Confidence and optimism on Tuesday.
Heartbreak and despair on Friday.
A lot can change in three days, as the BCHL’s Chilliwack Chiefs discovered this week.
On Tuesday night, the Chiefs were celebrating a 3-1 win over Penticton, whooping and hollering and considering the possibility of an epic first round playoff upset.
By 9:12 p.m. Friday night, their season was over after a 4-0 loss to those same Vees in game six of their best-of-seven series.
“We’ve gone through so much adversity — what we started with and what we finished with is incredible,” said local kid Josh Hansen minutes after the game ended, struggling to keep dry eyes.
“I’ve never been with a team that was so together. Every day it was fun coming to the rink. We gave it a great effort this year and I’m proud of everyone.”
The Chiefs poured everything they had into the must-win game, but this time pure skill overcame hard work.
Backed by a vocal crowd of 2,457, Chilliwack came out playing the physical game that got them this far. Hansen set the tone a couple shifts in, leveling Penticton D-man Zach Urban behind the Vees net.
But the special teams that were so key for the Chiefs through five games abandoned them on this night.
Chilliwack had three power plays in the first period and came up empty three times. They didn’t look remotely threatening with the man advantage.
They struck out on another power play early in period two, and ended the night 0 for 5.
Chilliwack’s penalty kill was better, led by shot-blocking demon Michael Spring, who repeatedly threw himself in front of Mike Reilly point shots.
“It’s not an easy thing to do, and that shows how much character he has and we respect him a lot for that,” said Hansen of one of Chilliwack’s six departing 20 year olds.
The Vees opened the scoring five-on-five at 5:35 of period two on a flukey sort of goal.
Steven Fogarty sent a backhand centering pass into the Chilliwack goal-mouth from behind the net, and Chiefs netminder Mitch Gillam started moving left to right. But Fogarty’s pass hit the skate of Chilliwack D-man Matthew Hutchinson, and Bryce Gervais slipped the puck between Gillam and the goal-post for his third of the post-season.
Penticton’s next goal came 13 minutes later, credited to Wade Murphy. Gillam stretched post to post to thwart Murphy as he tried to bury the rebound of a Mario Lucia shot. But the puck dropped behind him, and Gillam’s own left leg swept the puck across the goal-line to put the Vees up 2-0.
Penticton’s power play finally broke through late in the middle frame.
Travis St. Denis shoveled the puck into the goal-crease after a rush down the right wing. Lucia went to the blue paint and chipped the puck up and over Gillam’s blocker to send the Vees to the third period with a seemingly insurmountable lead.
Insurmountable it was.
Chilliwack had another power play chance early in the final frame when Nick Buchanan hooked down David Bondra in front of the Penticton net.
But the Chiefs struck out, and though they spent almost the entire third period buzzing around the Penticton goal, much maligned Vees keeper Chad Katunar stopped nine shots the rest of the way (and 32 overall) to preserve the shutout win.
“No one expected us to do anything, and for us to get two games against the best team in Canada is, you can’t ask for much more,” Hansen said. “We didn’t have the most talent in the league, but we had the most heart. We proved a lot against Penticton.”
Joey Benik’s empty netter with 1:16 left wrapped up the scoring.
The final whistle blew.
The Chiefs shook hands with the Vees, took a couple laps around center ice to salute the fans, then headed to the dressing room.