By Darren Desaulniers – Ottawa Citizen
Chiefs 3, Jr. Sens 2
Statistically speaking, the Ottawa Jr. Senators week at the RBC Cup could not have been closer. Emotionally it couldn’t have been harder.
The Jr. Sens played four round-robin games that need extra time to decide a winner at the Prospera Centre, home of the Chilliwack Chiefs.
Those same Chiefs ended the Jr. Sens hopes of a national championship Saturday with a 3-2 win in one of two games on semifinal Saturday. The Wellington Dukes were 2-1 winners over the favoured Wenatchee Wild in the other despite being outshot 51-14.
Kaden Pickering score the winner for the Chiefs, who will be playing in their first national championship final on Sunday, when he picked up a loose puck in front of the Ottawa net and beat Conner Hickes 11 minutes into the final period.
The Jr. Sens had opportunities after that, including nearly four minutes of power-play time in the dying minutes, to try and tie the game. Unfortunately, the power play that they feasted on during the CCHL regular season and playoffs was subdues against the countries’ best teams this week, and was 0-for-seven Saturday.
“Our power play didn’t get the job done,” coach Martin Dagenais said.
“We made a few mental mistakes, and it was all tournament long. Obviously the teams are better and it happens. It’s a short tournament, sometimes you’re on and sometimes you’re off. We got some good looks in the third period but just couldn’t finish.”
Anthony Vincent opened the scoring for the Chiefs at 9:21 of the first period when he swung around Hicks in the crease for a 1-0 lead.
Owen Guy tied the game at 18:09 when he basically swatted the puck off Pickering’s stick in front of the Chilliwack goal and through the legs of netminder Daniel Chenard, who made 26 saves in game, one less than Hicks.
The Chiefs regained their one-goal lead before the end of the period though as Skyler Brind’Amour batted a rebound out of the air past Hicks for a 2-1 lead.
Replayed showed that the puck was very close to having been hit with a high stick, but there is no video replay at this level and Dagenais wasn’t one to use it as an excuse.
“The replay made the referees call look bad, but it’s so fast on the ice and it was close. It is what it is and they called it a goal and we have to live with it,” Dagenais said.
Pierre-Luc Veillette drew the Jr. Sens even with his rebound goal at 19:10 of the second period. Chenard was just about to cover the puck with his glove but it was swiped away to the point by the stick of Chiefs forward Harrison Blaisdell right to the point where Isaac Anderson got a shot off that was stopped by Chenard.
“It does hurt thinking what could have been,” Dagenais said seconds after listing off names of players who were hurt and unable to play Saturday, including Chiwetin Blacksmith who was their leading scorer during the season.
“We had no injuries throughout the playoffs except for one guy. During the Fred Page Cup we were healthy, but we weren’t so lucky in Chilliwack.”
But they were oh so close.