The Columbia Valley Rockies made their much-anticipated return to home ice on Saturday, October 13 after a treacherous nine-game stint away from home, but fell by a 5-1 score to the high-powered offence of the Fernie Ghostriders.
“The guys are doing what we want and are playing the system that we want, and they are having success,” head coach Ross Bidinger said. “I think we’re a couple of players away yet, and that might change next week.”
In what was an action-packed first period, the Rockies had the best opportunity early as Fernie took a penalty just 15 seconds into the game. Unable to capitalize, play evened out as the period went on, with the Rockies getting the better of the puck possession and Fernie getting the better chances on goal. That’s when the well-oiled Fernie hockey machine started to get into gear, and after the Rockies surrendered their first penalty of the game on a cross-checking call against rookie defenseman Jake Fardoe, a brief scramble in front of the net led to Fernie forward Braeden Monk putting home his sixth goal of the season past sprawling Rockies goaltender Brody Nelson. Building on their momentum from getting the first goal of the game, Fernie also started to apply the pressure defensively, stymieing a number of Rockies rushes to maintain their lead. Regardless, the Rockies came mere inches from scoring after a shot from the wing dangled dangerously on the Fernie goaline with a few minutes to play in the period, but a quick-thinking Fernie defenseman was quick to react at the Rockies were denied the scoresheet. They would come to regret that missed opportunity, as just over a minute later Fernie came back up ice and put a quick shot over the right shoulder of Nelson to give them a 2-0 edge. Fernie forward Brendan Burge notched an assist on the play, cementing his status as the KIJHL’s second-leading scorer after 11 games with 22 points.
“We’re doing some of the things that we’re practicing, it’s just that Fernie has such a high-powered offense, our mistakes are capitalizing in goals, and that’s the bottom line,” Bidinger said. “We need to minimize our mistakes against the better teams.”
The second period opened much as the first did with Fernie taking an early penalty, but this time a Rockies turnover near the Fernie blueline gave the Ghostriders a two on one coming back up ice, and after a crisp pass from Derek Georgopoulos Fernie forward Austin Hirano buried his first goal of the season, a shorthanded marker, to give his team a 3-0 lead. At this point it would’ve been easy for the Rockies to quit after giving up a potentially backbreaking goal, but they instead turned it up at the offensive end, getting several quality chances. Rookie forward TJ Millar made an immediate impact with his first game with the Rockies, getting into a highly entertaining fight that lasted nearly a minute with the home crowd in full throat, and the Rockies managed to stay even with Fernie for the much of the rest of the period, until a Fernie breakaway with three minutes left made the score 4-0 and essentially out of reach for the Rockies.
“I think that we played strong, we just had a couple of mistakes that cost us goals,” Nelson said. “I think if we just keep working on our systems things will get better from there.”
The third period, while largely inconsequential to the scoreline may well set the tone for future matchups between the two division foes, as the bad blood between the two teams was evidenced by plenty of roughhousing after the whistle. Fernie scored another shorthanded goal with 13 minutes left and the Rockies managed to spoil the Fernie goaltenders shutout when forward Damon Raven scored his second goal of the game with less than 30 seconds left as the Ghostriders headed home with a 5-1 victory. Final shots on net were 34 to 33 in favour of Fernie.
“We have to drive the net more, and get a little more gritty,” Bidinger said. “We need to get grittier in front of the net.”
The Rockies also fell by an identical 5-1 scoreline the night before, on Friday October 12 when they visited the Fernie Ghostriders’ home ice. That game saw the Rockies outshot 29-26, with defenceman Jordan Stimpson recording their lone goal, a powerplay tally in the second period.
With the pair of losses, the Rockies fall to 4-8-0-1 and are now tied with the Golden Rockets for third place in the Eddie Mountain Division with nine points apiece. Next up for the Rockies is a trip to Kimberley on Tuesday, October 16 before they return home to host the Princeton Posse on Friday, October 19.