Michael Herringer did everything humanly possible to prolong the Kelowna Rockets’ 2015-16 Western Hockey League season.
But 71 saves still wasn’t enough, as the Seattle Thunderbirds completed a sweep of the defending champs in the Western Conference final with a 5-4 victory in double overtime Wednesday night in Kent, Wash.
Rookie Matthew Wedman beat Herringer at 7:52 of the second extra period to send the ‘Birds on to their first WHL final since 1999.
Seattle will now face either Brandon or Red Deer for the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
Three times on Wednesday, the Rockets led by two goals—2-0, 3-1 and 4-2—but couldn’t hold the lead on any occasion.
With their net empty, the T’Birds scored twice in the final two minutes of the third period, including Keegan Kolesar’s game tying goal with just 2.7 seconds to go in regulation time.
Justin Kirkland scored twice for Kelowna, while Tyson Baillie and Rodney Southam also scored for the Rockets who were playing their 18th game in 33 days and were battling fatigue throughout the series.
After surviving a pair of intense seven-game battles with Kamloops and Victoria, assistant coach Travis Crickard said the Rockets didn’t have much left to give against the Thunderbirds, who outshot Kelowna 76-32.
“Nothing left,” Crickard told AM 1150’s Regan Bartel. “It seemed like Seattle was playing 5-on-0 in overtime.
“I think our play throughout the course of this game was a product of two game sevens for the first two rounds.”
As for Herringer, Crickard said the 20-year-old stopper from Comox did everything that was asked of him—and more.
“I told him in the room I was so proud of him, the amount of fight that guy has in him, to try and carry this team and give us an opportunity to win hockey games is outstanding,” Crickard said of Herringer, who took over for an injured Jackson Whistle early in 2016 .
“I feel like everyone was doubting him throughout the playoffs and regular season. Goaltending was not our problem. He was outstanding.”
It was the Rockets third straight appearance in the WHL’s Western Conference final.