The coaching staff of the Columbia Valley Rockies have chiseled this season’s team into solid Kootenay International Junior Hockey League contenders, but still plan on adding extra punch.
“We need a solid first-line; that’s what we’re missing now,” head coach and general manager Ross Bidinger told The Echo. “We have a solid three or four lines, but it would be nice to have a couple more guys to round the top line out with more offense.”
With their wealth of talent, which they aggressively recruited during the summer, the Rockies shouldn’t have trouble lighting the goal lamp.
“One of the guys we did end up with was out of Brooks, Alberta, and he was the second leading goal scorer in the South Central Alberta Junior League,” said Mr. Bidinger. “He was a guy who we weren’t expecting to get, so he was a pleasant surprise.”
Another offensive threat to boost the Rockies is Peter Matthews.
“He’s a strong power forward,” he said. “He’s not going to be the goal scorer we’re looking for, but he’s going to put points up because he goes to the dirty parts of the ice and competes.”
However, a pre-season injury will see Mr. Matthews sidelined for one to two weeks, Mr. Bidinger said.
With competition over who gets to protect the net, the coaches are in the bittersweet position of naming a starting and backup goaltender among three strong candidates.
Rockies goaltending hopefuls are Brody Nelson — who played on the team last year, Justin Miller from the Kimberley Dynamiters, and Theodore Zubot, whose entering his debut season in the KIJHL.
“[Zubot] was a guy we didn’t know anything about, but he’s turned out to be a good quality goaltender,” Mr. Bidinger said.
In deciding which players make the cut, the coaches have to take into account whether or not the player is from B.C. Because of Invermere’s proximity to Alberta, “One thing we’re always battling is the import situation,” he said.
“We’re only allowed a maximum of eight imports, and we’ve reached the limit,” he said. “That affects decisions we make.”
Mr. Bidinger is most impressed with the team’s defensive core, which attracted the likes of Nigel Schwab.
“That was a player we didn’t expect to get,” he said. “He was playing for the Fort McMurray Oil Barons, and now he’s rounded off what was already a solid core, and really brought another element of defense.”
Before their season opener on Friday, September 13th in Creston against the Thunder Cats, the Rockies will be going over systems to form consistency, Mr. Bidinger said.
“That’s the biggest thing with training camp and all the exhibition games; it’s a different lineup every night, so it’s hard to get the power play, breakouts, penalty kill and all that stuff sorted out,” he said. “The result is a little scrambly performance in the exhibition, so this week we’ll be getting that hammered out.”
The players will also have an evaluation of their fitness, and coaches will then set up a fitness program which targets each player’s weaknesses.
“I was really impressed by our coaching staff, how they moved things around and tried different chemistry on the different lineups,” Rockies president Al Miller said. “I think we’re in for a great season.”
The Rockies finished the 2013 pre-season with two wins, two losses and a tie. Their home opener happens on Saturday, September 14th versus Kimberley at 7:30 p.m., with a tailgate party and alumni game to welcome fans back.