With the Columbia Valley Rockies assured a date with the Creston Valley Thunder Birds in the opening round of the KIJHL playoffs, head coach Wade Dubielewicz took the opportunity to showcase youthful talent during last weekend’s two games.
“It’s pretty standard throughout the league,” Dubielewicz said of resting some of his injured players in favour of giving locals a chance to demonstrate their talents. “We’re in a scenario where we’re in playoffs and we’re a little bit banged up. It’s one thing we probably would have done regardless but we’re in a situation where we’re able to do that.”
Craig Ofner, Colby Sherlock, Ryan Skytt and Chase Hawkins all received the weekend off in hopes of rehabilitating their injuries before playoffs in two weeks. Replacing them will be several members of the Columbia Valley Rockies midget team in Ben Bradley, Jared Oaks, Connor Woodworth, Isaiah Fedow, Dace Prymak and goaltender Geoff Drought.
Woodworth, an affiliate player (AP) with the Rockies as a 15 year old, was only allowed to play one game on the weekend given that the league limits 15 year olds to five games as an AP and Woodworth had played four prior to last weekend. In him, Dubielewicz said he sees a small statured player at 5’7” and 130 pounds with the potential to grow into a strong presence beyond this season.
“Connor is in a spot where I think his summer will dictate what happens with him next year,” he said. “He’s a kid that’s going to have a hard time putting on weight and size, he’s just that kind of high metabolism kind of kid.”
Completely the opposite is Fedow who stands at 6’2” and 200 pounds, bringing a stay at home defensive presence on the Rockies’ blue line where he’s been for three games already this season. Similar in stature but playing right-wing is local Jared Oaks who’s grown up in the Windermere Valley Minor Hockey system and has caught the eye of Dubielewicz several times over the years.
After growing up a Rockies fan and trying out for the team last spring, Oaks said he was excited to make his debut with the Rockies last weekend.
“It’s fun to be on the ice instead of in the stands,” he said. “All the family and friends that we have in the stands here so I think it will be fun.”
Dubielewicz said that he will be working the players into the lineup as he sees fit with Drought expected to get the start on Saturday night against Beaver Valley.
“Honestly from a coaching perspective, you want to put them in a position where their first experience in junior hockey is a positive one,” Dubielewicz said. “That’s managing their minutes in a certain way where you put them in scenarios where they’re likely to succeed rather than fail.”
Dubielewicz said the hope is creating confidence in young players who will be able to attend training camp the following season and make an impact on the team. For him, the Columbia Valley Rockies organization is more than the results produced by any one season.
“Our goal is to bring kids in, help them learn the game, help them become a better person and try to find them an opportunity at a higher level to move them on because that’s what’s we’ve decided to be as an organization and we’re proud of that,” he said.
Of course, the Rockies wouldn’t be able to promote this much local talent without a strong local minor hockey system—a fact Dubielewicz knows all too well.
“I don’t think we’ve been in this situation where we are now so the people at Windermere Minor Hockey have done a great job but not only at Bantam and Midget, this goes back to Atom and Peewee, able to keep these kids interested and hungry to the game,” he said.