The 2012/13 version of the Ridge Meadows Flames are officially extinguished.
Last Wednesday (Feb. 27) at Aldergrove Arena, the host Kodiaks eliminated the Flames from the Pacific Junior Hockey League playoffs.
A 4-1 Kodiaks win gave Aldergrove’s junior Bs a four games to one victory over the Flames in the teams’ best-of-seven, opening round series.
“It was a good series,” Flames head coach Jamie Fiset said. “They proved why they are one of the top teams in the league. They’re very well coached, they’ve got depth on that team, and they have really good leaders.”
Kodiaks head coach Ron Johnson said the deciding game of a series is often the most difficult to win, but he commended his squad for playing patient, disciplined hockey.
The Kodiaks were heavy favourites going into the series.
They finished second in the PJHL Harold Brittain Conference standings with a 28-15-0-1 record.
The Flames finished well behind in third place, at 16-21-2-5.
Adding to the David versus Goliath storyline was the Kodiaks winning all six regular season meetings with the Flames.
And while numbers weren’t on his team’s side, Fiset was confident that the Flames would match up well against the Kodiaks - and for short stretches, they did.
The Flames pulled off an upset in the series opener, edging the Kodiaks 4-3 in overtime Feb. 18 at Aldergrove Arena.
After that, the Kodiaks proceeded to win the next four games, including the series clincher.
In the end, the Kodiaks were the better team.
“It’s a game of bounces and when you don’t get the bounces some nights, it isn’t going to go your way,” Fiset said.
Johnson said the Flames didn’t make things easy on the Kodiaks, but the Aldergrove squad persevered.
“We focused on the task at hand, and we learned from our mistakes in the first game. Even though we were 6-0 against them [during the regular season] you have to always respect your opponent.”
“There was a lot of stuff going on,” Johnson added. “This was a character builder for us. There were a lot of things happening behind the play, but by them doing that to us, it’s really going to help us next series.”
In the decisive game, the Kodiaks struck early as Joshua Cronin scored 45 seconds after the opening puck drop.
The Kodiaks tacked on goals half a minute apart late in the second period to take a 3-0 lead into the third.
After Spencer McHaffie scored on an Aldergrove powerplay at the 15:25 mark, Adam Callegari gave the Kodiaks a three-goal cushion 31 seconds later.
Ridge Meadows captain Alex Smith scored his team’s final goal of the season at the 7:43 mark of the third period.
With 17 seconds to go in regulation, Callegari rounded out the scoring when he deposited the puck into the empty net. At the time, the Flames, desperate to get back into the game, had pulled goaltender Wesley McLeod for the extra attacker.
Callegari was named first star on the strength of his two-goal night. Kodiaks netminder Mark Menicucci stopped 31 of 32 shots to earn second star honours.
Smith received a third star selection.
“It was a fairly close game,” Fiset said. “We were hoping to get out to a good start, but 45 seconds into the game they scored a real fluky goal and that was a tough one to recover from.”
Fiset said the Flames played some inspired hockey when facing elimination in the third period.
“The third period was backs against the wall. We had to come out and get the first goal and we did. The downside for us is we just ran out of time.”
Johnson said the Flames didn’t go down without a fight.
“I think we played well overall,” Johnson said. “They [the Flames] battled very hard and there were a couple of opportune moments when the game could have turned.”
Despite the first round exit it was a reasonably successful season for a Flames team that improved 16 points from the previous year, when Ridge Meadows struggled to a 11-32-0-1 mark.
Looking ahead to next season, the Flames will look to build off this most recent campaign, but who comes back is up in the air.
The Flames have seven graduating 20-year-olds, which leaves 15 players eligible to return. But many of those 15 will be trying to make the jump to the junior A or major junior ranks.
Fiset already has four of five good prospects on his radar for next season.
Looking back on the campaign that was, Smith was, in Fiset’s words, “a perfect leader.”
He had to make the move from forward to defence during the playoffs and showed his versatility by playing solidly on the back end.
“That’s what good players do – they’re not one dimensional. When you need them to change the way they can play, they will do it.” Fiset said.
Another standout was Maple Ridge’s own Connor Redmond, who started his junior career in the Western Hockey League with the Red Deer Rebels in 2007/08 and finished playing junior B. Along the way, he took on a leadership role, helping out the younger players.
“He exemplifies why guys play the game,” Fiset said. “He was playing for the fun of it. It wasn’t about him climbing the ladder anymore, it was about him competing.”