After not playing at home for nearly a month, the Columbia Valley Rockies gave their fans a game to remember with a stirring 6-5 overtime victory over the Spokane Braves Friday, January 13.
“I think we all came together as a team tonight,” forward Todd Sykes said, after a game that saw him net two goals and four points overall. “We came together as a family and that’s what it takes to win.”
The Rockies had just returned from a three-game stretch away from home and were riding a seven-game losing streak headed into this one.
Early on, both teams traded chances in a physical first period, before the Rockies forward Josh Haley drew an elbowing penalty about midway through the frame.
The Braves were quick to capitalize when some crisp passing led to a tap-in at the side of the net, eliciting yells of frustration from the Rockies bench. However, this seemed to steel their resolve, as after a botched three-on-one opportunity for the Braves, the Rockies pushed it back up ice for a two-on-one rush of their own, where rookie forward Cody Stephenson made a nice pass to Sykes who promptly buried the shot. The Rockies kept the pressure up, and Sykes scored his second of the period just over a minute later to put the Rockies up 2-1 with 40 minutes left to play.
“(When playing with a lead) you have to remind (the team) to keep pressing,” Rockies’ coach Marc Ward said. “The best way to protect a lead is to stay aggressive.”
Unfortunately the Rockies didn’t seem to get that message as the second period opened, sitting back and repeatedly getting penned in their own zone. Despite the lack of aggression, goalie Bruce Corrigal played a strong game behind them, maintaining the lead until the Rockies got their legs back under them. Of course, that’s when Haley took his second costly penalty of the game, giving the Braves another powerplay opportunity they made sure not to waste. A seeing-eye shot from the point eluded Corrigal to knot the game up at two.
However, Rockies fans barely had enough time to bury their faces in their hands when high-scoring forward Joe Colborne came flying back up the ice after the ensuing faceoff and drove hard to the net. Sykes managed to get his stick on the shot, tipping it just enough that the Spokane goalie couldn’t track the rebound, and Jayson Cannell took advantage to make it 3-2 Rockies just 15 seconds after the Braves had tied the score. For the rest of the period shots for both teams were few and far between.
“I thought our defence was the key tonight,” Colborne said. “Our defence played well, and as soon as we got the puck we capitalized on our chances.”
The third period had hardly begun when the Rockies put home their fourth goal of the game just 12 seconds in. A quick rebound at the side of the net gave Colborne the final of his four points on the night.
Rockies fans could hardly be blamed for taking a few relieved breaths at this point as the Rockies led 4-2. However, off of a Rockies turnover coming out of their own zone, the Braves retained possession, and defenceman Taylor Everhart scored an unassisted goal from the left faceoff circle to again draw the Braves within one goal.
On a night that saw the Rockies take every punch thrown their way and respond in kind, the team quickly restored their two goal advantage a minute later when defenceman Chel Anderson scored his third of the year on a strong wrist shot from the point.
With the lead at two, the Rockies merely needed to play strong, disciplined, defensive hockey the rest of the way, and looked to be well on their way to their third win of the season. But things got a little testy a few minutes later when a nasty scrum in front of the Rockies’ net put two players from each side in the penalty box for roughing, and shortly after that the Rockies took another ill-advised penalty, giving the Braves their third powerplay of the night.
Sure enough, the Braves team once again rose from the ashes to score their third powerplay goal.
Spokane was pushing hard at this point, getting the better opportunities, but the Braves got too aggressive and one of their players left a Rockies player down on the ice after a vicious cross-check. This gave the Rockies a five-minute powerplay with six minutes remaining, seemingly sealing a victory.
That’s when the Braves decided they had other plans.
Just a minute into the powerplay, the Braves broke up a pass near their own blueline, springing captain Nick Redding on a shorthanded breakaway which he briskly buried past Corrigal, prompting a huge celebration from the Spokane bench and inducing cries of disbelief from fans.
The Rockies still had a chance to win it in regulation with four minutes of their powerplay left, but were unable to muster up another goal, sending this game to overtime with the score tied 5-5.
“Keep the guys calm,” said Ward, when asked what his thoughts were following the tying goal. “As soon as we got to overtime, the first thing I said was, ‘we’ve been in this situation before, there’s no surprises, we know what we have to do.'”
The Rockies didn’t disappoint. About two minutes into overtime, Jayson Cannell took a pass from Jordan Stimpson, drove hard down the wing and scored the winning goal on a crisp wrister before getting mobbed by his teammates.
The win improved the Rockies record to 3-36-0-1, and they headed into Creston the following night to take on the Thunder Cats.
Unfortunately for the Rockies, while some of their offensive acumen translated that night, the Rockies allowed 45 shots in an 8-4 loss. The Rockies also allowed another three powerplay goals on five opportunities. Forward Sykes continued his strong play with a goal and two assists, while Cannell had two goals and four points of his own to give him 29 points on the year.
Next for the Rockies is a game against fellow cellar-dwellers the Chase Heat Friday, January 20 in Invermere. The two teams are currently second and third-last in the league, following Chase’s 6-2 win over Kamloops. The Rockies then host the Nelson Leafs the next night, January 21, in Invermere.