The Eddie Mountain Memorial Arena was truly a sight to see on Friday, February 17. Fans turned out in droves for the last Columbia Valley Rockies home game of the season, and although the Rockies lost by a score of 4-2, the atmosphere was something truly special to be a part of.
“It was awesome,” coach Marc Ward said after the game. “I know there’s a lot of Rockies supporters already, but it’s a really nice warm feeling when the whole community supports you and they’re cheering you on—I mean you score a goal and the building just shakes, and I think every player and coach just loved that atmosphere and it keeps your spirit going the whole game.”
“The fans bring it,” forward Joe Colborne said. “It motivated the entire team and we all came out strong.”
The Rockies season has been filled with highs and lows, but in front of legions of their home fans the Rockies showed grit and determination and played arguably one of their better games all season. Playing against a Fernie Ghostriders team that had everything to lose as they battled for playoff positioning, the Rockies gave the high-powered Ghostriders a serious challenge despite playing much of the third period with only six skaters manning the bench.
The first period saw the Rockies get into penalty trouble early and often, as two separate cross-checking penalties in the first 6 minutes gave their opponents a wealth of time on the powerplay. The Ghostriders capitalized on their second opportunity, when a Fernie player batted in a rebound following a hard shot from the point. This certainly took some wind out of the Rockies sails, but as the period drew to a close Ryan Henderson re-ignited the crowd when his shot from the slot beat the Fernie goaltender to draw the game even at one-all as the period ended.
“We knew how well we played that period because we did the little things right,” Ward said. “We were working hard and the guys were really pumped to play.”
The Rockies certainly kept the fans on the edge of their seats in the second period, as time and time again it seemed like Fernie would take the lead. However, strong goaltending kept the score even, and as the period carried on, the Ghostriders began to get into some penalty trouble of their own. Consecutive cross-checking penalties gave the Rockies about a minute and a half of five on three powerplay time, and when Cody Stephenson put a puck home at the side of the net shortly after, the arena erupted.
With a 2-1 lead and the crowd behind them, things looked grim for the visiting Ghostriders, but they again showed why they’ve been such a successful team all season when they tied it up just over a minute later. That was a serious body blow, but when the Ghostriders took the lead with less than a minute left in the second, you could practically hear the air being sucked out of the arena.
“The guys knew we were in the game, and in the mix,” Ward said when asked if the late goal was a backbreaker for his club. “I think we responded as best we could with the resources we had.”
While the Ghostriders lead stood at only 3-2 heading into the third period, there were a variety of factors working against the Rockies other than the score.
Already carrying a short bench for much of the season, this game saw only six skaters on the bench for the home side in the third, following further injuries and penalty trouble. At times, it seemed like it must only be the cheers from the crowd that kept them going against the Ghostriders’ full complement of skaters, but whether it was adrenaline or just sheer determination the Rockies never quit.
Defenceman Brandon Lijdsman made his presence felt by winning a big fight, and when Fernie was given a penalty shot shortly after on an unrelated play, Bruce Corrigal made one of his many clutch saves on the night to keep the deficit at one. However, the Rockies just couldn’t find another goal, and a goal from Fernie with six minutes left all but sealed the deal.
“Our guys worked hard, and I thought that we controlled play for a lot of the game,” Ward said. “It was nice to keep it close and I think we really gave Fernie a run for their money.”
When all the chips were down the Rockies lost 4-2, but shouldn’t be ashamed of their effort, as they played their hearts out and gave the fans a game to remember.
While the Rockies closed out their season the next night, again against Fernie — losing by a score of 8-3 on the Ghostriders’ home turf — the team no doubt played their hardest and the community should truly be proud of the effort they showed this season.