The Kitimat Ice Demons capped their 2011 CIHL play-off championships by being edged by one goal in a 7-6 game three goal-fest at Williams Lake Sunday, February 27.
The Stampeders earned their second CIHL championship in succession (over the Ice Demons) as they surged back from a 6-3 deficit at the 12 minute mark of the second period.
They scored three more times to end the period tied 6-6 with the Demons, who had taken a 5-2 lead into the second.
But the Stampeders still had one goal in them in the third, scored by Jeff Gagnon, and they defended that lead stubbornly for the last nine minutes of the game.
Once again, the Ice Demons will look on this one as a championship they let slip away and won’t rely on the excuse of being short the 15 playoff points represented by two key absent players, sniper Blaine Markwart and MVP defenseman Jeff Mildenberger, both of whom were unable to make the trip to Williams Lake for the last two games.
On Saturday, the Ice Demons found a familiar foe, goaltender Justin Foote, the Stamps last line of defense, who again came up with a stellar game – making 36 saves on 39 shots as the Demons lost game two 5-3 in a hard-fought affair, that saw two power play goals by Williams Lake, as the difference in the game.
Demons started with a bang putting their first shot behind Foote at the 54 second mark of the first period, Daniel Mayer putting Wade Masch’s pass in the net.
Wilfred Robbins (Francis Johnson) got that one back two and a half minutes later, then Masch and Mayer reversed roles with Masch scoring just three and a half minutes after that to restore the one goal lead for the Demons as the teams went end to end.
The rest of period one belonged to the Stampeders as they took advantage of a hooking call on Jeremy Brady to beat Jamie Moran on the power play, a goal scored by Jason Wright (Aaron Zurak, Brent MacIsaac), then went ahead on a five-on-five goal by Paul Girodat, unassisted, to go into the second period with a 4-2 lead.
The Ice Demons came out with a full-court press in the second but Francis Johnson and Wilf Robbins put a dent in that just two minutes in, with Johnson scoring.
Demons pummelled the Williams Lake net but could not put a goal on the board during that offence.
In the third, with just four minutes gone, Williams Lake got back on the power play with Ian Coleman in the box for a weak unsportsmanlike conduct call, probably one of only a couple of ref calls that had an impact on the result.
Robbins scored on the power play, assisted by Zurak and Johnson as the Stamps performed their power play passing magic.
With nine minutes gone Nick Markowski snagged a puck, carried it in alone, and parked it behind Foote, unassisted.
But it was not enough as Foote recovered well and the defence blocked lots of shots to survive 5-3, erasing the Demons’ advantage from their 7-4 win on home ice a week earlier.
With all the marbles on the line Sunday afternoon things did not look good for the Stampeders in a goal-filled first period, as the Demons came out strongly to take a 5-2 lead on goals by Nick Markowski (Kory Finn), Ian Coleman (Craig Hewitson, Terry Whelan) Derek Wakita (Markowski, Finn), Wakita (unassisted) and Steve Venman (Masch).
The Stamps goals were scored by Aaron Zurak (Stu Sasges) and Paul Girodat (Jeff Gagnon).
What took place in the locker rooms at the end of that period is unknown, but in the second it was Williams Lake that came on strong, with Francis Johnson (Gilbert Robin) eating into the Demons lead, but that was restored by Terry Whelan (Coleman).
What happened next was that Williams Lake came off the face-off fast, getting that goal back on a score by Paul Girodat (Curtis Gassoff, Jeff Gagnon) at 7.26, just 13 seconds after Whelan had scored.
That was the goal that seemed to turn the momentum as the Stampeders pressed and drew to within one two minutes later on a goal by Stu Sasges (Jason Wright, Curtis Gassoff) and drew to an unlikely 6-6 tie midway through the period as Francis Johnson again scored on Jamie Moran, as the Demons juggled lines trying to staunch the attack.
They did, and that was the last goal of the period, even with nine minutes left.
Into the third the teams went end to end for 10 minutes as both teams seemed to sense that despite the 12 goals in the game so far, the next one might be the winner.
That’s how it turned out and Jeff Gagnon was the hero at 10.33 (Paul Girodat, Curtis Gassoff) and from then on it was more “game on” as the Ice Demons battled to get back on even terms and Justin Foote and the Stampeders were reckless with their bodies in goal and on defence to protect the lead.
It had to end as the seconds ticked down and the score didn’t change and the 400 fans sounded like a lot more at the final whistle as the Stampeders made Gagnon’s lead goal stand up for the win and the Rio Tinto Alcan CIHL championship trophy.
It was a bitter pill for the Demons, downed for the second time in two seasons in the final game by the Stampeders – even more bitter to hear Justin Foote’s name deservedly called for playoff MVP.
The same two teams were to meet last night in Prince Rupert to start the round robin at the Coy Cup.
This will be another hard-fought game. The Stamps will likely add a player or two to their roster, and the Demons can expect a full line up with Mildenberger and Markwart back in the rotation, along with two add-ons, big Kyle Madsen and former Kitimat skater, Dougie Higginson.
This will be a terrific game.