An overtime goal off a scramble popped the balloon for the Vancouver Northeast Chiefs last week.
The B.C. Major Midget Hockey League squad’s season came to an end in a 5-4 loss to the Greater Vancouver Canadians in Game 3 of their best-of three series at Coquitlam’s Planet Ice.
While Alex Whithwham knocked in the winner behind the Maple Ridge’s Nick McBride to end the hockey season in the first playoff round, Northeast coach Doneau Menard said the disappointment he shares with the players can’t erase the many successes the club enjoyed over the past seven months.
“It was one of those goals that usually win it in overtime, nothing pretty but it just ended up in our net,” said Menard. “We played really well and had a couple of good scoring chances in overtime and both goalies played well.”
Up 3-1 early in the second, the home squad suddenly was stripped of the lead when the Canadians cashed in three straight goals in a span of 5:22 to go ahead 4-3. A tally by Connor Burk early in the third forced extra time.
Also scoring for the Coquitlam-based crew were Mathew Barzal, Jordan Henderson and Kurt Sonne.
The ending squelched what had been in impressive year for the Chiefs, a season that saw them finish fourth overall at 23-13-4.
After losing Game 1 by a 5-2 score, the Chiefs evened the series with a 4-1 decision on Saturday. While the Canadians scored first, Northeast got two goals from Barzal and singles by Nicholas Rasovic and Burk, while Tim Chow and Henderson recorded two assists each.
“We came out and put them on their heels,” said Menard. “We forced them into more penalties than they usually got but they did an effective job killing them. Our penalty killing was strong, too.”
The coach anticipates a lot of changes for next year, due to seven players graduating and another handful or more heading up to the higher levels.
“When we evaluate the success of this season it is factored by where these kids are playing in the next few years,” the long-time bench boss said. “I think we’re going to lose a lot of guys.”
Leading the list of those ready for the next level is Barzal, the league’s scoring leader who is also considered one of the top 15-year-olds in North America. Drafted first overall a year ago by the Western Hockey League’s Seattle Thunderbirds, the Dr. Charles Best student hasn’t tipped his hat as to which route he is leaning towards — with both major junior and junior A clubs calling — although Menard said he sees Barzal continuing to succeed no matter which way he goes.
“I think he’s going to be a good pro some day soon,” noted Menard of the centre who posted 29 goals and a league record 74 assists over 34 games. “I don’t know if there’s a wrong decision, but I know he’s got a good head on his shoulders and he’s got some bright people giving him advice.”
Another player who opened many eyes during the major midget season was winger Colton Kehler, who established a new goal record with 41 in 40 games. The 15-year-old PoCo native opened a number of doors with his performance, said Menard.
Those graduating due to age are forwards Tim Chow, Boston Colley, Mathew Michie and Sonne, and defenceman Michael Willms and goalie Jeff Smith.