Kings Corner: On a royal roll

Our hockey columnist Joe Pelletier delves into the Terrace River Kings winning streak in preparation for this weekend's home games

When last we met the Terrace River Kings were mired in a 2-5-1 rut. They were routed by the league leading Smithers Steelheads.

Their pop-gun offense was not rewarding them for their consistent play all season long. They were already in serious trouble concerning a playoff spot.

Four weeks later the River Kings rattled off four straight wins and their spot in the playoffs is looking a whole lot more secure.

The River Kings “tomahawked” Lac La Hache in a spirited 6-5 win. The next day they took advantage of a travel-weary Williams Lake team, upsetting the Stampeders 5-2.

Williams Lake looked tired, disinterested, not hungry and probably not very thirsty after partying it up the night before in Prince Rupert.

Perhaps even more unexpected was the win over the Ice Demons in Kitimat on Dec. 7. Kitimat has been a league power as always again this season and have already clinched a playoff berth. But they hit a rough patch with upset losses to divisional foes Rupert and Terrace in consecutive games.

Terrace took a major step to securing their playoff destiny the following night, defeating Rupert 5-2 and leaving the Rampage firmly in the division basement. Eight out of nine teams make the CIHL playoffs. Terrace has pulled clear of Rupert, Houston and Omenica (Vanderhoof) and have joined the middle of the pack.

So what has spurred the River Kings turn-around?

The young team has really focussed on driving play with their speed. They skate hard. They finish their checks. They have been noticeably better at holding play in the offensive zone.

And they have improved their discipline, both in terms of taking bad penalties and in focussing on doing the little things that win hockey games. Getting the puck in deep. First man on the puck. Forecheck. Backcheck. Be a good teammate. Skate hard. Then skate hard some more.

Leading the way all season in all of these departments has been Tristan Murray. Kids, watch #14 at the two River Kings games this weekend and pattern your play after him. He skates hard every shift, plays the game cleanly, and, largely because he focusses his game on the little things, he is the teams’ leading scorer.

The versatile Murray has been the River Kings’ best and most consistent player night-in and night-out, shift-in and shift-out, all season long. He has set the tone for the team all year.

That being said, goaltender Garrett Muir may just get the team’s Most Valuable Player vote. He was not even in the crease mix at the beginning of the season.

But since joining the River Kings he has a record of 3 wins and 1 loss. He also secured the victory over Williams Lake in a relief appearance.

His goals-against-average is 4th best in the entire league and his save percentage is third best. Not bad considering the top goalie in most categories (Smithers’ Michael Wall) used to play in the National Hockey League.

The River Kings specialty teams play has improved in this recent 4 game stretch. In the eight previous games the Kings gave up 11 power play goals against in 41 attempts, a pathetic success rate of just 73%.

In the last four they have killed off 24 of 27 penalties, a much improved 89%. The Kings pop-gun power play has also improved. In the previous 8 games the team operated at just 7% success rate, scoring just 4 goals on 57 power plays. In the last 4 games the team has clicked a more respectable 14% rate, scoring 3 times in 21 attempts.

Chalk that up to good coaching. Roger Tooms has made subtle adjustments only this season. Usually those changes have been necessitated due to injury, suspension or unavailability. But Tooms has kept his lines together as much as possible this season.

Many of the new players have grown up in Terrace and played the game together. Tooms is trying to tap in that chemistry and let it grow here at the senior level.

It appears the coach’s patience may finally be rewarded.

The River Kings have big match ups against Prince Rupert and Kitimat on Jan. 4 and 5, respectively. Both games are at 8pm.

Joe Pelletier is a Terrace-based hockey writer and historian. You can read more at www.greatesthockeylegends.com and find him on Twitter @HockeyLegends.

UPDATE: Since this column was first published, the River Kings have indeed clinched that playoff spot.

Just Posted

Freezing rain warning in effect for Terrace

Environment Canada has issued an alert

Caledonia Secondary School students recognized with broadcast award

Media arts class partnered with CTFK TV, RCMP to air PSA video campaign

Chevron’s move to exit Kitimat LNG project a dash of ‘cold water’ for gas industry

Canada Energy Regulator approved a 40-year licence to export natural gas for Kitimat LNG

City to see eight per cent tax hike in 2020

Budget draft to be presented at City Hall Dec. 17

Boil water notice in effect for Kitsumkalum

Waterline was hit during test drilling Dec. 10

VIDEO: Andrew Scheer to resign as Conservative leader

Decision comes after weeks of Conservative infighting following the October election

RCMP take care when burying sex mannequins found this year in Manning Park

Police tasked with ensuring the mannequins were completely disposed

B.C. seniors need better vaccine protection, advocate says

Home support down, day programs up in annual rating

RCMP rescue wounded raven on Vancouver Island highway

Bird expected to make full recovery

Be aware of ticks when chopping down Christmas trees

Potential for ticks to transfer to clothing

More rowers come forward with complaints about coach, criticism of UVic

Barney Williams is accused of verbal abuse and harassment

Raptors fans show Kawhi the love in his return to Toronto

Leonard receives championship ring, leads new club to win

Process to identify those killed in Gabriola plane crash could take days

Canadian flight museum suggests Alex Bahlsen of Mill Bay died in Tuesday’s crash

Sentencing hearings begin as Prince Rupert man pleads guilty to possession of child pornography

Mike Christopher Hagen charged with possession of child pornography earlier this year

Most Read