In what has been a tough season for the Columbia Valley Rockies hockey team, it would be easy to pack it in and start looking ahead to next season. However, head coach Marc Ward is keeping his focus simple by playing it day-by-day.
“We just want to improve every single day,” Ward said. “There’s a lot of our players—and I know the stats don’t show it—but a lot of our guys have come a long way in these short three months, and they’ve continued to develop into very good hockey players. We’re just going to continue to work hard and get better everyday.”
The Rockies are coming off a tough trio of losses in consecutive nights, beginning with a 9-3 loss in Fernie November 24 that saw the team out-shot 62-19 by the division-leading Ghostriders. Forward Jayson Cannell had a hand in all three Rockies goals, scoring two of them and assisting on the third in what was an otherwise forgettable night for the Rockies. This marked the second time the Rockies had lost to the Ghostriders in a week, after a much closer game in Invermere November 19.
Next, the Rockies played the league’s only remaining winless team — and the only team they have beaten this season — the Grand Forks Border Bruins the following night in Invermere, November 25.
The Bruins actually took the lead on an early goal by Austin Lee, but Rockies defenceman Aaron Barclay put home a loose puck in front of the net just over a minute later to tie the score and reinvigorate the Rockies bench. The Rockies controlled play for much of the remainder of the frame, and put home two more goals before the end of the period on markers from defenceman Brandon Lijdsman and forward Tyler Reay. However, some undisciplined penalties late in the frame certainly sapped some of their momentum, as the Rockies found themselves down two men headed into the second.
The second period, while close, was nevertheless when the wheels began to fall off for the Rockies, as they seemed to let off the gas.
Despite managing only three shots in the frame, the Bruins scored on two of them, while the Rockies were left empty-handed following some strong play from Bruins goalie Jeremy Mandoll, leaving the score tied 3-3 with only one period remaining.
The Bruins came out firing in the final period, very nearly taking the lead if not for a shot that rang off the crossbar.
The Bruins, who were on a 24-game losing streak, looked like they would revert to their losing ways when Rockies forward Chad Davidson put the puck past the sprawling Bruins goalie with 11 minutes remaining. The Rockies seemed in firm control, leading 4-3 and with momentum firmly in their favour in front of their home crowd, but the Bruins didn’t quit, and with a little over six minutes left they managed to tie the score and prompt a collective sigh of disappointment from Rockies fans in attendance.
The Bruins kept pushing and took the lead a minute later with just over five minutes remaining in the game. The Rockies had their chances to tie it up, including a late powerplay, but they just couldn’t find another goal, and the Bruins took the game 5-4.
“I had a bunch of things written on the board, to focus on (after the Bruins game), but I decided to keep the focus for (the next) game simple,” Ward said. “I wanted to put one thing on the board for the team to focus on.”
This approach appeared to pay dividends the following night, when one of the league’s highest scoring teams in the Beaver Valley Nitehawks visited Invermere for the Rockies’ third game in three nights.
Despite only dressing 13 skaters (10 forwards and three defencemen) and two goalies, the Rockies showed pluck and determination throughout the game, backed by outstanding play from goalie Travis Beekhuizen.
The Rockies drew first blood when forward Damon Raven notched a marker to put the Rockies up 1-0.
However, the Nitehawks showed why they have only lost five games all season when off of the ensuing draw they pushed it up ice and equalized just 10 seconds later on a slick one-timer, practically before the hometown fans had stopped cheering.
The Rockies showed no quit, however, and on the back of good defensive play and strong goaltending again took the lead five minutes later when a streaking Kellen Marchand took a great pass from Jayson Cannell to make the score 2-1.
That’s when the three highest scoring players in the entire league struck again, when Nitehawks forward Chris Derochie tied it up before the end of the first, drawing assists from linemates Ryan Edwards and Craig Martin. Derochie, Edwards and Martin have combined for an incredible 164 points in 26 games this year, and continued to show why they were so dangerous as the game went on.
The Nitehawks kept up the pressure in the second, and while the Rockies played some good defence they couldn’t hold off forever, and the Nitehawks took the lead midway through the frame.
They followed it up just over a minute later with another tally to make the score 4-2, but the Rockies showed kept playing hard, and following forward Joe Colborne’s strong drive to the net down the wing Damon Raven scored his second of the night on a loose puck that the Nitehawks goalie just couldn’t corral in time to make the score 4-3 headed into the third.
For all the strong play from both the Rockies skaters and their goalie Beekhuizen, the Rockies short bench caught up to them in the third period.
Already missing several players due to injury and following an ejection from a fighting major, the Rockies bench had only 11 skaters to the Nitehawks’ 17.
Beekhuizen did his best to keep his team in the game, continuing to make fantastic saves over and over in the third, but the Nitehawks piled on 24 shots in the frame, en-route to scoring five more goals in a 9-3 win.
“I thought we played one of our better games all year,” Ward said. “That was one of our most consistent efforts all year, and we played a full 60 minutes … we just ran out of gas. Those first 40 minutes our goalie was unbelievable, and we did a great job on the penalty kill, but it came down to the bodies on the bench.”
“We played a good two periods, but we really slowed down in the last 10 minutes,” forward Alex Roskell said. “The short bench really caught up with us.”
The Rockies next visit the Kimberley Dynamiters November 29, followed by a visit to Revelstoke December 2. The Rockies host the Nitros December 3 in Invermere.