After securing their spot in the 2016-17 KIJHL playoffs, the Columbia Valley Rockies continued to demonstrate their recent improvements, splitting their weekend road trip against the Spokane Braves and Grand Forks Border Bruins.
The team embarked on their road trip Friday evening (February 3rd) to face the Braves south of the border. It wasn’t long before the Rockies were on the board, scoring twice in the first two minutes, before allowing Spokane to tie the game through the opening period.
After falling behind 3-2 in the opening seconds of the second period, the Rockies rebounded and took over the game, scoring four unanswered goals before Tyler Bordt cemented their victory with an empty netter to take the game 7-4.
The Rockies carried their momentum across the border for their Saturday night (February 4th) game against Grand Forks, outshooting the Bruins 18-9 in the opening period while holding just a 2-1 lead. Head coach Wade Dubielewicz said he thought the team deserved better throughout the first two periods and was still puzzled at how several pucks didn’t find their way to the back of the net.
“To be honest, I think we really took it to them and their goalie got extremely lucky to be honest,” he said. “I would say there were 15 pucks that I could not believe didn’t end up in the back of the net, not just big saves but pucks that hit the guy, went up and hit a piece of ice rather than in.”
It didn’t take long for the Bruins to take advantage of the Rockies ineffectiveness as they scored three of the game’s remaining four goals to win the game 4-3 in regulation. Despite the loss, Dubielewicz said he was happy with the team’s play on a back-to-back on the road.
“On the whole, an extremely positive weekend for us,” he said. “We played a really gritty team on Saturday, took it to them, matched their intensity and physicality and, to be honest, deserved better.”
With the fourth seed locked down in the playoffs, the Rockies are guaranteed to play the Creston Valley Thunder Cats beginning in Creston on Friday, February 24th at 7:30 p.m., before returning to the Eddie for Game 3 on Monday February 27th. Essentially, this means that any game for the remainder of the season has no effect in terms of position in the standings.
That doesn’t mean Dubielewicz thinks they aren’t important though.
“They do matter, to be honest,” he said. “First and foremost, it’s not just a switch that you can click on and off; you got to go and you have to play.”
He said they will continue to tweak different systems such as their offensive and neutral zone forecheck during the season’s final four games. That said, the biggest objective the team has over the next two weeks will be ensuring that they are able to stay healthy.
“We don’t have the most bodies kicking around and we’re a bit banged up after this weekend so you’re going to have the chance to watch some local talent in the lineup and we’re going to use some of our Midgets this weekend to give some of the guys a little bit of a rest who really need it,” he said.
Dubielewicz said that defenceman Craig Ofner will be getting rest this weekend in addition to Ryan Skytt, Colby Sherlock and possibly Chase Hawkins. Replacing them will be locals from Columbia Valley Rockies midget team in Ben Bradley, Jarrod Oaks, Connor Woodworth and Isaiah Fedow.
For the next two weeks, Dubielewicz said he is continuing to stress the importance of playoff mentality to his team in hopes of readying the young roster for its first playoff series.
“The term I use is that it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon, so you finish your checks in game one and they pay off in games four, five, six and seven because guys start to get bruised and banged up, so that attention to playing the way we want to play and that’s a physical game is going to pay dividends moving on,” he said.
The Rockies will play two of their final games this weekend starting with their game Friday, February 10th against Nelson at the Eddie before hosting Beaver Valley the following night for the final time of the season.