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Kootenay Ice run out of comebacks at MasterCard Memorial Cup

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - The Kootenay Ice ran out of comebacks at the MasterCard Memorial Cup.

The Ice came from behind to win back-to-back elimination games but couldn't do it a third time Friday, losing to the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors 3-1 in the semifinal.

The loss put an end to a remarkable run for the Western Hockey League champions.

"We have nothing to hang our heads about," Ice captain Brayden McNabb said. "It's just a bad feeling going out like this. But we accomplished a lot and we should be proud.

"It's hard to take right now. I'm proud of everyone in the room, and I told them that. We'll take a couple days to hang out with each other and celebrate the year."

Ice head coach Kris Knoblauch couldn't able to hide the disappointment at the post-game press conference.

"It's a tough one swallow after your season being finished right now," he said.

Kootenay scored just one goal in an 0-2 start to the tournament with back-to-back losses in the round robin to the Owen Sound Attack and the Majors.

To stay alive the Ice had to find its offence and beat the Cup-favourite Saint John Sea Dogs.

Matt Fraser scored in overtime for a 5-4 win in that game to force a tie-breaker against the Attack, which Kootenay took 7-3 to set up Friday's semi.

In both those games the Ice came back to win after being down 2-0. It looked like Kootenay might do it again Friday when Joe Antilla scored with one second left in the second period to make it 2-1, but the Ice wouldn't get any closer.

"It's hard to comeback down 2-0," McNabb said. "We were lucky enough to come back two games in a row, but against a team so defensive like Mississauga it's hard to come back like that. The biggest problem was our starts.

"We believed we could come back. We came up a little short at the end, but it's the character in the room that showed all through the playoffs and all the way through this tournament."

Kootenay was the underdog behind the powerhouse Quebec Major Junior Hockey League-champion Sea Dogs and the two best teams in the Ontario Hockey League, in the champion Attack and the finalist Majors. But it was a role the team was used during its run to WHL championship, and a label it embraced at the Memorial Cup.

"You got to feel good that you're one of the top three Canadian teams still there," Antilla said. "We weren't the first team eliminated, but it doesn't really matter unless you win the Cup."

After finishing fourth in the WHL's Eastern Conference, the Ice dispatched the Moose Jaw Warriors in six games to start the playoffs. The Ice then swept the first-overall Saskatoon Blades and the Medicine Hat Tigers to get to the WHL final.

Kootenay took out the Western Conference-champion Portland Winterhawks in five games to win its third Ed Chynoweth Cup and earn a spot in the Memorial Cup.

Despite being the underdog coming into the tournament, the Ice never doubted its chances to win the biggest prize in junior hockey.

"Everyone on the team thought we were going to go all the way," Antilla said. "If we continued to play as well as we had been, we would've gone all the way."