After stumbling into 2017 with three consecutive losses, the Columbia Valley Rockies shocked the KIJHL last week with a two-game winning streak kick — started by a massive win over the Creston Thunder Cats 6-4 on .
“I think they came into the game thinking it wasn’t going to be a tough night for them and we brought a compete that we haven’t brought all year,” said head coach Wade Dubielewicz. “That, compiled with some solid goaltending, lead to us taking it to them.”
Heading into the game with only nine forwards and seven defenceman, the visiting Rockies surprised the Thunder Cats with a quick offensive as rookie Chase Hawkins capitalized early to make it 1-0, before assisting on the second goal two minutes later coming off Colby Sherlock’s stick.
Despite Creston answering back, Dubielewicz attributes the Rockies’ early lead to a newfound level of confidence within the group that allowed them to play with the league’s top team from start to finish.
After trading goals in the opening period, the Rockies took over the second period, scoring three unanswered goals — a second by Hawkins — to take a commanding 6-3 lead. With several key veterans injured in the last few weeks, Dubielewicz said that Hawkins has earned himself an important role on the team with impressive performances like his three-point night versus Creston last Friday.
“We knew that the talent was there the whole time, but early on the season we have more veteran bodies and he’s not necessarily in all those scenarios so this is a good example of a young guy getting an opportunity and shining through and showing the skills that he has,” he said.
The Thunder Cats would respond with a goal in the final period, but were unable to rally a comeback as they suffered their first loss against the Rockies of the season and first loss in their last six games. Dubielewicz said the Rockies’ victory over a team sitting comfortably in first place provides the Rockies with a level of confidence as they work to ensure they take the final playoff spot.
“Even subconsciously, just knowing that you’ve had success in that rink gives you that little piece of hope that you need going into a playoff series,” he said. “We put together three solid lines that were comfortable on the ice and that created an involvement and connectedness between everyone and that’s was evident that they were pretty excited.”
The following night, the Rockies continued their road trip to Golden to face the only team chasing them for playoff contention in hopes of extinguishing any doubt as to who will take the final spot in the playoffs at the end of the season.
“It’s always a coach’s nightmare,” Dubielewicz said. “You have this big emotional win on the road and then you go into the next night and you never know what you’re going to get.”
In weekends past, what Dubielewicz may have got was a subpar effort and an inopportune loss to a team they should have beat. What he got last weekend, though, was a complete 60-minute effort from his team, resulting in a commanding 8-3 victory over the last place Rockets.
One of the bright spots for the Rockies was their power-play, going 3-for-6 with the man advantage during the game.
“I’m really happy with where our power-play is at,” he said. “We’re in a spot where we’re getting zone time and there’s a lot of chemistry between the guys. The difference is you run into different penalty kill units and being able to make those quick decisions and we’re starting to see that.”
The Rockies also benefitted from a new addition to the team in 20-year-old Braydon Barker who formerly played for the Rockies as an 18 year old before spending the last two seasons playing at the Junior A level. Slotting in at centre on one of the Rockies’ top lines, Barker made his presence felt in his first two games, recording three goals and an assist.
“He’s a 200-foot hockey player that is big, can skate and has top end skill,” he said. “The effect he has confidence-wise on a young group was pretty evident going into Creston. He just brought a confident presence to him and you’ll see it on the ice, it’s special to watch.”
With three games in the upcoming week, starting with a home game Tuesday, January 17th versus the Golden Rockets before two road games in Castlegar and Beaver Valley on the weekend, Dubielewicz said he’s confident in his group at earning the final playoff position.
“We’re in control of our own destiny,” he said. “You can’t ask for more than that at this time of year but the other flip side of it is is that I try to use that playoff push as a motivational tool especially for Saturday night. We want to put Golden to bed and put them behind us and Saturday was the first step in that.”