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This article was published 14/5/2015 (2320 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
KELOWNA, B.C. — The Brandon Wheat Kings battled valiantly to extend their Western Hockey League playoff run against the Kelowna Rockets, but just like the first three games of the Ed Chynoweth Cup final, they came up short.
Playoff MVP Leon Draisaitl and Rourke Chartier scored short-handed goals 19 seconds apart early in the third period to break open a scoreless game and lift the Rockets to a 3-0 victory in Game 4 of the final and their first WHL championship since 2009. Jackson Whistle made 19 saves for the shutout.
"It’s awesome. I actually moved here from Europe the year they won the (Memorial Cup in 2004), and I’ve been coming to Rockets games every single year," Whistle, a Kelowna native, told a post-game media scrum. "I wouldn’t want to do it anywhere else, it’s a great feeling and I’ve never been more excited in my life. Everybody wanted it so bad and it was just a great game."
As they have for much of the series, the Wheat Kings did a fine job against the Rockets’ power play, but Kelowna did its damage on with its other special-teams unit. The short-handed goals were the Rockets’ third and fourth of the last three games, including the winner in Game 2 in Brandon and the opener in Game 3 after the best-of-seven series shifted to Kelowna.
Wheat Kings head coach and general manager Kelly McCrimmon called the game his team’s best of the series on a number of levels, but Kelowna’s third and fourth short-handed goals sunk Brandon.
"The next goal in a tie game is always a big goal, but I think even magnified that much more when you’re 0-0 after 40 minutes," McCrimmon said. "So the first goal ignited their crowd, gave them a lot of momentum and we didn't respond quickly enough and as a result gave up a second goal."
With the Rockets on the verge of their fourth championship and the Wheat Kings trying to avoid the sweep, the game was packed with tension that only grew as the seconds ticked away without any goals.
Brandon’s penalty killers were put to work early with the Wheat Kings short-handed three times. They managed to kill off all three, keeping the unit perfect since allowing a goal on the Rockets’ first power play of the series.
Wheat Kings goalie Jordan Papirny’s best stops were a denial of Madison Bowey’s shot from the slot and a save on a Gage Quinney wraparound, where he had to hold his ground as the Rockets tried to jam in the puck. Whistle was up to the task at the other end of the ice, gloving a Reid Duke shot from the slot.
Both goalies were tested early in the second as Josh Morrissey put the puck off the side of the Brandon net on a 2-on-0 Kelowna break, while Whistle made a pad save on Duke after the Brandon forward drove around the Rocket ‘D’. Shortly afterward, Rodney Southam of Kelowna fired a shot past Papirny and off the post.
Dillon Dube had another glorious chance. His rebound attempt was stopped by Papirny, the puck bounced precariously around the crease before the Brandon netminder kicked it away.
The Wheat Kings had their best chances as they swarmed around the Rockets’ net late in the second period and their pressure was rewarded when Dube bounced the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty.
All the tension built up in the first 40 minutes was released in an eruption of cheers from the crowd of 6,428 early in the third period.
Draisaitl took a pass from Bowey off the rush and roofed a backhand for the go-ahead goal. Moments later, Chartier jumped on a puck mishandled by Papirny and deposited it into the open net.
With the Wheat Kings pushing furiously late in the game, the Rockets took advantage on a 2-on-1. Chartier hit the post, but Nick Merkley scored on the follow-up, putting the Kelowna fans into a festive mood that didn’t let up until the final buzzer.
The loss ended a remarkable campaign for the Wheat Kings, who led the WHL with 114 points — two more than the Rockets — in the regular season. The Wheat Kings have a lot of talented players returning next season, but on Wednesday McCrimmon’s thoughts were consumed by the chance that had slipped past them.
"I’m disappointed," he said. "I’m disappointed that we didn’t win the league championship, I’m disappointed that we didn’t play better in the final. I think that’s where my thoughts are at as we sit here having lost Game 4. This isn’t what we wanted."
The game was certainly the last in the WHL for at least three Wheat Kings: overagers Eric Roy, Peter Quenneville and Reid Gow. Roy spent his entire WHL career in Brandon and he was proud of the fight his team put up facing elimination.
"I’ll give the guys credit," Roy said. "We battled hard for two periods and it’s an unfortunate bounce there to get scored on a minute in or whatever it was, but they’ve just got to regroup and hopefully be back here next year."
ONE-TIMERS: Draisaitl tied for the playoff scoring lead, with 10 goals and 18 assists in 19 games … Papirny stopped 27 shots … Whistle’s father, Dave, was a captain of the defunct Brandon University Bobcats hockey team … Duke returned to the lineup on Wednesday after missing the previous eight games, while D Kale Clague, who sat out the last seven, also returned for Brandon on Wednesday. With the changes, the team juggled its forward lines and defence pairings … Brandon scratched LW Braylon Shmyr, LW Ty Lewis, LW Quintin Lisoway, LW/D Mark Matsuba and D Mark Taraschuk … The Rockets used the same lineup all series, scratching LW Tyrell Goulbourne, RW Kole Lind, LW Tanner Wishnowski, RW Tate Coughlin, D Mitchell Wheaton and G Jake Morrissey … Kelowna finished the playoffs on a seven-game winning streak.
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