Pilots punch ticket to Keystone Cup final

The Pilots
The Pilots' Jarrett Martin (right) watches a shot go into the net during Saturday afternoon's round-robin game vs. the Saskatoon Quakers.
— image credit: John Morrow

The Abbotsford Pilots have what they've been craving – another shot at the Beaver Valley Nitehawks in the Keystone Cup final.

Beaver Valley, the B.C. provincial champions, dismantled the Pilots 10-2 in the opening game of the Western Canadian junior B hockey championship at Abbotsford Recreation Centre.

But the Pilots (4-1) have been lights-out since then, reeling off four straight wins to punch their ticket to Sunday's title game (1 p.m., ARC).

The Nitehawks (4-0), meanwhile, are also assured of a finals berth heading into their round-robin finale vs. the Thunder Bay Northern Hawks at 8 p.m. Saturday.

"It's the perfect end to the story," Pilots coach Jim Cowden enthused. "They beat us 10-2, but we're a better hockey club than that.

"Like I said to the guys, the 10-2 (score) was a blessing, rather than 2-1 or 3-1 . . . we've got lots to prove to them."

The Pilots found out they'd secured a trip to the title game on Saturday morning, when the Blackfalds Wranglers beat the Thunder Bay Northern Hawks 8-4. Both teams could finish with no fewer than two losses, and the Pilots had the head-to-head tiebreaker vs. both teams.

That gave Abbotsford the luxury of resting several of their regulars – forwards Kolten Grieve, Colten Cowden and Dylan Cusmano, and defenceman Austin Edwards – for their last round-robin game vs. the Saskatoon Quakers on Saturday afternoon.

Even without those players, the Pilots cruised to a 9-3 victory behind two goals from Jared Virtanen, who moved into a tie for the tourney scoring lead with five goals and six assists for 11 points. Beaver Valley's Dallas Calvin (six goals, five assists) was also on 11 points heading into his team's game vs. Thunder Bay.

Jordan Henri, with two goals and an assist, led the way offensively for the Quakers (1-4).

Cowden said his team's main objective was just to get through the game without incurring a suspension or injury, and added that William Latimer will get the start in goal for Sunday's final.

The match-up for the bronze medal game (10 a.m. Sunday) is also set – it will feature Blackfalds and Thunder Bay, both sitting at 2-2 heading into their last round-robin games on Saturday night.


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