscored the Royals 29-3 in the process.
On Friday, the Cats outshot the Royals 21-5 in the first period but were rewarded with just the one goal, a power-play marker by Braiden Epp half way through the frame. The Royals tied the game early in the second on a power-play goal by Nick Kean but then Epp put his club ahead 2-1 with another man-advantage goal.
After that, the game turned in favour of the Royals when they scored twice on a four-minute power play. With Cariboo captain Ryan Forbes serving a double-minor for a hit to the head, Brodie Smith beat Cougars goalie Nathan Warren high to the glove side with a one-timed snap shot. That goal came with exactly two minutes left in the Forbes penalty so the Royals stayed on the power play and got another counter from Kean.
Forbes said he was just trying to finish his check. Unfortunately, he caught his opponent -- who was down on one knee -- too high.
"It wasn't a vicious hit at all, I just thought I needed to get the boys going and it just happened that the ref called it a hit to the head," said the 17-year-old Forbes. "It definitely was a turning point in the game but I'm glad our team battled back and got the 'W' in the end."
Given the fact the Cougars surrendered three power-play goals, Sprague said they'll have to be sharper in penalty-killing situations. But, he gave his players full marks for the comeback victory.
"Our guys reacted really well to adversity," he said. "We dominated the game, there's no question about that. [The Royals] had a hot goalie and capitalized on their power plays but I like the way our team played and what we did. We've just got to work on getting guys in front [of Jenks]. There was a garage sale in front all game, a lot of rebounds there, and we didn't capitalize on near as many as we should have. We'll be fixing that [today]."
If a third game is required, it will start at 9 a.m. on Sunday at the Coliseum.