Don Fennell, Sports Editor
In the end, the Richmond Sockeyes were sunk by mathematics.
A couple more goals or two fewer against and the Sockeyes may have gone on to complete one of the most improbable runs in Junior B hockey history. But rather than dwell on would have, could have or should have, they can look back on a season that saw a fifth-place team go on to win the Pacific International league playoff crown, the B.C. championship, and the bronze medal at the Western Canadian championships last weekend in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba.
"At the start of year we set a goal to get into the playoffs," Richmond coach Ron Johnson
said. "But we weren't sure how far we would go and we went a lot further. That's what happens when players start to believe in themselves."
With three wins, a loss and a draw in round-robin play, the Sockeyes finished in a three-way tie for top spot at the Western Canadian championships last weekend in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. However, Saskatchewan champion Assiniboia Rebels and Alberta rep Spruce Grove Regals were awarded first and second place based on better goals-for-and-against ratios.
Assiniboia went on to win the Keystone Cup with a 5-2 triumph over Spruce Grove, while Richmond routed Manitoba champion Selkirk Fishermen 9-4 in Sunday's third-place game.
"The kids wanted to show what they were
capable of; that their record was no fluke and they should have been (in the final)," Johnson said.
Richmond tied Spruce Grove 1-1 in their opening game at the tournament last Wednesday, going on to down the host St. Claude Knights 3-0 and Northwest Ontario champion Nipigon Elks 5-1 Thursday before dropping their first game Friday 7-1 to Assiniboia. They finished up the round-robin with a 5-0 win over Selkirk. Richmond goaltender Kevin MacKay, who was the most valuable player in the PIJHL this season, earned both shutouts and capped his career with a 2.17 goals against averagethird best at the tournament.
"MacKay was obviously one of our most consistent guys," Johnson said. "But
everybody played up, especially the vets who wanted to go out with style."
While there was no goaltending award, Richmond's Jason Garrison was selected the tournament's top defenceman. Garrison began the season as a forward but switched to defence after the Sockeyes traded Rob Dolter to the Delta Ice Hawks midway through the year.
"We were saying to him we wanted his ring (awarded as the best blueliner) because he didn't want to be a d-man," laughed Johnson, who put Garrison back on defence because the team was short a left-handed shot with Dolter's departure.
"Jason is a big, strong kid who can rush the puck and gave us a different element," Johnson said.
"We were cautious with the first part of his development but he's also proven to be a very responsible player defensively."
Garrison had a goal and four assists for Richmond in the tournament.
Other standouts included Ray Sawada, who had the hat trick in Sunday's win over Selkirk; Spencer Hamade, who netted a pair of goals; and Ricky Sikka, who capped his career with a spectacular goal with 16 seconds to play against the Fishermen. He tied for the scoring lead with three goals and a tournament-best eight assists.
Richmond's 16-year-olds also played well, led by Kendal McArdle who impressed the Moose Jaw Warriors who made him their first-round selection in
the 2003 Western Hockey League Bantam Division Draft. Mike Hengen, Scott Jow and Julian Marcuzzi also played with maturity beyond their years.
"You wouldn't know they were 16 year olds," Johnson said.
Richmond general manager Ken Kirby said missing out an opportunity to play for the championship because of a couple of goals was tough. But he said the Sockeyes can take some solace having won their last game and matching the win-loss record of Assiniboia.
"I thought we were the class of the tournament," he said. "The kids gave all they had and we didn't have to motivate them much, but (this also showed) they're still on a learning curve. We were the youngest team at the tournament."
Kirby said he was disappointed by the lack of fan support, with an average attendance of only about 150 people per game. The Sockeyes played to an average of 900 fans during the PIJHL and provincial finals.
The Richmond Sockeyes of 2002/03
Bev and Ken Kirby