Every coin has two sides and the Columbia Valley Rockies are ensuring the KIJHL sees both sides of theirs this 2016-17 season with a 9-1 loss on Friday night followed by a 7-4 victory only 24 hours later.
The Rockies opened their weekend home stand facing the Fernie Ghostriders, a team they had a 2-3 record against heading into the evening’s match and to whom they had lost a closely fought match 8-7 only a week prior. Fans filed into the Eddie Mountain Memorial Arena, nearly packing the stands, hoping to see another shootout between two divisional rivals.
What they got instead was the Rockies’ largest loss of the season since their 10-1 loss to the Creston Thundercats that took place over two months ago. From start to finish Friday evening, the Ghostriders had theRockies number. Only six minutes into the game, Ghostriders’ Ty Abbott broke the deadlock, beating goaltender Connor McKay before Justin Peers added another only two minutes later.
Fernie’s final goal of the opening frame, occurring with just 39 seconds left, took the last breath of air out of the Rockies’ sails for the game. Fernie would go on to score five more goals in the second period, four of which were within five minutes. Heads were hung on the Rockies’ bench with the young roster featuring 13 rookies.During moments of despair, defenceman Peter Matthews said he tried to become a calming influence as someone who’s played junior for over four seasons.
“I’m just trying to keep everyone calm,” he said. “You can’t panic, you just have to do your job, take it one shiftat a time and keep your head up because as soon as you get down on yourself, it just makes it a whole lotworse.”
Unfortunately for the Rockies, it did get much worse. The Ghostriders added another goal in the third before Matthews broke their shutout to seal their twelth loss, 9-1.
Head coach Wade Dubielewicz said he was at a loss for how to explain the team’s willingness to give up duringFriday night’s game.
“Only thing I can really come up with is that we are a little bit of a fragile group,” he said. “With the fragile groupI think we go a bit sideways instead of trying to figure out a way to scratch and claw our way back into it.”
He said it’s all about trying to gain the feeling of momentum in an emotionally charged sport like hockey.
“How we create momentum is based on our forecheck and to do that you have to put pucks in areas where youcan go get them,” he said. “We were soft on pucks to Brandon Butler (goaltender) for Fernie all last night and it doubly takes our momentum out because number one, we don’t create momentum and number two, we weren’t great in that scenario.”
If Friday night’s performance was the Hyde of the 2016-17 season, Jekyll made sure to make his presence known Saturday night versus the Nelson Leafs. In front of a deservedly smaller crowd, the Rockies turned in a solid 60-minute effort, leading from the end of the first to the final buzzer.
For Matthews, this all stems back to his head coach’s game plan based around a strong forecheck.
“As long as we’re getting pucks deep and working their defenceman and making the other team’s game not fun is how we’re going to win and keep the momentum going,” he said. “As soon as they get into our end and start working it, it’s really hard to get that momentum up.”
Matthews took it upon himself several times in Saturday night’s action to jump up in the play, taking risks tomaximize on the team’s offensive abilities. Barely into the second period, he was rewarded with his second goalin as many nights to take the Rockies first three-goal lead of the game, 4-1.
From there, the Rockies never looked back, allowing Nelson to get within two goals twice before cementing their sixth victory of the season at 7-4. The imagined somber silence inside the Rockies’ locker room after Friday’s 9-1 loss faded into a more upbeat mood with Fitz and the Tantrums’ popular song “Handclap” blaring over the stereo.
Dubielewicz said the victory was bittersweet after seeing experiencing such inconsistency.
“They were two polar opposite teams,” he said. “I’m a bit dumbfounded, to be honest. I have to say that it’sfrustrating doing the flip-flop there but I am proud of these guys. Tonight they played our systems, they playedhard and that’s the result.”
After The Echo’s Monday print deadline, the Rockies hosted the Creston Thunder Cats at the Eddie MountainMemorial Arena on Tuesday night. They travel to Kimberley to face the Dynamiters on Friday and close the weekout against Beaver Valley at home on Saturday night—puck drops at 7:30 p.m.