Hard luck River Kings play for love of the game

Our columnist Joe Pelletier gives us the lowdown on the dedication it takes to play local hockey

The Terrace River Kings have back-to-back home games this weekend at the Terrace Arena.

Two of the Central Interior Hockey League’s top teams come to town. The high scoring Lac La Hache Tomahawks play on Saturday night at 8 p.m. While the Williams Lake Stampeders, a perennial power horse in the CIHL, arrive on Sunday for a 1 p.m.. matinee tilt.

To say that the hard luck River Kings will be in tough is a bit of an understatement.

The River Kings have been competitive in every game this season yet have been unfortunate not to pick up at least a couple more wins. As a result they are near the bottom of the CIHL standings, badly needing some wins. A couple of victories this weekend would go a long ways to improving their playoff chances.

The River Kings had mixed results on their recent November road trip. They blew a 3-0 lead in Vanderhoof, losing 5-3 to the lowly Omineca Ice. That loss hurts as the Kings can not afford to lose to the lower seeded teams. That lesson was heeded the next day as the boys travelled to Houston and convincingly beat the Luckies 5-1. Both of Terrace’s wins this year have come against Houston.

(Publication deadlines do not allow us to report on the November 17th road game in Smithers. But the fact that the Steelheads, backed by former NHL goalie Michael Wall – a native of Telkwa – have not lost a game in 2 years probably did not bode well for the River Kings).

Lac La Hache and Williams Lake are both noted for their high powered offenses. And although their goalies are capable of holding their own, the Kings have struggled in the goal scoring department for much of the year.

To make matters worse, one of the team’s top players remains questionable for the weekend tilts. Josh Murray, the American collegiate hockey graduate, suffered a scary injury in the November 3rd showdown with the arch rival Kitimat Ice Demons. Three Kitimat players all collided with Murray, who did not get up. It turned out Murray suffered a couple of cracked vertebrae in his neck and had to wear a brace. Not only is he out of action for indefinite period of time, but he also missed work for a week.

Now Murray undoubtedly is mad at himself for putting himself in a dangerous spot when he cut into the slot like he did. Three players Kitimat players going out of their way to hit him, especially the one player who clocked him with the unsuspecting head shot, was unnecessary and illegal. We won’t bother naming names here, but the point is the lack of respect on such a play is disheartening to see in any level of hockey.

But I also know Murray is dying to get back out on the ice and help his teammates. You have to admire these players, going out there and giving it their all. They are essentially volunteering their time in a very competitive league.

There is no financial incentive for them, and injuries are always a very real possibility. And unlike the National Hockey League, these guys have to go their real jobs on Monday morning.

To watch anyone get hurt, especially under questionable circumstances like Murray, is tough to see.

These guys play for the love of the game.  Every freshly cleaned sheet of ice is like a blank canvas. With every cut of their skates and slaps of their sticks these players keep painting their hockey dreams, providing entertainment for the fans.

This is where hockey really lives. The National Hockey League with all their greedy players and lockout hungry owners can not possibly match the true love of the game that can be found at local arenas all across Canada.

The River Kings are overdue for a couple of bounces to go their way, and with it a couple of wins. Perhaps this weekend is the start of the River Kings turnaround.

Joe Pelletier of Terrace runs the website www.greatesthockeylegends.com and can be found on Twitter: @HockeyLegends.

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