The Ottawa 67’s were 20 minutes from a trip to Brampton for a second-round series with the Battalion.
But then, just 13 seconds into overtime, their season was done and the coaching career of Brian Kilrea gone along with it.
Andrew Agozzino scored the overtime winner after the Niagara IceDogs erased a 3-1 third-period deficit to beat the 67’s 4-3 at the Ottawa Civic Centre and win the best-of-seven series 4-3.
“It’s not so much the coaching as the fact that we lost the series,” the Hall of Fame coach said when asked how he felt about his career coming to a sudden end.
“I wasn’t thinking about anything else. I learned a long time ago that when you get beat with your best players on the ice, you learn to accept it.”
Corey Cowick scored two power-play goals in the second period, including one with 25 seconds to play while the 67’s skated five-on-three.
With Alex Pietrangelo already in the penalty box for interference, Alex Friesen took a delay-of-game penalty for knocking the net off to give the 67’s the two-man advantage for 1:14.
Cowick picked up a loose puck in the slot and lifted a backhand through traffic and past Smith for what looked to be the goal that would break the IceDogs’ back.
“I can’t take this jersey off,” a tearful Cowick said after the game.
“Everything I owe in my career I owe to Brian Kilrea and to have it end like this is horrible. I would give anything to drop that puck again for him.”