The Prince Rupert Rampage are the CIHL western division regular season champions for 2022 - 2023.
That was already an established fact Saturday evening when the Rampage took to the ice at the Jim Ciccone Civic Centre against the Smithers Steelheads for both teams’ final game of the season.
The Terrace River Kings had made the race for the west interesting the week before when they stormed into Rupert’s barn and pulled within one point of the Rampage, who were 10-3-0-0 at the time with 20 points to the Kings’ 17.
It was a chippy game with Terrace dominating the first period and coming away with a 1-0 lead at the break on a goal from Trevor Andrews assisted by Brandon Onstein.
Rupert settled down in the second period, going toe-to-toe with the visitors before Connor Onstein added to the Kings’ lead halfway through the frame with assists from Brandon and Sam Reinbolt.
Just a few seconds later, though, Cole Atchison pulled the home team back within one goal unassisted.
Carter Shannon and Tanner Braid then combined to make it 3-1 for the visitors before Hunter Atchison with help from Dustin Johnson and team-leading scorer Judd Repole added a late goal to make it 3-2 going into the final frame.
Both teams added one to their scores in the third period, Reinbolt from Connor Onstein for Terrace and Brody Hemrich from Austin Weir and Tyler Ostrom for Rupert to make the final 4-3.
The chippiness of the dust-up, with the teams combining for 62 minutes of penalties, finally boiled over at the final buzzer when a brawl almost broke out at centre ice before the referees and cooler heads prevailed.
The win left the River Kings just one point back from the Rampage in the standings.
It also clinched second place for the Kings. Following the game, Terrace coach Derek Jurista reflected on what they would need going into the playoffs.
“We wanted to play the way you want to go into the playoffs,” he said. “You want that full bench, all year we’ve been short and short and short so getting guys back, getting health and going into the playoffs is what we’re looking to do here.”
He said it was very satisfying to beat the Rampage in Rupert.
“They’ve had our number this year, they’re a hell of a team, they’re coached well, they play well and we were lucky to squeak that one out.”
While a Terrace win and two Rupert losses this past weekend would have changed the final tally, the Rampage only had to get past the haphazard Kitimat Ice Demons on Friday (Feb. 3) to clinch the division.
Kitimat, though, on home ice after a disastrous season during which they were blown apart by virtually every team in the league, finally showed some life.
It was a high-scoring affair from the start with the Rampage striking first only to be matched goal for goal by the Demons. By the end of the first period, Kitimat held a rare 4-3 lead.
Tayden Fowler McNab added to the Kitimat lead unassisted five minutes into the second period, but the lead would be short-lived for the home team as the visitors beat up goaltender Nick Almeida with five unanswered goals to take an 8-5 lead into the final frame.
In the third period, Kitimat clawed their way back to within one on unassisted goals by Izaak Velho and Ian Coleman. But with 17 seconds left on the clock, Kory Movold put the final nail in the coffin of the Ice Demon’s winless season-to-forget with a goal from Cole and Marcus Atchison to make the final 9-7.
With the West Division wrapped up, the Rampage had nothing to lose or win going up against Smithers at home Feb. 4, but the Steelheads were locked in a battle for third place with the Hazelton Wolverines.
Smithers held their own pretty well in the first period giving up just two goals to Hunter Johnson (Repole/Marcus Atchison) and Cole Atchison (Johnson/Repole).
In the second frame, however, any semblance of discipline the Steelheads may have exhibited in the first 20 minutes completely disappeared.
Penalties killed the visitors with Rupert scoring five goals in a matter of four minutes and 51 seconds, three of which were on power plays.
Smithers did get on the scoreboard finally in the third period when Graham Fast snuck one past Rupert goaltender Kieran Sharpe, who had lived up to his surname until that point.
But Rupert would also add two more in the last period to make the final 9-1.
While Smithers assistant captain Jeremy Chadsey was disappointed with the finish to the season, the Steelheads got some help from the Terrace River Kings who defeated Hazelton 6-3 to relegate the Wolverines to fourth place.
Rupert plays its first playoff game Feb. 18 at home.
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