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Wildcats so close

The Kootenay Midget AAA Wildcats pushed the Thompson/Okanagan Rockets to the edge, but couldn’t topple the perennial powerhouse.
The Wildcats came up just short against the Thompson/Okanagan Rockets in the BC Female AAA Midget championship series.

The Kootenay Midget AAA Wildcats pushed the Thompson/Okanagan Rockets to the edge, but couldn’t topple the perennial powerhouse.

The regional team marched into Kelowna this past weekend after upsetting the Fraser Valley Phantom in the BC Female Midget AAA League semi-finals to gain a berth in the three-game league championship to determine the top female team in the province.

In a series that featured three hard fought games, the Wildcats fell just short on Sunday evening at the Rutland West Arena as the Rocket scored a 3-2 Game Three win to clinch the series 2-1.

“I told them they had nothing to be ashamed about,” Wildcats head coach Mario DiBella said of his speech after the tough Game Three loss. “They should be satisfied knowing that they showed a tremendous level of character to even get to that point.”

The Wildcats finished third in the regular season behind the Phantom and the Rockets. With a 9-14-4 regular season record, the Kootenay squad came into the championship series as the clear underdogs to the 22-4-1 Rockets.

In Game One on Friday night, the Wildcats made a statement that made the regular season tallies moot.

“They were unbelievable coming out of the chute,” DiBella said.

Wildcats captain Shannon Hall of Rock Creek paced her team, opening the series scoring in the first period. Castlegar’s Hailey McLean then put the Kootenay team up 2-0 in the second period which was quickly answered by the Rockets. In the third period the Wildcats clamped down on defence and Hall scored her second goal of the game into the empty net to seal the victory.

“They were full value for the win,” DiBella said of his team that includes the only Nelson-raised player Aimee DiBella. “The girls were fantastic, they gave it their absolute all.”

In Game Two the Wildcats again jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first period when Cranbrook sniper Daley Oddy pounced on a rebound. In the second frame the Kootenay team ran into penalty problems that DiBella said were compounded by a number of “phantom calls” by the officials. The Rockets stormed back with three unanswered goals by midway through the third period. The Wildcats pushed back late in the final period and Oddy scored her second of the game, but couldn’t manage the tying goal. The 3-2 loss forced a winner-take-all Game 3.

For the third game in a row the Wildcats took the early lead when Aimee DiBella scored on the powerplay. Kelowna responded with one of their own before the end of the first period to tie the score. In the second period, the Rockets took a 2-1 lead, but before the middle stanza ended Hall got the Wildcats back on even terms. The final period proved to be a defensive battle, but the Rockets broke the tie midway through on the powerplay. The Wildcats pulled their goalie with a minute left to play and fought desperately for the tying goal, but it was not to be.

“At the end of the day it’s only a game. I told them there is something special about walking together as champions that stays with you forever. But winning the silver medal and standing on that opposite blueline also teaches you valuable lessons that you never forget.

“Every girl in that room should be proud of what the team accomplished this season.”

The Female Midget AAA Championship is the second in a row for the Rockets. They will now travel to Alberta to face the Edmonton Thurder in the Pacific Midget Regional Championship. The winner of that series will advance to the 2011 National Female Midget Championships that will be hosted by St. Albert, Alberta on April 17 to 23.