River Kings are hot heading into the playoffs

Joe Pelletier on the River Kings standout season -- and a look at what's in store for the upcoming CIHL playoffs

The River Kings are looking confident heading into the CIHL playoffs.

The Terrace River Kings ended the regular CIHL season in a very different position than they ever have in the past. The perennial underdogs enter the playoffs red hot and may be the favourites to win the Central Interior Hockey League championship.

The River Kings finished 1st in the West Division with an impressive 12-5-1 record for 25 points.  The Coy Cup champion Williams Lake Stampeders were the only team in the whole league to finish higher than the River Kings.

The Kings have ridden the hot goaltending of Garrett Muir all season. He posted an 8-3-1 record with a 3.02 goals against average and .910 save percentage – mind-boggling numbers by CIHL standards. He will almost certainly be named as the best goalie in the entire league this season.

In the past the River Kings have had a pop gun offense but this year they have exploded with 97 goals in 18 games. They are led by a healthy Josh Murray, who returned to forward this season and scored 16 goals and 36 points. That was the third highest total in the entire league. The University of Alabama-Huntsville alum has made all the difference this year with his great play.

Terrace does have a balanced attack. Brother Tristan Murray added 22 points, as did newcomer Ben Reinbolt. Reinbolt’s play really opened the ice up for others before an injury sidelined him. He had an impressive 11 goals and 22 points in 12 games.

Calen Findlay nicely found his game this season while veterans Derek Jurista and captain Steve Cullis remain reliable options for new coach Rob Findlay.

The blue line is young and mobile, though does not threaten as much offensively. The late season infusion of Lee Muir on defense does keep his eligibility for the playoffs alive. He is a dynamic player that gives Terrace another threat offensively.

The Kings have also played very disciplined hockey all season, taking the fewest penalty minutes in the whole league. Their specialty team play has been strong all season as well.

The River Kings are a young team with a strong core that have really found their stride this season. Can they keep their momentum rolling into the playoffs? They offer an entertaining brand of hockey on the local scene. February promises to be an exciting month for hockey with the Sochi Olympics and all, but let’s not forget to support the local team.

The River Kings open the playoffs on the road in Prince Rupert this weekend. Games 2 and, if necessary 3, will be played in Terrace the following weekend. The Rampage finished with an inconsistent 7-10-1 record but played the River Kings well this season. Aside from a 10-1 Terrace blowout, the games were close – though Rupert won only one head-to-head matchup. The Rampage’s dynamic duo of Kory Movold and Brock Ward will try to counter Terrace’s balanced line up.

The rest of the CIHL playoff brackets are set, with one big asterisk.

Defending CIHL champion Smithers Steelheads will play the Kitimat Ice Demons in the other West showdown. Smithers continues to struggle to find a full roster, though the players they do have are of the highest pedigree. Mind you former NHL goalie Michael Wall has been playing defense this season, evening the playing field. Kitimat has been a team in unusual disarray but can strike at any time.

The Williams Lake Stampeders play the Lac La Hache Tomahawks and Quesnel Millionaires play the Houston Luckies. As of this article’s publishing deadline, there was significant concern about the future of the Houston Luckies franchise. They no-showed for a set of games in Kitimat recently due to a lack of players. They also have cancelled their trip back to the Cariboo to play previously missed games in Williams Lake and Lac La Hache due to their bus breaking down. There is serious concern as to whether the Luckies have enough players and have enough money to make a go of the rest of the season. If they can’t, expect Lac La Hache to likely take their playoff spot.

The River Kings have kept quiet about the possibility of extending their season beyond the CIHL playoffs so far. They had a strong showing at the 2013 Coy Cup, British Columbia’s AA senior provincial championship. They should find themselves well positioned to qualify for the 2014 tourney. Williams Lake automatically is in as this year’s host, leaving three spots open. The only non CIHL team rumoured to be interested in attending is the Fort Nelson Yeti, who actually play in an Alberta league.

Joe Pelletier is a freelance writer based in Terrace, B.C. Follow his work at http://www.greatesthockeylegends.com/ and follow him on Twitter @HockeyLegends.