The 31st season of Powell River Kings hockey officially moved into the history books when the team bowed out of the BC Hockey League playoffs with a loss in game seven of the Island Division final against Victoria Grizzlies.
After trading wins on the road, the best-of-seven series was knotted at two games each heading into game five on Friday, March 22, in Victoria. Grizzlies opened the scoring for the third time in the series and led 1-0 after 20 minutes.
Ryan Brushett and Jack Long scored second-period goals for Powell River, while Alex Newhook responded with his second of the game for the home team to tie the score at two after two periods. A Kings’ parade to the penalty box led to a pair of third-period goals for Victoria, resulting in a 4-2 win and 3-2 series lead.
“We played hard, we did a lot of good things with the lineup we had but four penalties in a period is tough to overcome and we couldn’t get the job done,” said Kings assistant Brock Sawyer after the loss. “We get a quick turnaround and get to go right back to work in game six.”
Kings returned home with their season on the line in front of the largest crowd of the year; 1277 fans packed Hap Parker Arena for game six on Saturday, March 23.
A tense game with plenty of chances was scoreless until late in the second period when Victoria opened the scoring in the final minute. Powell River finally got on the board midway through the third with Brushett nearly singlehandedly changing the game with a pair of goals 17 seconds apart for a 2-1 lead.
Mitch Williams added an insurance goal, then Neal Samanski secured the win with an empty-net goal for a 4-2 victory, forcing a game seven.
“Pretty exciting to do that in front of a huge crowd; I just sort of blacked out and didn’t really know what was happening,” said Brushett. “There was a lot of people at the game and we needed to give them something to get fired up, and I’m happy I could do that.”
Game six also saw the return of forward Ethan Kimball, who had missed the entire series while recovering from a concussion sustained in game five of the first-round series against Nanaimo.
“I try not to notice the crowd too much, but you can’t help but hear the reaction when there’s a big hit or a goal,” said Kimball, “and that second goal from Brushett, the place erupted and it was a lot of fun to be a part of.”
For the second time in three years, an Island Division final between Powell River and Victoria had to be decided in a game seven. Two years ago, Grizzlies forward Keyvan Mokhatari ended Powell River’s season in double overtime.
However, overtime was not required this year. Kings dug themselves into a 2-0 hole late in the first period. The challenge stretched to a 3-0 lead for Victoria midway through the second period before Samanski scored prior to intermission to make it 3-1.
Three Victoria goals in the third period sealed the series victory and ended Powell River’s season.
“I wouldn’t trade this season for anything,” said Sawyer, reflecting on the season after the game-seven loss. “Every guy in that room came to work every day, pushed each other to be better, pushed [coach] Tyler [Kuntz] and I to be better coaches and make sure we got the most from them and taught them as much as we could.”
As a result of the loss, six players saw their junior hockey careers come to an end, taking with them more than 1,000 games of regular season and playoff experience. Third-year Kings Mitch Adamyk and Josh Coblenz, along with Williams, Ryan Pouliot, Brushett and Samanski all graduate from junior hockey, with many due to continue their careers at college next season.
The focus now turns to Prospect Development Camp to be held at Hap Parker Arena from April 26 to 28, where the next generation of Powell River Kings will be put through their paces.
The team is expected to announce several commitments over the coming weeks for the 2019/2020 season, which is due to begin in September.