After two quick first period goals to spark some hope against a high-powered opponent, the Columbia Valley Rockies were slammed with nine goals against over the final 42 minutes on Saturday, March 1st en route to a 9-2 defeat on home ice and a playoff exit after four straight losses.
Despite putting up a spirited fight in the first two games of the series on the road in Creston, the Rockies couldn’t find a way to declaw the Thunder Cats, getting outscored 29-8 in the four-game series.
“We put a lot of energy into that first period, and we’ve had trouble all year putting two periods together back to back,” said coach Wade Dubielewicz. “We didn’t have the jump to start the second period, and that’s a good team — when you turn pucks over, they’re going to make you pay.”
“We couldn’t get a break this series; we hit a lot of posts,” he added, noting the Rockies hit five goalposts in game three alone. “For a team that doesn’t have a lot of success scoring goals, it’s kind of discouraging.”
In game four, the Thunder Cats held a 37-30 edged in shots against a home team but a big difference in the number of quality scoring chances. (Three of the Kootenay
International Junior Hockey League’s top 12 regular season scorers play for Creston Valley).
After a newly-formed line of Racey Big Snake at left wing, Braeden Farge at centre and Stephen Pratt at right wing had some early success with two quick goals on Saturday night, Creston scored late to close the first period with a 2-1 score.
Creston kept pouring it on in the second, scoring four goals from Matti Jmaeff, Ethan Rusnack, Nicholas Thompson and Tyler Podgorenko. In the third, Trevor Hanna, Andrew Hodder, Jesse Collins (who finished second in league scoring with 92 points) and Marcel Fuchs added salt to the wound, putting the game far out of reach for the Rockies.
“It came down to a bit of emotional exhaustion; when you know you’re backed into a corner and you give it your all, we just couldn’t maintain that emotional focus that we needed,” said Mr. Dubielewicz.
On Friday, February 28th, the Rockies lost 8-1 against Creston Valley. In the first two games on the road, Columbia Valley lost by scores of 7-4 on Wednesday, February 26th, and 5-1 on Tuesday, February 25th.
“We were better on the road; we’ve had lapses in all the games, but in Creston, we were right there,” said general manager Ross Bidinger. “We could just as easily have been up 3-0 in game one as down 3-0.”
In game two, goaltender Stephen Pratt (who started in three of the four playoff games) got fatigued early and let in a couple of soft goals before being pulled, said Mr. Bidinger.
“It was the lack of team defence,” he added. “If you don’t play that team perfectly defensively, it ends up counting on the scoreboard. It wasn’t so much our defence; it was our forwards not getting that guy coming through the middle with speed. And you’ve got three of the league’s top goal scorers on that team — they’re high-powered and they’ve got a lot of speed.”
Players singled out for praise by the coaching staff for a strong finish to the year included forwards Doan Smith, Ryan Lawson (who came back late after injury), Jerome Thorne (who came back after discipline
issues), Logan Kerner (“he’s 140 pounds and he was our biggest hitter all year,” said Mr. Bidinger) and defencemen Zach Schlitt and Tyson Kapty.
Nigel Swab and Matt Houston, who’ve been given opportunities to play for the Surrey Eagles of the BCHL, both played in the series.
The team is now looking ahead to next season, paying particular attention to how they’ll put together a deep team next year.
“In recruiting this year, we ended up with more guys who could play well with the pucks on their sticks, but not in defensive mode,” noted Mr. Bidinger. “When we broke down the video for game one, there was a period of about five to ten minutes in the second period where we made just a couple mistakes, and it’s in the back of the net, and everybody’s demeanour on the bench just kind of sags.”
“We’ve learned a lot this year, and I don’t think we’ll make the same mistakes we’ve made again,” added Mr. Dubielewicz.