It’s may have taken two months and a 5-10-3 record giving up a division high 69 goals, but the Columbia Valley Rockies have made sizeable upgrades on their defensive end recently with the addition of three experienced defenseman.
“We’ve identified the issue on our back end and I think we were a little too young and I think we got a little more experience.”
Signing with the team were Peter Matthews and Craig Ofner while GM Ross Bidinger was able to scoop up Dawson Boehm from the Revelstoke Grizzlies in exchange for cash considerations over the last two weeks.
Dubielewicz said he sees this as an obvious improvement to their weakest area as a team overall.
“When you can add three defenseman of that caliber it’s going to improve your back end,” he said. “You’re going to spend less time in the D [defensive] zone which in turn gives you a better chance to win hockey games.”
For Matthews, this isn’t his first time in a Rockies’ uniform. He first suited up as a Rockie in 2013-14 before advancing to play at the Junior A level in the BCHL as well as the MJHL in Manitoba. After hearing that he would be potentially traded to a league in Ontario, Matthews said he wanted to return to Invermere where he could have more fun on the ice and be counted on as a leader in the dressing room.
“It was just too far from home for me because I’m from Vancouver,” he said. “I was already a long way from home, I’m 20 years old and it just didn’t seem right to me and they told me they wanted me to come back and be a leader of this team and show the kids the junior system and that was very appealing to me.”
A natural forward, Dubielewicz said the Rockies lack of depth dovetailed with Matthews’ overall presence on the ice pushed his hand in making him a defenseman.
“Peter is an extremely calm hockey player, maybe almost too much at times but that element of calmness on our back end has really made a big difference,” he said. At least in the short term he’s going to stay there.”
For Ofner, it was a similar longing for enjoyment within the sport that brought him to the Rockies.
“It was a pretty easy decision for me because I mean I was playing up in Drayton Valley before I was here and things weren’t really working out for me,” he said. “I know I wasn’t really enjoying myself and having fun playing hockey as much as I used to.”
Having met Wade several years ago while attending the Rockies camp along with being good friends with forward Nick Wihak already has made the transition to the Rockies an easy one thus far.
After spending the bulk of his junior career as a 19 year old at the Junior A level in Alberta, Ofner said he hopes he’s able to pass along his wisdom to younger players on the Rockies roster.
“With playing higher, there’s a lot of little things that I think I can give pointers to some of the young guys or just little things that,” he said. “I know when I just started playing junior those things really helped me coming from the older guys because I knew that they had been there before and they knew what they were talking about so I guess that’s what I’m trying to do.”
With Boehm, the Rockies acquired a defenseman with poise and experience playing in the Saskatchewan Midget Hockey League whom the Grizzlies overlooked thanks given their established depth in their defensive core.
Boehm said that although the trade to the Rockies was unexpected, he has eased into the transition with the team and area thanks to having family from the Columbia Valley.
Even though the additions to the Rockies roster may make the team stronger defensively, it does mean that existing players may have to take on different roles or be left in their shirt and tie on game nights. Dubielewicz said the competition amongst the lineup will foster positive growth for the team.
“That is healthy to a group,” he said. “We have to reward the kids that are doing the things on and off the ice and working hard in practice, that those are the kids that end up in the lineup on the weekend.”
For 18-year-old Jayden Jefferson this has become a reality with him being left out of the lineup against the Kimberley Dynamiters on October 29th before being used as a forward the following weekend against Castlegar.
“With Jefferson and Malleshy, Sobus and Matthews, they all have experience playing forward,” he said, noting that in years past the Rockies have been exposed down the stretch and into the postseason with a lack of defensive depth. “I think having that versatility to your roster is very important.”