The Kitimat Ice Demons, already down one game in the CIHL West Division finals, went over Rainbow Summit to meet the Prince Rupert Rampage at the Jim Ciccione Sports Complex, where the home team was undefeated this season.
And came away with the pot of gold.
Demons swept both games in convincing style, out-playing, out-shooting and out-hitting Prince Rupert for a 5-2 win Saturday, capped by a 4-2 lesson in puck control Sunday.
Two big and noisy groups of Prince Rupert fans were disappointed in their team’s performance, although the Rampage played a much better game Sunday after an undisciplined effort on Saturday.
In the opening game, the Rampage fell behind quickly – in 27 seconds to be precise – as the Demons from the face-off made four plays from centre ice to the back of the net with the goal scored by Ian Coleman (Jeff Mildenberger, Dave Venman).
Exactly 20 seconds after that the next line out repeated, with Blaine Markwart (unassisted) depositing the puck behind nemesis Keith Movald to make it Demons 2, Rampage 0.
The bench had seen enough and called a time out inside the first minute – a first for almost everybody on the ice.
But it steadied the nervous Rampage, who had their first ever division title at stake. Kendall Stace-Smith got the silenced crowd back into the game when he stick handled around Jeff Mildenberger and lofted a high shot past Jamie Moran in the Kitimat net with just 3.14 gone in the game.
Rupert then tied the game, ensuring that Kitimat wouldn’t think this would be easy, when Derek Baker blasted a shot along the ice on a Rupert power play.
It hit something along the line and slid between Moran’s legs and a new game began. Assists went to Chris Woodrow and Kendall Stace-Smith.
After the intermission, Kori Finn put the Demons back out in front to stay when he pounded on a cross-ice pass from Nick Markowski behind Movald, although the goal was wrongly credited to Craig Hewitson on the score sheet as the refs mistook 22 for 27.
It didn’t get changed because the noise was so loud in the arena, nobody could hear the announcements.
Demons took a stranglehold on the game with just three minutes remaining in the period, on the power play, when Craig Hewitson crossed the puck to Jeff Mildenberger who slapped it home.
Demons applied great pressure every time they had the power play in this game, which was plenty, as the Rampage played an uncharacteristically aggressive game and paid for it with 38 minutes shorthanded, compared to 18 minutes for the Ice Demons.
In the third period the Demons simply controlled the puck and bombarded the Rampage goal as the Rupert players lack of discipline eventually was their downfall.
Although the final Demon goal, scored by Derek Wakita, from Jeff Mildenberger and Brandon Wakita was scored on a five-on-five play. Again the referee picked up the wrong numbers and gave the goal to Jeff Mildenberger on the sheet.
On Sunday, the situation in the third game was familiar to the Ice Demons, who have lost the first best-of-three games series more than once in the past couple of years.
But the situation reversed itself as a re-energized Rampage team played a good first period and got two goals of their own early to get out of the first period with a 2-0 lead and a lot more enthusiasm.
But their hopes were dashed with seven minutes gone in the second when Craig Hewitson (unassisted) went up ice alone, dipsy-doodled around two Rupert defenders, and slid a nice shot through a six-inch space between Movald’s pads and the post.
Just two minutes later, back on the power play with Brett Stava serving two for interference, Derek Wakita pounced on a Robbie Lafferty point shot and tipped the rebound up and over a sprawled Movald, during an intensive shot barrage on the beleaguered goaltender.
The Ice Demons put the puck in the net again late in the second period, but referee Mike Mehr (Smithers) washed out what would have been the go-ahead goal on the basis of the net being off.
Demons players vociferously argued that it was deliberately pushed off by a Rupert player, but Mehr wasn’t in agreement.
The Ice Demons got the eventual winning goal with 2.43 gone in the third as the relentless push continued. Wade Masch, playing on a new line all weekend with Craig Hewitson and Blaine Markwart, pushed the winner across the line in the blue paint, with assists to both line-mates.
The tired Rampage team did not have much left in the remainder of third period, but had frequent power play opportunities to tie the game in the first half of the period as Craig Hewitson (cross check) and Jeff Baker (holding) each spent two anxious minutes in the box in the first six minutes.
Then both Johnnie Aiken (interference) and Jeremy Brady (goaltender interference) went to the box 30 seconds apart after the seventh minute.
Rupert, with the five on three chance, sensed an open door to get back in the game.
But terrific tenacious defensive shot blocking and hard back-checking by the pk units totally frustrated the Rampage, who were only credited on the score sheet with four shots on goal total in the whole third period.
The elated Demons had a hard but noisy trip back to Kitimat through a severe snow storm – once even winding up pushing the bus out of a snowdrift – accommpanied by much laughter and a snowball fight.
There won’t be much rest for the players as they will have one practice Thursday before facing the Williams Lake Stampeders in game one of the best-of-three CIHL championship final for the Rio Tinto Alcan Trophy.
The Demons last won the trophy two seasons ago, beating the Stampeders two of three, but fell to the Stamps two straight last season including on home ice at Tamitik.
They also lost twice to the Stampeders in the last two Coy Cup outings, so the Demons feel they have a couple of scores to settle.
Game on goes Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Tamitik, with the next two scheduled, February 19 and, if needed, February 20 in Williams Lake.
Both teams will represent the CIHL in the Coy Cup in Prince Rupert, so there’s still plenty of hockey ahead for the Kitimat Ice Demons and their fans.