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Okanagan Rockets push Giants to limit
Vernon centres Dennon Leibel and Spencer Hewson were skating on fumes Sunday morning at the Burnaby Winter Club.
Just a few hours after a 4-3 triple-overtime win to square the best-of-three B.C. Major Midget Hockey League final series, the Okanagan Rockets bowed 1-0 to the four-time defending champion Vancouver Northwest Giants.
“We were exhausted; we got about four hours sleep,” said Leibel, who turns 17 in July. “It was a good game. We actually had a lot of chances; we just couldn’t bear down and bury them.”
Anthony Conti scored off a deflection from the point in the first period. The Rockets pressed hard, but were unable to beat Bob Didur in net.
Added Hewson: “The triple-overtime game was over just before midnight so the first period of the morning game had a slower tempo.”
The Giants will now wait for the Alberta Midget AAA League winner – either the Red Deer Chiefs or the Edmonton South Side Athletic Club Athletics.
Vancouver hosts the 2013 Pacific Midget Regionals, April 5-7. The Telus Cup national Midget finals are in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
The Giants opened the series with a 3-1 victory Friday, getting a late empty-netter from Brandon Del Grosso (New Westminster).
Carter Hikichi (Kelowna) put the Rockets ahead early in the first period, assisted by Alex Gran (Kelowna) and Graham Millar (Penticton).
Del Grosso equalized on a powerplay off a pass from Anthony Conti (North Vancouver). Just over a minute into the third, Gavin Gould (North Vancouver) gave the Giants the lead with help from Jackson Cressey (West Vancouver) and Colton Kerfoot (West Vancouver).
On Saturday, Josh Blanchard of the Rockets scored with 58 seconds left in regulation to force extra time, setting the stage for Liam Finley who deflected home the winner at 13:40 of the third OT.
GM David Michaud was impressed with the Rockets’ effort all season.
“It’s tough and pretty deflating, but at the end of the day, it’s a one-goal loss to a very good hockey team in the final game of our season,” said Michaud. “I’m so proud of the effort and total commitment we had from all these guys. All 20 of them are champions in my book. They never quit, and to push a team like this to the limit like they did, I’m incredibly proud.
“They (Giants) had 10 returnees. They are a very good hockey club. We thought we had some momentum after the triple-overtime game, but they (Giants) just didn’t get rattled.”
The Rockets finished third in the regular season at 26-6-8 record. The Giants were a clear first at 34-2-4.
Hewson, who turned 17 in January, has verbally agreed to play for Mike Vandekamp’s BCHL Nanaimo Clippers next season. He racked up 16 goals and 39 points with the Rockets.
“It was a good season, the whole year, for the team and myself,” said Hewson. “We had highs and lows and fortunately, we had a lot of highs.”
Hewson noted that after regular-season and playoff tilts between the two finalists, the Giants ended up winning by one goal overall.
“We knew it would be an upset because they had won the last four times. It was funny because on Twitter, we had everybody cheering us on because nobody wanted them to win it again.”
Michaud gushed about the 5-foot-11, 175-pound Hewson’s contributions to the Rockets.
“Spencer is a class act. He was a leader for us all year. He’s a such a clutch individual. His value is as much off the ice as it is on the ice. He’s a 200-foot player and has a bright future.”
Leibel got most of his seven goals and 11 points earlier in the season.
“Dennon has some good hockey in front of him. He’s so versatile. He got some points at the start of the season and then we put him in a grinder’s role, and to his credit, he did everything we asked. He’s fearless, and he blocked shots and killed penalties.”
The 5-foot-9, 165-pound Leibel will attend the West Kelowna Warriors’ spring camp this weekend. He hopes to play Junior B or A next year.