After blowing a two-goal lead Saturday in a 6-4 loss, Sunday’s blow-out win over the Okanagan Rockets was very important to the Valley West Hawks in more ways than one.
More than salvaging a split from the two games in Kelowna, the 7-2 victory bumped the Hawks back into third place in the BC Hockey Major Midget League (MML). And it also may have convinced organizers of the Mac’s Midget AAA tournament Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 in Calgary.
“Last evening we heard from the Mac’s selection committee and we have qualified for the Mac’s midget tournament,” said Hawks head coach Jessie Leung. “They only take the best. Our win on Sunday sealed the deal.”
The 25-team Mac’s tournament traditionally features to top teams from across Western Canada, and can often include teams from the rest of Canada, the United States and Europe.
“We’re honoured to be selected,” said Leung. “This is a great showcase for our players to scouts and coaches from across North America.”
The Hawks are in a tight race near the top of the standings of the MML, just three points out of first place yet just two points up on the seventh-place team as the season nears the midway point.
Had the powerplay been working better Saturday, Valley West might have left Kelowna with a pair of wins. They did score once with the man-advantage, and went into the third period with a 4-2 lead.
But the Rockets tallied four times over the final 20 minutes to escape with a win.
“We had some opportunities to extend the lead with powerplays including a two-minute five-on-three, but couldn’t find the twine,” said Leung. “Our powerplay was in a funk. We never seemed to get on the same page and really didn’t threaten all game.”
Michael Farren scored twice for Valley West, with Armahn Sidhu and Daniel Chifan adding one goal each. Ben Evanish and Luka Burzan contributed with two assists apiece.
Special teams were very effective for the Valley West squad Sunday morning, as they tallied five times with the man advantage and gave up just one goal in 12 shorthanded situations.
“We made some adjustments Saturday night that really paid off,” said Leung. “We built our team in the off season to be able to play different styles. We decided to be more physical Sunday. We can play the skill game and we can play a heavy game. We wanted to see if Okanagan could do the same.”
The Rockets scored just 89 seconds into the game, but trailed 3-1 after one period as Farren, Justyn Gurney and Ilijah Colina replied for the Hawks. Burzan upped the lead to 4-1 early in the second period, then Okanagan cut the difference to two goals midway through the game. Colten Gerlib made it 5-2 by the second intermission, then Christian Bosa and Gurney added powerplay goals in the third frame.
“The efforts of our D-core was exceptional with players going down with injury throughout the weekend,” said Leung. “At one point in the third, we went a stretch of 10 minutes with only three defensemen ready to play.
“I thought there was a lot of desire in our group on Sunday.”
Now at 9-4-1 (win-loss-tie) and tied with the 9-6-1 Rockets for third place, the Hawks will play twice against the 7-4-3 Vancouver Chiefs next weekend.
“The Chiefs eliminated us in the playoffs last season before going on to win the league championship,” noted Leung. “We’re in for another tough matchup. We know we’ll get their best game and will need to be ready for it.”
The two teams face-off tomorrow (Saturday) at 2 p.m. at the Langley Events Centre, and again Sunday at 9:45 a.m. at the Poirier Sports and Leisure Centre in Coquitlam.