PURSUIT OF EXCELLENCE CLAIMS KIBIHT TITLE

Thu Apr 12

By MARK HUNTER, Kamloops Daily News - Nothing was going to stop Kelowna's Pursuit of Excellence hockey academy from winning Sunday's championship final of the Kamloops International Bantam Ice Hockey Tournament.

POE won the title for the third time in four years, defeating the North Shore Winter Club 5-3 in an exciting game at McArthur Island Sport and Event Centre. POE also won in 2009 and 2010, but lost in overtime of the 2011 final.

The boys from Kelowna fell behind 2-0 after a period Sunday, but managed to tie it heading into the third. Then, after falling behind 3-2, POE thought it had scored the tying goal - TWICE! - only to be on the wrong end of close calls.

Even those couldn't rattle POE, which scored three goals in a five-minute stretch in the last half of the game to win.

"We've gone through adversity like that all season," said POE head coach Kevin MacKay. "This is a great (group) and we didn't panic at all, we just kept coming at them."

POE is a program built for success, although its Tier 1 team had what it considered an unsuccessful season, not winning a tournament.

But it made up for it with a nice run at KIBIHT, going 7-0.

"This is the first time we've made it past the semifinals," said POE forward Jordan Kawaguchi, the tournament MVP and an all-star. "We (lost) in every other tournament in the semifinals, so it's a bit of redemption."

It didn't appear as though it would be that way early in Sunday's final, with Cal Babych and Quinn Benjafield scoring to give North Shore a 2-0 lead. POE's best shift of the first period was its last, keeping continuous pressure in the offensive zone for much of the final minute, although it didn't score.

That momentum carried over into the second period, and Kawaguchi scored at the one-minute mark. Liam Finlay tied it with 3:08 remaining in the period, deflecting a point shot upstairs and then celebrating by throwing himself into the glass, Alexander Ovechkin style.

North Shore's Ryland Chernomaz scored early in the third period - the goal gave his side a 3-2 lead, but it also lit a fire under POE.

Unfortunately for POE, its first two attempts at the tying goal ran into some bad luck.

On the first, referee Ryan Dawson ruled the puck hadn't crossed the line. Dawson ruled the whistle had blown before the puck went into the net on the second, which came only 1:46 after the first.

Instead of moping about the calls - they both appeared to be correct - POE kept-a-comin', with Trevor Ayre, Kawaguchi and Tyson Jost scoring in the final 7:20.

"We just let that stuff go - there's nothing you can do about a situation like that," MacKay said. "We kept battling and guys kept competing for pucks and we got opportunities and momentum swung our way anyway."

POE had three of the tournament's six all-stars, and also three major award winners.

Along with Kawaguchi, Joe Gatenby was named top defenceman and an all-star, while Bobby Gathercole earned top goaltender honours and an all-star selection.

Kevin Davis of the Kamloops Jardine's Blazers also was a defensive all-star, while Terrell Draude of the Sask Valley Vipers was an all-star at forward.

The other all-star forward was North Shore's Jansen Harkins, who torched the opposition en route to leading the tournament with 11 goals and 17 points in five round-robin games.

Harkins didn't do much in the final, but only because POE had him covered like a blanket.

"We've played these guys two times . . . and he's a top-end player," MacKay said. "So we had two crews of D-men that shut him down . . . I thought they did a great job."

The Jardine's Blazers made it all the way to the semifinals, but lost 5-1 to POE and settled for fourth after falling 4-1 to Penticton's Okanagan Hockey Academy in Sunday's bronze-medal game.

Kamloops ended the round-robin 4-1, thanks to a 2-0 victory over Burnaby and a 2-1 triumph over Grande Prairie.

The Maverick Motor Inn Blazers went 3-2 in the Tier 2 round-robin to finish third in their pool, but lost 3-1 to Port Coquitlam in a consolation game to miss out on the fifth-place game.

POE also won the Tier 2 title, defeating the Richmond Blues 2-1 in Sunday's final.