One goal was enough for the Rocky Mountain Raiders.
The two shorthanded empty-netters at the end sealed the deal.
Nicolette Seper’s power-play goal 15:01 into the first period was all the offence the Raiders needed to defeat the Northern Capitals in the second and deciding game of the Pacific regional midget triple-A championship Saturday at Rolling Mix Concrete Arena.
Seper ended the suspense of the playoff thriller in the final minute when she scored her second of the game while killing a penalty, with Capitals goalie Kelsey Roberts on the bench for the extra skater. And just to be sure, Kennedy Brown followed suit to cap the scoring and secure a 3-0 win with 19 seconds left.
Erin Fargey made 29 saves for the shutout, giving the Raiders their first-ever shot at winning a national midget championship. Combined with their 3-0 victory in the opener Friday, the Raiders completed a two-game sweep of the best-of-three series to book themselves a spot in the five-team Esso Cup tournament in Weyburn, Sask., April 17-23.
"It felt unreal to get the win, this is a big win for us and I'm excited for Esso Cup – we'd never won provincials and here we are winning it all," said Fargey, a 15-year-old native of Langdon, Alta. "The Capitals really stood up and played their game and came after us and it could have gone either way, we just capitalized on our chances. They were a strong team, they battled hard and they didn't stop all the way to the end."
The Capitals promised they’d come out with a better effort than they showed Friday, and with their season on the line they looked much more like the team that won its second consecutive B.C. provincial title two weeks earlier.
Both teams' offences were non-existent in the early going. Through 12 minutes, neither side had a shot on goal. The Raiders ended that slump and scored not long after they got their first shot. With Capitals winger Marissa Nichol cooling her heels in the penalty box, Seper was set up perfectly in front with a pass out of the corner from Lacey Dimaulon and had plenty of time to decide where to put the puck for her second goal of the series.
The Capitals managed just one weak shot on Fargey before the first intermission but came out flying in the second period and put five pucks on net in the first two-and-a-half minutes to even the shot count.
After winger Taylor Beck was denied by a sharp pad save from Fargey, the Caps kept coming with renewed enthusiasm and their aggressive forechecking led to some great scoring chances.
The Raiders were on their second power play of the game when Fargey had to come up big to block Hunter Mosher’s shot from the slot. That came right after Katie Young just missed an open-net rebound. A few minutes later, Caps defenceman Victoria Byer jumped into the rush to create a 2-on-1 and let go a hard blast from the right side, but Fargey got her shoulder in the way to keep it a 1-0 game. Nothing seemed to work for the Caps.
"It was definitely frustrating – we played them at the Mac's (in the tournament final) and beat them 5-1 but we had no puck luck going our way and it's too bad," said Capitals captain Sage Desjardins.
"We came around in the second and third period and caught up in shots but it was tough getting there. They capitalized on their chances and we couldn't seem to do that. There were wide-open nets and we couldn't figure out how to get the puck behind the goalie."
The Capitals outshot the Raiders 15-9 in Period 2 and 13-4 in the third period, building a 29-19 advantage over the entire game.
"They worked really hard and they were getting pucks deep and getting a lot of shots on net and had some good scoring opportunities and Erin made some timely saves and we were able to hold them off that second period," said Raiders head coach Paul Pozzi. "We knew they would be coming hard in the third period but we stuck to our gameplan and kept the shifts short and we battled through it."
While the score was the same as Friday's game, Game 2 was a complete about-face for the Capitals, who seemed to be skating in sand in the series opener.
"They showed a lot of character after a disappointing loss and showed they can compete and unfortunately we just couldn't get a goal," said Capitals head coach Mario Desjardins. "It's not like we didn't have chances. Give it to the Rocky Mountain Raiders, they traveled a long ways and played for 120 minutes but I do feel we outplayed them today and just didn't get any breaks."
With three penalties to kill in the third period the Raiders defence did its job, holding the Capitals to mostly perimeter shots and rarely allowing rebound opportunities. With less than two minutes left, Raiders winger Breanne Trotter made illegal head contact with the speedy Mosher, who tried to break through the middle deep in the Raiders end. The odds were not in their favour but the penalty did allow the Raiders to ice the puck and keep the clock running and that turned out well when Seper and Brown each found the net.
"I just wanted to ice it and it was lucky that it went in," said Seper, who will join Byer next season at Mount Royal University. "We got two out of that penalty and that was nice."
The Capitals wrapped up their second-straight B .C. championship two weekends ago when they swept the Greater Vancouver Comets in Coquitlam and they were idle last weekend while the Raiders had to play six games in four days games to clinch their league championship tournament. Coach Desjardins said that inactivity hurt his team.
"Not making any excuses, but we've been off for two weeks and these guys have played eight games since then and that's something BC Hockey has to look at," he said. "We can't have our B.C. team off for that long and expect to compete at this level."
In the eight-year history of the Pacific series, B.C. has never beaten Alberta.
It also didn't help that the Capitals had to move from the largest ice surface in the city to the smallest. They are a team built on speed which usually plays on an Olympic-sized ice surface at Kin 1. But due to the aboriginal tournament already scheduled months prior at the Kin Centre and CN Centre they were unable to play the regional series on their home rink, which is 15 feet wider and 10 feet longer than the rink at RMCA.
"We tried – I guess there's too many things going on," said Mario Desjardins, who has informed BC Hockey this is his last year of coaching. "We did get three practices in here but we've never done well in this building. We like to play low cycling game underneath the goal line but with these square corners you can't do that."
The Capitals have nine third-year players who won't be back. The list of graduating midgets includes Roberts and Sage Desjardins, who are both bound for the University of Calgary, as well as Beck, Mosher, Byer, Marissa Nichol, Grace Barlow, Sydney Jordan and Casey Norris.
"Obviously the ultimate goal is nationals but we have to be pretty proud of what we've accomplished this year as a team," said Roberts, who made 38 saves in Game 1. "We won two championships (provincials and the Mac's Tournament title) this season."
One goal was enough for the Rocky Mountain Raiders.