THE scores were close and the bounces were wacky but the cold numbers on the page will only show that the North Van Wolf Pack were swept in their first round PJHL playoff series against the Delta Ice Hawks.
The end came last Sunday night at the Ladner Leisure Centre where the Ice Hawks, second place finishers in the Tom Shaw Conference, topped the third-placed Wolf Pack 2-1, claiming their third one-goal win of the four-game sweep.
North Van head coach and general manager Matt Samson often repeated one word in describing his team's ignoble exit: weird.
"It was a really weird series and really frustrating," said Samson. "I'm not going to say we deserved to win but we definitely didn't deserve to get swept. We're a good team, we showed that we can play with these guys. You think back, if a bounce here or there goes our way it totally changes the series. . . . It was crazy, we just could not get a bounce."
The series began on Feb. 19 in Ladner and for much of Game 1 it looked as though North Van would get the crucial first win. The Wolf Pack took the lead three times and appeared to go up 4-2 but a goal was waved off, the referee ruling it did not cross the line.
"The red light was on and everybody celebrated but the ref was pretty adamant that it didn't fully cross the line," said Samson. "At the end of the day I don't know if it did or it didn't but that's one of those things - if you have a two goal lead that changes the game." The Hawks took advantage, scoring midway through the third period to tie the game at three and then getting the overtime winner from Aaron Merrick.
Game 2, back in North Van at Harry Jerome Arena Feb. 22, was the lone letdown for his team, said Samson.
"We came out a bit flat in Game 2 at home," he said. "I don't know what the reason for that was, we just didn't have the jump that we had in Game 1. That was frustrating."
Delta took a 3-1 lead early in the third and pushed it to a 4-1 final with an empty-netter.
Even with their lacklustre start the Pack had their chances, including an open net opportunity that was missed early in the game.
"It was one of those things that honestly, 95 times out of 100 that puck is going to go in for anybody but this time it didn't," said Samson. "That would have given us a 1-0 lead in Game 2 and maybe that would have changed the scope of the game."
Game 3, again at Harry Jerome, was what Samson called the "back-breaker." North Van out-shot the Ice Hawks 40-27 in the game but Delta goalie Alexander Ahnert was outstanding, earning a 2-1 win.
"We had six or seven Grade A chances in the third period, including a couple of posts and a couple of nice saves from their goaltender," said Samson. "To his credit, he played well. He stepped up, he played confident. Our goaltender (Braden Krogfoss) played really well too. It was just one of those things."
The game winner from Delta's Jeremy Gossard came on another wacky play that started when a dump-in hit a stanchion outside the boards but was not blown down.
"It hit that and kicked back towards the middle of the ice in our zone," said Samson. "We watched the video, a bunch of our guys stopped playing for a second." The play carried on and ended with Gossard tipping in a shot from the point.
"It was kind of a higher deflection that went straight up in the air, over Krogfoss's shoulder and landed behind him. It was one of the weirdest tips I've ever seen - you could try that 1,000 times and you'll never, ever get that tip again. That's your winning goal. And we were getting chances in the slot and they just weren't going in."
Game 4 was back in Ladner and ended with another one-goal loss. The Ice Hawks outshot the Wolf Pack 40-25 in the contest and, in the end, were full credit for the series win, getting goals from their high-scoring forwards when needed and strong play from their back line.
Merrick ended the series with five goals and an assist while Anthony Brito chipped in a goal and four assists.
"They're a good team, they played good team defence," said Samson. "Their role players chipped in and got some big goals for them."
Marcus Houck led the way offensively for the Wolf Pack, racking up three goals and two assists to factor in on all but one of the team's six goals.
Spencer Quon, who set the franchise record for points in a season this year and finished second in the league in points, picked up three assists in the series.
"(The players) did everything we asked them to do - it just came down to we couldn't put the puck in the net," said Samson. "Our start in Game 2 wasn't where it needed to be but other than that our guys competed, we were physical, we did a lot of the things that as coaches we wanted them to do."
The sweep brought an end to a season that saw the Wolf Pack set a club record for wins, racking up a 24-18-1-1 record. That, however, didn't provide much comfort following the final tough loss Sunday night.
"It's better than if we lost 7-1 every game - I liked that we competed and were close but it just makes it that much harder," said Samson.
"Looking around the group on Sunday night I just didn't have much to say. It was pretty emotional in the room. We've got a couple of guys who it's their last year, their last game with us. I thought this year we had a really special group of kids. It's tough."