A dramatic win in their last round-robin game at the Mac's AAA Midget Hockey Tournament left the Cariboo Cougars hoping they had done enough to qualify for the quarterfinal playoffs.
As it turned out, the tiebreaker format kept them from advancing.
"The way we finished the tournament, I'm pretty proud of the guys obviously," said Cougars head coach Tyler Brough. "We knew we had to do our job and win that last game and let the cards kind of fall, and (the players) showed up and played a solid game against a good hockey team. We were down early and came back and tied it up and then scored late for the win so it was pretty exciting."
In their final round-robin outing, against the Swift Current Legionnaires on Sunday in Calgary, the Cougars got the decisive goal from forward John Herrington with 1:01 left on the clock and pulled out a 3-2 victory.
"It was a shot from the half wall and Herrington was fighting against some guys to get to the net and batted it out of midair on his backhand into a wide open net," Brough said of the marker. "It was a pretty exciting time and a bit of an emotional roller coaster for the guys once we figured out that we weren't in (the playoffs)."
The win against the Legionnaires allowed the Cougars to finish round robin with a 2-1-1 record, good for five points and second place in their pool, behind the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Lethbridge and the four other pool winners - the Saskatoon Blazers, Red Deer Optimist Chiefs, St. Albert Nektar Data Systems Raiders and Airdrie CFR Bisons - automatically claimed playoff spots and the remaining three positions went to the New York Junior Islanders, CAC Gregg Distributors and the Vancouver Northeast Chiefs.
The Cougars and Chiefs finished with the same records, and the Cats had a better goals-for versus goals-against mark (even versus minus 3), but the Chiefs were awarded the playoff berth because they beat their pool winner, St. Albert, during round-robin play.
The Cougars started the Mac's with a 2-2 tie against the Calgary Northwest Flames, downed the Brampton 45's by a 4-3 count and then lost 4-2 to the Hurricanes, who went on to skate in Tuesday's final against the Raiders and lost 4-3.
In the Cougars' game against the Hurricanes, played on Saturday, the Cats found themselves in a 4-0 hole half way through the second period but got back into things with goals from Curtis Hammond and Grady Thomas.
"Lethbridge kind of took it to us in the first 30 and then we took over the last 30," Brough said. "We kind of proved to ourselves we can play with the best teams around, we've just got to make sure we're prepared and ready to go for 60 minutes."
When individual awards were handed out, Cougars defenceman Jacob Gendron was recognized for having the best plus/minus rating in the tournament, a mark of plus 5, according to Brough.
"That's great for him," Brough said of Gendron, who had three assists in the four games. "He's a kid that is a leader on our back end. We expect a lot out of him - he's a Vancouver Giant signed guy, hoping that he's there next year playing full-time for them, and one of the things he struggles with is plus/minus with us so it was good to see him have a great week in Calgary. That award should be something special for him because it's something he's worked hard on."
With the Mac's behind them, the Cougars now turn their attention back to the B.C. Hockey Major Midget League. They enter the 2019 portion of the regular season in second place with a 16-5-3-0 record and will host the third-place Chiefs (15-5-2-2) Jan. 19-20. Moving forward, Brough said he hopes the Mac's experience is beneficial to his players.
"If we want to beat the (first-place Fraser Valley) T-birds and the Chiefs and all these great teams from our league and move on to Pacific playdowns and hopefully the Telus Cup (national championship) we know who we're going to see because they were all there," he said.
"I think we've seen that we can play with the best and that we're right there."
The 2019 Telus Cup is April 22-28 in Thunder Bay, Ont.
Full Mac's results and statistics can be found online at macstournament.ab.ca.