With the Columbia Valley Rockies having lost their previous three games by a combined score of 26-4, it would’ve been easy to sleep on a game against the Creston Valley Thunder Cats Tuesday, December 6.
Easy for some — but not the Rockies, who came away with their most impressive win of the season in a 6-5 double overtime thriller at the Eddie Mountain Memorial Arena in Invermere.
“We know that we can compete against any team in this league, and on any given night anyone can win,” coach Marc Ward said. “For us this is a positive step forward, and if we can build on this I think it’s going to be a very exciting last 20 games of the season for us.”
The Rockies were riding a season-high 17-game losing streak coming into their matchup against the Thunder Cats, but the two teams’ respective records were quickly forgotten when the puck hit the ice.
The Rockies kicked off the scoring in the first with two quick goals five minutes in. First, forward Ryan Henderson opened the scoring, drawing assists from Brandon Lijdsman and Orrii Haman. Just 30 seconds later, forward Todd Sykes added to the lead with assists from Joe Colborne and Lijdsman. The Thunder Cats added a goal of their own before the end of the frame, but though they out-shot the Rockies 19-5 in the first, they headed into the intermission trailing 2-1.
“We battled the whole game,” Ward said. “At the beginning of the game we talked about courage … guys were taking hits to make plays, and we were paying the price to win the hockey game.”
The second period is where the Thunder Cats seemingly turned up the intensity, scoring three goals in what could have been a demoralizing frame for the Rockies. Despite the outburst of goals, the Rockies also allowed 25 shots, and only thanks to goalie Travis Beekhuizen were the Rockies still in the game, trailing 4-2 headed to the third.
“Our guys were really positive on the bench—they never lost faith,” Ward said. “I think it was mostly that positive atmosphere, in the dressing room and on the bench, that really kept our spirits up, and in turn helped keep up our energy.”
The Rockies truly showed that faith in the third, and with an early power-play goal from Chad Davidson the Rockies were right back in it, trailing 4-3 with 13 minutes left in the game. Again, the Thunder Cats responded with what could have been a backbreaker for the Rockies when they made the score 5-3 less than a minute later, but the Rockies stayed resilient, and again less than a minute later drew within one on a goal by Tyler Reay.
This set the stage for a frantic rest of the third period, and shortly after the Rockies tied it when Jayson Cannell put a puck home past the Thunder Cats goalie to send the game to overtime.
Overtime is where goaltender Travis Beekhuizen again made his presence felt, as the two teams traded chances but were each unable to capitalize, sending the game to a second overtime period and keeping fans on the edge of their seats.
Beekhuizen made one massive glove save to keep it tied during overtime, and Ward said that was the, “turning point” for his team.
“After he made that save I don’t think there was any doubt in anyone’s mind that we were going to win that game,” he said.
Sure enough, the Rockies did exactly that, when forward Jayson Cannell made a move to get past a defender, leaving him alone in front of the net where he put home his second of the night to prompt a massive celebration from players and fans alike as the Rockies won, 6-5.
“The guys really stuck to the gameplan … we got pucks deep, and we were physical all game,” Ward said. “I think this really shows the guys that all our hard work is paying off.”
The Rockies claimed their second win of the season in a game that saw Beekhuizen stop 58 of 63 shots, improving the Rockies record to 2-29-0-1 for the year.
The Rockies played the Golden Rockets on Friday, December 9 in Golden, and again showed marked signs of improvement compared to earlier parts of the season.
Defence and goaltending really shone through in a 3-1 loss, as the Rockies seemed to finally be correcting some of the mistakes that have plagued them through much of the season. Goalie Scott Legault made 46 saves in the loss, and the Rockies penalty kill was outstanding throughout the game, as the Rockets came up empty-handed on eight separate power play opportunities.
Next, the Rockies played the Kimberley Dynamiters the following night, December 10 in Invermere.
The vastly-improved Rockies again showed their grit and determination in a 5-3 loss that was much closer than the score suggests.
The Rockies opened what was a mostly even frame by holding their own against the Dynamiters, and despite giving up plenty of shots, goaltender Travis Beekhuizen was his usual brilliant self. Time and again he stonewalled Dynamiters shooters from close range in the first period, a storyline that was to continue as the game went on.
However, despite his best efforts the Dynamiters managed to sneak two goals in right at the end of the frame, the first coming on an odd-man rush and the second during a four on four following a pair of roughing penalties.
“We definitely need to keep our feet moving a little better,” forward Josh Haley said. “Our backcheck in our defensive zone is a little weak at the moment, but it’s getting a lot better in the last two games, we’re seeing a lot of improvement.”
The Rockies started the second showing improved urgency by getting good chances, and sure enough they soon capitalized on their momentum when forward Joe Colborne’s shot found its way past Dynamiters goalie Jeremy Mousseau about five minutes into the period.
The Dynamiters went on the power play shortly after, but the Rockies penalty kill was strong on a night where they gave up five power play opportunities. The Dynamiters restored the two-goal advantage shortly after, but again the Rockies showed their resilience by battling back to pull within one on forward Todd Sykes ninth goal of the season.
With the score 3-2, the game became noticeably tense, punctuated by a fight with a little over three minutes remaining that saw Haley make his presence felt on a hapless Dynamiters forward. The Rockies responded following the ensuing outstanding penalty kill by very nearly tying the score before the end of the period, but the Dynamiters goalie went diving across the net to save what looked like a sure goal.
Despite allowing 40 shots through two periods of play, the Rockies found themselves down by only one heading into the deciding third period thanks to some fantastic play from goalie Beekhuizen.
“(Beekhuizen) is a player, a competitor, and an excellent goaltender,” Rockies coach Marc Ward said. “The thing is, he asks even more from himself, and there’s not much more you can ask for from a guy like that—he does his talking with his play.”
The Rockies started off the third on the back foot, and the Dynamiters were relentless in getting quality scoring opportunities. However, Beekhuizen made 22 of his 59 saves in the game in the third period to keep his team in it until the end. The Dynamiters did manage to score one on a flukey play off of a faceoff, but the Rockies showed their grit by again pulling within one when Jayson Cannell’s wrister beat the Dynamiters goalie glove side with just over eight minutes left in the game.
This set the stage for some tense hockey going forward, but the Rockies just couldn’t get over the hump despite some good chances, and following a Dynamiters empty net goal lost the game by a score of 5-3.
Despite the loss, the scoreline is certainly an encouraging one for the Rockies, as it shows the marked signs of improvement the team has made since the beginning of the season.
“The players have really embraced the development part of our program, and they have been working very very hard to get better and I think it’s starting to show,” Ward said. “I truly believe it’s a night and day difference from the start of the year.”
The Rockies play two more games before the end of the year, first in Fernie on December 16. They then return home the following night, December 17, to host the same Fernie team in a home-and-home set with the division-leading Ghostriders.