Whaler Zach Johns (64, far right), Hezzy Mbaja (12) and the rest of the Pod shake hands with the defeated Delta Ice Hawks on March 15. | Photo courtesy of Alistair Burns, White Rock Whalers.
Chris Fortems ices Hawks
CENTENNIAL ARENA – The puck pinwheeled off a Delta defenceman and savvy veteran White Rock Whaler Chris Fortems knew that this was his moment for a historic spin-o-rama.
In a split second, Fortems turned and wristed the puck from the slot past Ice Hawk goalie Merick Erickson to send the Whalers to their first Pacific Junior Hockey League (PJHL) championship final.
Whaler defenceman Mat Morison (left) with Delta Ice Hawk Carson Hemenway (6) while White Rock's Ryden Mathieson (55) waits to shake the hand of Delta goalie Merick Erickson (1). | Photo courtesy of Alistair Burns, White Rock Whalers.
Nine minutes later on the Centennial score clock – and it felt like nine years – the Pod hung on to defeat the Ice Hawks 4-3 and win the Tom Shaw Conference Final in six games on March 15.
“It felt amazing to put our team to the next round,” Fortems said. He appreciated the on-ice comradery. “We’re sticking with each other to get better.”
As the horn sounded, the jubilant Whalers jumped over the boards to hug star goalie Keegan Maddocks, who returned to the team late in the season after a number of junior hockey stops.
He faced 36 shots and turned aside numerous scoring chances for his seventh postseason win.
“Keegan’s been playing unreal,” captain Tyler Price said. “We wouldn’t be here without him.”
The captain called the experience “incredible” to go from last season – shut down by the pandemic – to this year’s chance to contend for the PJHL crown.
Game 6: Nerves of steel
Overall, the Shaw Conference series against Delta was a nail-biter. Just when you thought a lead was safe? It wasn’t. Respectfully, the Ice Hawks looked more like the Jaws shark with their relentless forecheck.
New Whaler Gavin Giesbrecht (second from right) participates in the traditional handshake line with the Delta Ice Hawks. The Pod, a four-year-old franchise is headed to the PJHL championship for the first time. | Photo courtesy of Alistair Burns, White Rock Whalers.
And that storyline remained accurate in Game 6 – a tumultuous three periods with plenty of momentum shifts.
Eighty-seven seconds in, Whaler Jayson Beauregard skated down the right wing. His wrist shot rang off the far post and in past an outstretched Erickson for an early lead.
But Delta captain Alex Scouras put home a feed from Dalton MacGillivray to tie it up before the end of the first.
Beauregard makes his own luck
Again, Beauregard came through in the second period on a powerplay. After a point shot bounced off a Delta defenceman, Beauregard pounced on the loose puck.
It was his team-leading 10th postseason goal. But after veteran Whaler defenceman “Butch” La Roue went to the box for tripping, Delta’s Scouras replied on the man advantage.
Maddocks adds to highlight reel
Another turning point came with four minutes left in the middle frame. MacGillivray – one of the league’s most talented scorers – skated out of the penalty box and collected the puck for a breakaway.
His backhand deke looked like it would just trickle through Maddocks. But the Whaler goalie alertly closed his pads and sprawled to keep the puck out.
After the most crucial save in the franchise’s four-year history, Rogers praised the “dynamite” Maddocks for his clutch performance.
The Whalers escaped the second period tied at 2-2. But the Pod saved the best for last; the final 20 minutes were an emotional roller coaster.
First, MacGillivray put home a rebound 83 seconds in for his sixth of the postseason and a 3-2 lead. The minutes ticked down; the Whalers looked like a team who had taken one too many coaster rides.
Would the Pod blow a 3-1 series lead and head to a winner-take-all Game 7?
‘Batman’ Bryce: The Dark Knight Rises
Halfway through the period, veteran Whaler defenceman Bryce Margetson boosted the team’s energy level. He kept the puck in at the Delta blue line and snapped a shot through traffic for his first playoff marker.
“It was pretty exciting and I couldn’t have done it without my teammates,” Margetson said.
Margetson – nicknamed “Batman” earlier this season when he had to quickly put his equipment back on after a rescinded game misconduct – played at a super heroic level. He logged many minutes against the MacGillivray line throughout the series.
“We had to shut him down – and we sure did,” Margetson added.
Then, Fortems scored the historic goal that ensured the Whalers would head to the championship final against the Langley Trappers.
“I’m happy for the boys. They’ve worked hard all year,” White Rock head coach Jason Rogers concluded. “I’m proud of their work ethic. I’m proud they’ve bought in.”
At press time, the 2022 PJHL Championship Final schedule was not set. Please check back at whiterockwhalers.com or download the PJHL app to find out dates and times.