Providing the four-time defending B.C. Major Midget Hockey League champions their toughest challenge yet again is little consolation for the Greater Vancouver Canadians.
The Vancouver Northwest Giants rolled to another title in B.C. Hockey's showcase league for elite 15-to-17-year-old players after sweeping aside the Cariboo Cougars. It was the previous round they had their hands full against a Canadians team that was less than two minutes away from pulling off a major upset.
After dropping a 4-1 decision to open the best-of-three semi-final series, the Canadians rebounded with a 2-1 victory to force a deciding game. A late second period goal by Portland Winterhawks prospect and Seafair alumni Tyler Sandhu gave the visitors a 2-1 lead and they nursed that cushion into the dying minutes of regulation time.
That's when the Canadians ran into penalty trouble as Spencer Schoen was sent off for interference with 4: 10 remaining and Trevor Lima followed him 22 seconds later for hooking.
The Giants cashed in with the extended two man advantage as Adam Helewka tied the game with 1: 55 left. The comeback was complete when Brandon Del Grosso beat goaltender Chris Tai at the 6: 55 mark of overtime.
The result marks the fourth straight year the Canadians have bowed out to the Giants in the playoffs, each time being in heartbreaking fashion. The past two seasons have also been semi-final series that went the distance.
Making this year's post-season performance more impressive was the Canadians finishing fifth in the league standings, 20 points back of the Giants. They were, however, the only team to win the season series against them (211) and promptly took care of the Okanagan Rockets in the quarter-finals to advance to the final four.
The Canadians record against the Giants since head coach Leland Mack's arrival is 9-10-2, easily the best in the league over a three season span.
"We really couldn't have done anything much better than we did," said Mack of the latest series. "They went six for 18 on the power play and we were two for 12. That was basically the difference between the two teams."
The series loss ended a terrific run in net for Chris Tai, who earlier earned league player-of-the-month honours and enjoyed an outstanding run in the playoffs. The Lethbridge Hurricanes prospect will now try to make the jump to the Western Hockey League this summer. Defenceman Arvin Atwal is a good bet to be a regular with the Vancouver Giants, while Sandhu will be trying to crack a talented Portland squad after an impressive Major Midget rookie campaign that saw him lead the team in scoring.