The Columbia Valley Rockies are continuing their search for their identity in the 2016-17 season, with a two-game winning streak over the Oct. 7-8 weekend before dropping the two games last weekend (Oct. 14-15) against Creston and Fernie.
Heading to Golden for their first meeting of the season on October 7th, the Rockies were looking to find the magic potion against their most heated rival in the Rockets. They wasted no time in getting out in front of the hometown Rockets with two unanswered goals from Jagger Thiessen and Riley Knott to start the first period.
Golden responded with a pair of their own past goaltender Connor McKay, but the Rockies offence prevailed through to the end of the game to complete a 4-3 victory.
The following night, the Rockies played host to the Kimberley Dynamiters for their first meeting of the season with McKay being the deciding factor in a second consecutive Rockies win. Facing 50 shots in the game, McKay allowed only two goals to start the first Rockies winning streak of the season with a 3-2 victory.
Unfortunately for the Rockies, the winning streak was short-lived. Travelling to Creston on Friday, Oct. 14, the Rockies faced the top team in the Eddie Mountain division. The Rockies had faced Creston twice earlier this season and were outscored 11-1 in the two games. Friday night was quite similar as the Thunder Cats dominated the Rockies from start to finish, outshooting the Rockies 19-2 in the first period and 48-18 in the game.
“For whatever reason, that team really has our number,” said coach Wade Dubielewicz . “They are a really skilled, fast hockey team and I think we play timidly when we go in that rink and I think that got exposed.”
By night’s end, the Thunder Birds commanded a 7-0 victory in front of 386 Creston fans. Friday’s somber loss carried into Saturday’s effort as well, with Fernie peppering McKay with shots from start to finish.
Despite facing 20 shots in the first period though, McKay provided the Rockies with a chance to win through allowing just a single goal. That said, he wasn’t invinceable as he allowed two more Ghostriders’ goals in the second period to allow Fernie to take a 3-1 lead through 40 minutes.
The Rockies and Ghostriders traded goals in the final frame, but the final score remained a stark one for the Rockies as they suffered their seventh loss of the season.
Throughout these difficult times, Dubielewicz says he is still trying to find the positives to show his team so that losing streaks like the one started on the weekend don’t grow with each successive game.
“I guess it’s just a lot of video and trying to figure out those positives and show the kids so it’s not all bad news every time they’re coming to the rink,” he said. “Right now, it’s difficult because we’ve lost two games and everyone feels that. I feel that, the staff feels it, and you have to remind the kids why they play the game and it’s because it’s fun, but when you get to this level, you have to win to have fun. That is a long process with these kids.”
One of the things he said he’s trying to work on is simplifying the power play and breakout so that the difficult things become routine and shot totals start to work in the Rockies’ favour.
“We’re trying to simplify it right? Fernie got a power play in the third period there, they win a draw, walk to the middle, fire a shot that gets through, off the pad, rebound and in,” he said. “We’re trying to be too cute so our whole idea is to simplify it. We’re not getting enough pucks to the net.”
Throughout the first month and a half of the season, McKay has been the shining light on the Rockies roster. Though his .905 save percentage and 4.25 goals against average (per game) are nothing worthy of a goaltender of the year award, the fact that he’s faced 409 shots this season — 130 more than the next goaltender in the KIJHL — points to the workload he’s been under this season.
The Rockies will start embark on a three-game road trip this weekend starting in Castlegar on Friday, Oct. 21 before travelling to Nelson the following night.