Kickstarting the 2016-17 season, the Columbia Valley Rockies split their weekend games at the Eddie Mountain Memorial Arena, falling 1-0 to the Creston Valley Thunder Cats Friday, September 9th before defeating the Fernie Ghostriders 3-1 the following night.
Some 250 people bundled into the Eddie on Friday night to watch the return of their beloved Rockies, hoping for an improvement on last year’s fourth place finish. Each playing their season opener, Creston and the hometown Rockies traded chances in the first and second period with Creston controlling the bulk of the play. After one period, Creston had outshot the Rockies 22-6 but were stymied by the great play of goaltender Connor McKay.
After two periods, Creston commanded a 1-0 lead and doubled the Rockies in shots on goal, 40-20. Head coach Wade Dubielewicz said it was the team’s play away from the puck that allowed Creston to get as many primary scoring chances as they did.
“All these kids played high level minor hockey but it’s still funny when they come in here, I feel like I have to start from square one when they work away from the puck,” he said. “Everyone wants to be puck-focused, they always stare at it and there’s stuff going on behind them that they’re unaware of.”
The Rockies were able to rebound in the third frame, outshooting Creston 10-9 while pressuring hard in the final moments of the game to force overtime, but were unable to get on the scoreboard.
“It was a bit sloppy on both sides,” he said. “Overall, I was happy with the effort, but our timing was off in every aspect of the game.”
Luckily for the Rockies, a chance at redemption was only a night away back at the Eddie against the visiting Ghostriders. Back between the pipes was McKay for the Rockies and he proved to be equally as dominant as his first game.
Facing 22 shots in the first frame, McKay continued to give the Rockies a chance at recording their first victory of the season with a memorable diving save coming across his crease after coming out to challenge the shooter and cut off the angle.
Dubielewicz said that this element of McKay’s play is part of what makes him as talented of a goaltender as he is.
“It’s actually one of the reasons why I recruited him when I saw him play in Edmonton two years ago,” he said. “It’s somewhat of a lost art, goalies playing that aggressive. Because of my size when I played, I had to play a very similar way so when I saw Connor do that, it makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up a little bit.”
Rockies’ forward Carter Beston-Will rewarded McKay for his efforts in the second period with the team’s first goal of the season to take a 1-0 lead over the Ghostriders.
While continuing to be outshot by Fernie, McKay found a way to contribute in a unique way in the final minute of the game with the Rockies already holding a 2-1 lead. After being the last one to touch the puck, McKay was credited with his first ever goal when the Ghostriders passed the puck backward into their own net to seal their fate with a 3-1 loss.
“Yeah it’s definitely nice,” McKay said after the game, “it’s the greatest feeling ever.”
Dubielewicz said that for an opening weekend, he’s happy with the team’s effort level as the coaching staff makes final cuts this week. Asked if he’s found the team’s identity yet, he was unequivocal.
“Honestly, not yet,” he said. “I’m getting there but there’s no question that we want to be a hard physical team to play against. I want teams, when they come in here, they know they’re going to pay a price for playing the game.”
The Rockies will continue their season this Friday at the Eddie against the Grand Forks Border Bruins before going on the road to face Creston on Saturday night.