One series down, two to go for a B.C. banner.
The Cariboo Cougars can take that mindset after a first-round playoff sweep of the South Island Royals.
The 15- to 17-year-old Cougars beat the Royals 5-1 Saturday afternoon at the Coliseum, one day after a hard-fought 4-3 decision in a B.C. Hockey Major Midget League quarterfinal match-up. In the semifinals, the Cats will clash with the Okanagan Rockets.
Against the seventh-seeded Royals, the second-ranked Cougars got a tougher test than expected. The South Island players did everything possible to take the speed out of the Cougars' game and relied on the superb goaltending of Jesse Jenks, who was peppered with 34 shots on Saturday and 53 on Friday. His combined save percentage was a sparkling .966, but, ultimately, persistence in the offensive end paid off for the Cats.
"We lit [the Royals] up pretty good in the regular season but this is playoff hockey and he brought his best game both games and made us work for it," said Cougars head coach Trevor Sprague. "He kept his team in it and arguably was the first star in both games."
In four regular-season wins against the Royals, the Cougars scored 29 goals and allowed just three.
In Saturday's clincher, the Cats found themselves in a 1-1 tie early in the second period but finally shook free of the Royals on goals by Brad Morrison and defenceman Bryan Allbee.
The Allbee marker, at 17:27, deflated the Royals and served as a momentum-builder for the Cougars heading into the third period. On an innocent-looking play, he got the puck at the right point and sent a quick wrister toward the net. With Jenks's view obscured by traffic in front, Allbee's seeing-eye shot found the top right corner.
"It was a pretty lucky goal," said the 15-year-old Allbee, who scored just once in 33 regular-season games. "I think it gave us some energy and some confidence because our team started doing better."
Added Sprague: "We had been talking to the guys about getting pucks on net and Allbee just put it on net and it went in. It boosted us up a little bit."
In the third period, Braiden Epp and Logan Styler -- two of the big gunners on the Cariboo club -- closed out the scoring. Epp converted on a two-on-one feed from Styler, and then Styler sniped one from the left side of the net while the Cougars were on a power play.
Earlier in the game, Styler had been challenged by the Cariboo coaching staff to elevate his play.
"There were certain points where I should have been moving my feet and I wasn't moving my feet as quick as I could," he said. "Definitely the third period was stronger."
Liam Blackburn scored the other Cariboo goal, a first-period marker that opened the scoring. The Royals got an equalizer moments into the second period. On the rush, Cole Pickup sent a soft pass to Nick Guiney, who redirected the puck past Cougars goalie Nathan Warren.
In picking up the win, Warren made 30 saves.
The Cougars will now host the Rockets in a best-of-three semifinal series that will start Friday at 5 p.m. at CN Centre. The third-seeded Okanagan club needed three games to win its quarterfinal series against the sixth-ranked Valley West Hawks. The Rockets won the opener 6-4, lost the next one 4-1 and took Sunday’s deciding game 8-3.
Meanwhile, the top-seeded Vancouver Northwest Giants brushed aside the eighth-ranked North Island Silvertips 5-2 and 4-1. In the semis, they will face the fifth-seeded Greater Vancouver Canadians, who beat the fourth-ranked Vancouver Northeast Chiefs 5-4 in overtime on Sunday. The result gave the Canadians a 2-1 series victory. They prevailed 5-2 in Game 1 and the Chiefs stayed alive by winning 4-1 in Game 2.