With the Columbia Valley Rockies‘ season wrapped up, it’s time to look back at the season that was, but also start to look to the future after a disappointing year in terms of wins and losses.
With the team entering a new era under first year coach and general manager Marc Ward after several underwhelming seasons, most everyone involved with the team knew that it would be a tough season — including Ward.
“We knew that it was going to be tough, and that we weren’t going to win a whole lot,” Ward said. “It’s been a rebuilding year, not only with players but also the culture — we really needed to change the culture that’s been here the last four or five years. We wanted to implement a more positive, hard working environment, and hold the players a little more accountable, not only to the team but also to the community as well.”
Work in the community is something that Ward values very highly, as evidenced by the team’s time spent working as reading tutors through the One-on-one reading program in local schools. Ward says that programs like that give the team an opportunity to give back to the community, and in turn hopefully gain some respect for what the club brings both on and off the ice.
“The community is such an important part, especially when it’s so small and tight-knit,” Ward said. “To get respect, you have to give respect, and I think players when they come here need to understand that it’s a privilege to play here… Invermere is very proud, and if you want their support you have to show you care about the community as well — you have to be a team player outside of the rink as well.”
On the ice, the Rockies underwent a host of roster changes as the season went on, as players were traded, released and added as Ward molded the team.
The team struggled especially with a short bench that no doubt cost it several games this year, and Ward says he plans on being especially active in recruiting in the off season, keeping in mind that several key players are unlikely to return pending tryouts with Junior A teams.
“Now that our program is in place, and we’ve got a lot of great people working with us, now it’s about getting the players who want to develop, and move on,” Ward said. “We don’t want to have guys for four years, we want guys for a year or two and them we want them to move on to Junior A, and I think that speaks volumes about our program.”
Ward added that while the team does have specific needs, the goal during every off season is to get better at every position. However, and once again pending Junior A tryouts, the team does carry three high quality goaltenders in Bruce Corrigal, Travis Beekhuizen and Scott Legault, all of whom saw plenty of ice time this season. Ward says that he doesn’t plan on continuing the netminder carousel next year however, and would prefer and will aim to establish a more standard system of a starter and backup to share the workload.
“I look for competitive, hardworking, good character guys,” Ward said. “I believe in player development, and it starts with the work effort. I don’t care how many goals you get, if you don’t appreciate this program and appreciate this community, then this isn’t the program for you.”
At the end of the day, everyone’s perspective of how successful the team was will be measured in different ways. Some will choose to focus on the stats and the wins and losses, while others will try to look at the development of the program and players in general. Rebuilding a team at any level of the sport is never easy, something Ward acknowledges, but he says that he hopes next season the community will come to appreciate the work the team does off the ice, as well as the final product on it.
“I know in my heart that we took this program to another level, and regardless of what the stats say we’re on the right path,” Ward said. “We worked extremely hard this season to develop both the athlete and the person, and next season we definitely want to aim to make the playoffs.”