In the end, they just ran out of the gas.
The Dawson Creek Junior Canucks fell 5-1 at home Sunday to the County of Grande Prairie JDA Kings, losing in the NWJHL semifinals in seven games, falling just short of the finals and a berth at provincials.
It was all the more heartbreaking after a hard fought OT win on Friday had put them up 3-2 in the series — the third period and overtime probably their best work all year — and on Saturday, came back from a 4-2 deficit with less than a minute left, and with a chance to end it in overtime, only to fall 5-4 in the extra frame.
But with injuries mounting — Dustin Bahm left the series in game one, last year’s leading scorer Wesley Shipton missed most of the season — it was an uphill battle.
“Top to bottom, head to toe,” said head coach Gene Cooper. “It was a tough fought series, every game was a battle. The bottom line is we ran out of players, we were down with some injuries as they did, and we just ran out of bodies.
“We needed a little bit more energy, and a little bit more bounces our way.”
He noted “four or five” players were out due to head contact alone.
Even goaltending didn’t go unaffected. In game six, goaltender Conor Webb was run when GP scored their fourth and had to leave near the end of the game. Mathew Ens, who missed time with a suspension, came in relief, and started game seven before being switched for Webb after the Kings’ third goal.
The Junior C’s had the shot advantage in the finale, 42-28, but just couldn’t get it done.
Chase Henrickson had the Canucks’ lone goal in the second period. Henrickson was the team’s playoff MVP, potting nine goals and 12 assists in seven games, only held off the scoresheet in game three.
It was a tough ending to the season, but Cooper sees a bright future for the players returning next year.
“All in all, there was 13 rookies on this hockey team this year. When you take into account for midget players, graduating midget players, first year in junior hockey, and to be able to push through that, with an experienced team like that, it’s pretty amazing,” he said.
A second place finish in the regular season, and a competitive series against a Kings squad who has given them trouble since turning their season around after October.
“I think they did good, and they’re going to grow from there. Next year will be that much better, I’m sure the boys are all going to come back and make life a lot better,” said Cooper.
“The future is bright in Dawson.”
The Fort St. John Huskies will play the County of Grande Prairie JDA Kings in the NWJHL FInals. The Huskies look to repeat as NWJHL champions.