By Eric Welsh
The Chilliwack Chiefs will play for a national championship on home ice tomorrow afternoon after beating the Ottawa Junior Senators in a Saturday night semi-final at Prospera Centre.
The Chiefs gutted out a 3-2 win that was equal parts ugly and thrilling. The Senators gave it everything they had and if a couple bounces go their way they’re the ones playing for the title.
But it’ll be Chilliwack vs Wellington as the locals look to make history.
“I’m feeling pretty ecstatic,” said Chiefs forward Kaden Pickering in the locker room afterwards. “The boys worked hard for six weeks and it’s finally paying off for us. We’re heading to the championship and I couldn’t feel any better.”
The home team got off to an energetic start and opened the scoring on a goal by Anthony Vincent.
Vinnie went to the net and camped at the top of the blue paint as defenceman Marcus Tesink launched a slapper from the left point. Fighting off a check from Ottawa defenceman Joe Alexander, No. 4 collected the rebound, wheeled and stuffed it inside the right post at 9:21.
But the Senators tied it up at 18:09 on a defensive oops by the Chiefs.
Pickering flew back into his own zone on defence and had the puck on his stick in the goalmouth after picking off a centering pass, but couldn’t move it fast enough. Ottawa captain Owen Guy picked his pocket and quickly snapped it past Chiefs goalie Daniel Chenard.
But just 45 seconds later Chilliwack regained the lead on a controversial Skyler Brind’Amour goal.
Adam Berg put a shot on net from the right faceoff circle. The puck popped into the air and Brind’Amour batted it in with a cross-bar high swing. Ottawa’s players immediately signaled high stick, and they might have had a case. But it was close enough that the referees didn’t overturn their call and the Chiefs took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.
The second period was a bad one for Chilliwack. Ottawa had the Chiefs on their heels for most of the middle frame, chasing the puck around their own zone.
The Senators scored the only goal of period two off one of those scrambles. With just 50 seconds left on the clock, defenceman Craig McCabe sent a wrister on net from the point. The puck bounced left to Pierre-Luc Veillette, who had a gaping net to shoot at and didn’t miss, tying the game at 2-2 through 40 minutes.
Ottawa continued to press early in the third period, and for a while you might have had the feeling this writer had, that this game wasn’t going to go the right way.
But then, perhaps the most significant goal in franchise history.
Kyle Yewchuk started it with a just-put-it-on-net shot from the right point. Attoning for his earlier error, Pickering tracked the puck down in the goal-mouth and popped it past Sens netminder Connor Hicks with 8:44 to play.
“It wasn’t necessarily that I want to score to make up for that earlier mistake, but I wanted to do something like block a big shot or something like that. Bad bounces happen and that was a bad bounce for me. Luckily I was able to score that goal to make up for it.
“It was kind of surreal when it went in, like I wasn’t even there. You don’t even hear the crowd after. It was crazy.”
Then it was up to the penalty kill to seal the deal. After killing one double minor earlier in the period (Jared Turcotte, high sticking), the PK was called upon to do it again when Skyler Brind’Amour was banished for four minutes. With 1:53 left, the Senators pulled goalie Connor Hicks to make it a six on four.
But the Chiefs hung on for the win, bolstered by a crowd that was as electric as its ever been.
“I think I was screaming louder than they were,” Pickering said with a grin.
Makes you wonder what they’ll be like tomorrow if Chilliwack wins the championship. Find out at 4 p.m. when the Chiefs and Dukes square off at Prospera Centre.