If there were oddsmakers in the KIJHL, few, if any would have given the Columbia Valley Rockies much of a chance when they played host to the league-leading Nelson Leafs on Sunday, November 18.
Coming off an 11-0 drubbing at the hands of the Summerland Steam the night before, the Rockies looked prime to once again be on the losing side of a blowout, and early on Nelson was in complete control. Crisp passing and strong body checks left the Rockies decidedly on the back foot as they struggled to match the Leafs intensity, however Rockies goalie Stewart Pratt was outstanding in net, and it payed massive dividends as the period went on. It took the Rockies nine and a half minutes to record their first shot, and after nearly scoring on that opportunity, they would seize the momentum and score just under a minute later when forward Ryan Henderson clanged one off the post and in from a sharp angle. Pratt continued his strong play the rest of the period and just like that, the Rockies took a 1-0 lead into the dressing room through one period of play.
“I guess in a way, it’s easier for them to be motivated and focused (after an 11-0 loss)” Rockies assistant coach Scott Dubielewicz said. “There’s nowhere to go but up after a game like that.”
The Rockies opened the second period on the penalty kill, but continued strong goaltending and a persistent forecheck meant that the Leafs had trouble getting into their offensive groove as the period went on. Despite that, giving a high-powered team like Nelson too many opportunities on the powerplay is never a good thing, and on another Rockies penalty kill the Leafs finally cracked Pratt to score their first goal of the night. Nelson scored two more goals before the end of the period and took a comfortable 3-1 lead to the dressing room.
“We took too many penalties, and that was probably the difference in this game, of us winning or not,” Dubielewicz said.
Things looked grim for the Rockies entering the third, as they were being badly outshot and continued to get into penalty trouble. Pratt was the only reason the score was as close as it was, as time and time again he stoned Nelson shooters from every conceivable angle. The Rockies were running out of time, and with about seven minutes left in the game the Leafs looked to be well on their way adding to their league-best record. The Rockies had other ideas however, and leading scorer Jake Fardoe drew them team within a goal when his shot from the point drew the Rockies within a goal with six minutes remaining. The Rockies took what looked like a back breaking penalty with about three minutes left, but managed to kill it off, and with under a minute left Nic Hoobanoff would pounce on a loose puck to score his first goal of the season and send the game to overtime with the score tied 3-3.
“It’s good to see the kids bounce back and have a good game against probably the best team in the league,” Dubielewicz said. “We definitely had them looking nervous.”
Overtime was a back-and-forth affair with the two teams trading chances, but that’s when the Rockies penalties would finally bury them. With only three seconds left in the game, a Nelson shot from just outside the top of the left faceoff circle beat Pratt over his shoulder, and the Rockies comeback was cut short. Pratt made 45 saves in the loss as the Rockies were outshot 49-32.
“(Pratt) earned that point for us, no doubt,” Dubielewicz said. “He was the difference.”
The overtime loss gives the Rockies 16 points through 24 games, as they prepare to visit the division-leading Fernie Ghostriders on Friday, November 23. The Rockies then host the reigning KIJHL champion Beaver Valley Nitehawks the following night, on Saturday, November 24.