After a steady season on the ice, the Terrace River Kings are saying goodbye to regular season play and heading into playoffs in the Central Interior Hockey League.
Here is a look back at the season and forward to upcoming playoff action.
It was a close one
The 2011/2012 season’s eight wins and 10 losses may look similar to last year, which ended with seven wins and nine losses, but a closer look tells a different story.
With fewer players on the team this year — down to 22 from 28 last year — Kings’ captain Steve Cullis said the Kings were more focused and ready to play.
“We have come a long way,” said Cullis, comparing this season to last year.
He pointed out the many tight game scores and wins over some of the Central Interior Hockey League’s (CIHL) tougher teams like Smithers and Kitimat, which have notoriously dominated the River Kings throughout the past.
“In recent months, we’ve had a lot of close games and beat a lot of good teams,” Cullis said.
The result of this is a team that he says has become competitive throughout the CIHL.
In total, out of 18 games played, six of them have ended in a one goal difference for the Kings.
Cullis points out the Jan. 7 game as an example, where the River Kings went head-to-head with the Smithers Steelheads – holding a 1-1 score until the third period, where Smithers scored with 35 seconds left to play.
The Steelheads ended up going undefeated this season, leading the CIHL standings with 36 points.
“We know we can play with them,” Cullis said, noting that when game scores are that close, it can really come down to the lucky bounce of the puck here or there.
Head coach for the Kings Roger Tooms agreed with Cullis.
“Finishing has been more an issue this season,” he said. “And although it’s frustrating to lose by a single goal, the players come away knowing that they are competitive.”
He also noted a smaller roster this season has helped by improving player morale.
General manager for the team Ray Hallock said this is probably the best team the River Kings have ever had on the ice.
“They are fast, they are well-disciplined and they can skate with any other team,” said Hallock.
He has been the general manager for the team, with the exception of one year, since he was a part of its creation in 2004.
He said if the puck was going into the net with a better average to the number of shots fired, the team would probably be well ahead.
“Everything about the team is better this year, but they are having trouble getting the pucks into the net,” Hallock said. “I’m confident that if we continue to progress at the level that we are then all we can do is get ahead.”
Heading into the 2011/2012 playoff season, the River Kings will be looking to capitalize on skills and strategies they have been building all season.
Game one will be on home ice in Terrace Jan. 28 against long-standing local rivals, the Kitimat Ice Demons.
Notoriously having lost to Kitimat in the past, the last time the two teams met the Kings thumped the Demons — taking a 8-2 victory on home ice Jan.6.
Cullis said, for the team, playoffs are coming at a perfect time.
“We’re peaking at the right time,” he said, explaining the team is working really well together right now.
“Everyone is there for each other and I think that will go a long way (in playoffs),” he said.
One of two assistant captains, Josh Murray thinks the Kings have a good shot at the playoffs this season.
“We are going to go in as underdogs, but I think we have a good chance of upsetting,” he said.
“We are competitive.”
Filling the stands
Hallock said one of the problems the River Kings faced this year was a lack of fan support.
“People don’t seem to care anymore,” he said, noting this past season was the worst game attendance the River Kings have ever had.
Hallock said he is concerned for the viability of the team if the lack of support continues.
“You just can’t go on forever….we could be in the hole a significant amount this year,” Hallock said, of low ticket sales affecting the team’s finances.
“The Kings are here for the community so the community needs to give something back.”
His concern was echoed by Amber Pipe, owner of the Terrace Shogun Dojo, who offers dry land training to Terrace’s midget and bantam rep hockey teams.
Pipe says, if this lack of fan support continues, she is concerned about where these young men will be playing after they age-out of minor hockey.
“It is disheartening, and I am concerned about the future of the River Kings,” she said.
“I just wonder what happened to the spirit of Hockeyville, where are all of those people?”
Tooms said he anticipates attendance to continue to fluctuate with competing priorities and general interest.
“The feedback received indicates the games are exciting and respectful, there is not much more the players can do to draw fans,” Tooms said.
He said the organization is always appreciative of those who attend games and support the team.