By: Tom Best
There was an excited air of anticipation at Smithers Civic Centre last Saturday night as fans filed in to watch the first game of the Steelheads 2016-17 campaign. A couple of hours later, that anticipation had turned into excited fulfillment as the locals bruised their perennial rival Terrace River Kings 5-2.
It looked like the River Kings had something to prove with crushing checks. The Steelheads, however, are on a mission to be the top team in the league as they went about their business with smooth passing and brisk skating.
Terrace coach Derek Jurista, in his first season behind the bench, knew it would a challenging game.
“These are the best two teams in the league. We’ve had some changes in the lineup and some new players will have to step up and fill important roles. We’re in for a good game,” he said before the contest.
The Steelheads were a bit shorthanded with only 13 players suited up, but that made little difference as the play developed through the game.
Most notable was the support given to Steelheads goalie David Little, who swept aside 35 shots. The hand of luck also had a place with seven shots hitting the post or crossbar. Most unfortunate of all was Luke Gordon, who rang the chimes four times.
Post game, Little noted that while he felt a little rusty between the pipes, he generally felt good and it was a promising way to start the season.
“This is a great group this year. There’s good chemistry and we’re working well with new lines and combinations. Not bad since we’ve only been on the ice together a couple of times,” he noted.
Overall, the fans were treated to three periods of high quality hockey with end to end rushes and crisp passing. The game featured a total of nine minor penalties which were killed efficiently.
Of all the delights on the evening, most notable was the overpowering skating by the Steelheads. With only 13 players to call on, they could easily have taken it easier; but that was not the case as they went at it all three periods, including a two-minute stretch to end the game as the River Kings desperately tried to come back from a three goal deficit. No gliding, only powerful, determined skating.
Ben Reinbolt of the River Kings opened the scoring early in the second on a quick 1-2-3 from his defense. That was the only time they held the lead, as Randall Groot flew in past two defenders to let fly and tie it up later that period. The Steelheads never looked back.
Brendan DeVries stuffed in the go-ahead later in the second as the home team gave the visitors all they could handle in the defensive zone. DeVries also shovelled in some insurance early in the final period with a hard fought tally from the mouth of the crease. While the Kings registered one more goal midway through the third, it was to no avail as the Steelheads juggernaut rolled on to the end of the game.
Good goaltending, good defense, sharp passing and great chemistry. All the hallmarks of a good team that fans hope will provide them with as much entertainment for the rest of the season.
Next game for the Steelheads will be this Saturday night in Quesnel. Next home game is Oct. 15 against Kitimat.