The Columbia Valley Rockies guaranteed themselves a playoff spot this season with points in each of the team’s two games at home this weekend, losing in overtime to the Kimberley Dynamiters and defeating the Golden Rockets.
The Rockies, owning a 12-25-4 record on the season, officially clinched on Saturday night with a win in overtime over the last place Golden Rockets 3-2.
Despite the high-fives and other congratulatory remarks shared by the Rockies post-game, Saturday night’s victory was far from a sure thing as the Rockies trailed the Rockets 1-0 for nearly half the game before the team finally awoke with a goal from Colby Sherlock to tie it at one.
Even then, the Rockies allowed the struggling Rockets to respond quickly with a goal of their own to take a second lead in the game 2-1. It was after this goal, in the second game in as many nights, that the Rockies demonstrated a degree of maturation lacking from the Rockies team of earlier this season, and that had fans at the packed Eddie Mountain Memorial Arena clamouring for a victory.
That maturation came in the form of resiliency as the Rockies tied the game once again while peppering Rockets’ goaltender Dorian Laganiere-Lebranche with 21 shots in the final frame before scoring the eventual winner 2 minutes and 39 seconds into the first period of overtime.
“We’ve talked quite a bit about that in that we haven’t rolled over lately,” head coach Wade Dubielewicz said. “No matter what, we are still bringing our work boots to the fight.”
Nowhere was this more evident than their back-and-forth game on Friday night versus the Dynamiters where the Rockies had to overcome blowing two-two goal leads to stay in the game before eventually losing in double overtime to the league’s second place team. Dubielewicz said the addition of forward Braydon Barker earlier in January has been integral in providing the team the confidence it needed to play with teams like Kimberley and Creston who sit atop the Eddie division in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League.
“Most teams are playing their top defensive pairing against Barker and it gives guys like (Mike) Dyck and (Chase) Hawkins a little bit more room and they’ve gained confidence because of it and have gained a little more chemisty feeling more confident in themselves,” he said. “When things do start not go their way, there’s a little more belief in each individual that we can claw our way back.”
Even with the team picking up three of the possible four points though, Dubielewicz said the team has to work towards putting teams away after creating two-goal leads as they did versus Kimberley with a 2-0 and 3-1 lead during the game.
“I think that’s probably the next step for us in that when we have a team in a situation like that, we have to figure out a way to do it,” he said. “We’ve also noticed a bit of a trend where we have a really good first period and then come in here and feel really good about ourselves and then go out and change the style of play that makes us successful and have to come out after the second and try to replicate the first.”
Dubielewicz said he attributes that type of thinking to the team’s youthful roster with little junior hockey experience. That said, it’s going to be just one of the concerns the team will be working on in the remaining six games of the season. Outside of that, he will have to determine who he’s going to slide between the posts for the first playoff series.
“The play within the next three weeks will dictate that and it’s a lot of a gut feeling,” he said. “Ben has played some really good games for us down the stretch here and Will has stepped in and done a good job when he’s had the opportunity so we’ll definitely go with the hot hand at the time.
“I think that’s a little bit to do with having a young team with a little bit of inexperience but again huge strides within the last month.”
With Creston holding a comfortable seven-point lead over the second place Dynamiters, Dubielewicz insists that the team is going to be looking to make several adjustments to its forecheck in the closing games of the season in hopes of getting ready for the playoffs.
“We definitely aren’t going to show our hand the last two games against Creston because it looks like that’s who we are going to play,” he said. “We changed our neutral zone forecheck against them the last two games against them last year in the regular season and I wish I had a time machine to go back and change that.”
The Rockies will kick off the month of February with a road-trip to Spokane Friday night to face the Braves before traveling to Grand Forks the following evening to play the Border Bruins.