The Terrace River Kings were the hottest team in the CIHL, winning five games in a row. With the team on the road the whole month of December, eager fans were anxious to welcome their team back and hoping for more wins against Prince Rupert and Kitimat this weekend.
Unfortunately the winning ways stopped as Terrace was done in by their old nemesis – themselves.
Prince Rupert visited on Friday, desperate for wins as they are cellar dwellers in the CIHL. The win over Terrace was badly needed as it keeps their playoff hopes alive.
But you would never know they were desperate at all in the first period. Terrace absolutely toyed with the Rampage, outshooting them significantly. Terrace very much looked like the hottest team in the league with their winning streak looking very likely to be extended. Rupert netminder Keano Wilson was brilliant in net, allowing his teammates to escape down only by a score of 2-0. Captain Steve Cullis led the way with two goals, while defenseman Chris Kirby scored his first goal of the year. It easily could have been higher than that.
Inexplicably, the River Kings came completely unravelled beginning in the second period. It was Rupert’s turn to own the ice, knotting the score at three by the end of the frame. Terrace responded with very undisciplined play resulting in frequent trips to the penalty box. They were their own worst enemy, never allowing themselves a chance to find their rhythm the rest of the night. Selfish and unnecessary chippy play became the Kings focus rather than solving the hot goaltender from the City of Rainbows.
Rupert scored the only goal of the third period, taking the gift-wrapped 4-3 win from Terrace as a late Christmas gift.
Terrace made a much more conscientious effort to remain focused on Saturday night as the Kitimat Ice Demons rolled into town. They looked good much of the night only to have some bad lapses in the 3rd period do them in.
Terrace did a good job of neutralizing Kitimat’s set plays and breakouts while controlling the pace of the game. Craig Vienneau and Steve Cullis gave the Kings a nice 2-0 lead after two periods. The highlight of the second period was a heated exchange of words between Kitimat coach Darrell Craft and Terrace coach Roger Tooms. We’re not quite sure what the argument was about, but Craft seemed very unhappy with a certain towel that he threw at Tooms. Tooms returned the towel and kept pointing out something was on Craft’s face.
Kitimat came back in the third period, thanks to goals by Ian Coleman and Josh Slalina. Slalina’s goal, which came short-handed, was announced as unassisted but everyone in attendance watched Terrace’s Rajan Sangha gift wrap that goal with sloppy play in the neutral zone. Rather than simply gain the zone with a short pass to the winger Sangha dipsy-doodled himself right into his own man, put a Christmas bow on the puck and watched Slalina skate in on a breakaway. It is that type of undisciplined play that must drive the coaches nuts.
The game remained tied at the end of regulation. Kitimat’s trusty Derrick Wakita scored the only goal in the shootout to secure the victory for the Ice Demons.
Terrace has three games left in the regular season. They have already secured a playoff spot which is good, as they are about to embark on the toughest road trip of the year. On the weekend of January 12th and 13th they have to travel all the way to Lac La Hache and Quesnel.
These lengthy road trips are often disastrous for CIHL teams – the distance and winter road conditions are tiring and teams rarely are able to bring their full roster with them. Not everyone can get the time off of work. The players that do make the trip are often “thirsty,” if you know what I mean.
That only leaves the Kings with the January 20th home game against Vanderhoof to get their game ready for the post-season.
If they remain focused and disciplined – both in terms of eliminating chippy, rough play and in terms of playing smart hockey – the River Kings have chance to win. When on top of their game they are as good as any team not named Smithers.
The Steelheads, with their former NHL goaltender and a host of talented players, are beatable after all, however. Williams Lake stampeded into Smithers and came out with a 6-3 win on Saturday night, ending the Steelheads 33 game regular season winning streak.
Odds are Smithers and Williams Lake will meet again in the CIHL finals, but Terrace has a real shot at making some post-season noise in 2013.
Terrace-based hockey writer Joe Pelletier maintains a website, http://www.greatesthockeylegends.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @HockeyLegends.