Without their offensive catalyst, the Abbotsford Pilots fell 4-1 to the Aldergrove Kodiaks in Game 7, eliminated from the Pacific Junior Hockey League playoffs.
Brady Lawlor, the team’s captain, and leading goal scorer in both the regular and post-season, was handed a two-game suspension after Game 6 of the best-of-seven series – won by Abbotsford.
Not only did Lawlor have two goals in that game, he also was whistled for a check-to-the-head minor penalty. Since it was his third head-contact infraction, it resulted in an automatic two-game ban, keeping the 20-year-old out of the Abbotsford lineup. “It was a huge loss [to not have Lawlor],” said Pilots’ head coach Jim Cowden. “He was the best player in the series, on both sides. It was evident. How do you make that up?” The Pilots fell behind 4-0 before finally getting one past Kodiak goalie Ben Giesbrecht.
The Kodiaks scored twice with the man advantage and once just after one expired. It didn’t help that Lawlor is a key member of the penalty kill and power play units. “I don’t know if anything was really working well for them, if you look at their goals,” said Cowden. “There was that wrap around. Nothing was spectacular. It was just that we didn’t get it done, that’s all.”
Abbotsford finished 0-for-4 on the power play, while Aldergrove was officially 2-for-7. The Pilots did see the return of Colton Cowden, who was serving a three-game suspension, though he and affiliate player Brett Clayton couldn’t replicate the threat of their absent captain. “It’s pretty hard to fill the shoes,” said coach Cowden. “He makes our team tick. It would be like losing a Crosby for Pittsburgh type thing. He’s a good all-around player that plays many minutes for us.”
Cameron Davitt opened the scoring midway through the first frame on either an unlucky break or a good heads-up play, depending on how you look at it. He chased his own rebound behind the net and banked it off goalie Jacob Crawford and in, surprising everyone in the rink – from the referee to the fans and even the public announcer, who was slow to sound the horn for the home team’s tally.
The Pilots had some scoring chances later in the first. Cowden had a shot squeak through the pads of Giesbrecht, but the Kodiak defence cleared from danger. A minute later Cole Methorst was robbed in front of the net by a slick glove hand. Kolten Grieve, the regular season point-scoring leader for the Pilots, tried desperately to get the offence going. On one power play he knifed through three Aldergrove defenders but his nifty backhand attempt was stuffed by the right pad of Giesbrecht.
Then later he set up Mitch Plevy in close on a 3-on-2 rush, but again couldn’t beat the keeper. Spencer McHaffie scored what would stand as the winner at 11:28 of the second frame. He cut across the crease and tucked it by Crawford’s pad. The Pilots came on hard after that goal, with Grieve cutting to the net from behind the redline, but was unable to get his wrist shot over the goalie’s shoulder.
Aldergrove’s affiliate player Davin Padgham made it 3-0 at 16:16, taking a pass from the top of the circle and wristing it far side, just past the outstretched glove of Crawford. The McHaffie twins hooked up to make it 4-0 in the final seconds of the middle frame when Spencer fed Scott McHaffie in the slot and he put it top corner. At 5:10 of the third period Grieve finally got the visitors on the board.
Cowden drew the lone assist, though three players got a crack at the net with the netminder sprawling before Grieve scored his third of the postseason. The Pilots had a 3-on-1 shorthanded rush with about 10 minutes to play, but they got in too close to get a good shot off. They even drew a late power play but couldn’t muster any shots on goal. “It’s too soon to look back on the whole season, but I can already say we were the best team in the whole series,” said Cowden.