The Terrace River Kings are heading into the Christmas break on a four-game winning streak, finally hitting their stride after a shaky start to the CIHL season.
The Kings, ranked second in the West, had a rough start to the season, rife with injuries and too many penalties, which translated into some tough losses.
But as the season’s progressed, the team has become more disciplined and really pulled together as a team—resulting in wins like the ones seen over the past few weeks.
“It’s really way better hockey than it was earlier in the year,” said Ray Hallock, the River Kings’ general manager. “They’re staying out of the penalty box more and more, there’s less fights, the guys are getting a more disciplined style of play, certainly playing far better together.”
And it really is a team effort, with points among the Kings’ top players spread out evenly for the most part, and coach Roger Tooms reluctant to single out specific players going the extra mile.
“We have been relying on all of our players—they continue to follow the recommended strategy,” he said, noting that a shake up in the team’s line composition has made a difference.
“We are maintaining good compatibility with the available players and in the last four games we have been able to play four lines more consistently,” he said.
Hallock also touts the compatibility between the players.
“We practise lots and its starting to have an effect,” he said. “It’s like watching a fine-oiled machine out there these last four games. It’s pretty amazing.”
The streak started with Nov. 24’s home game against Lac La Hache. It was the first time the Tomahawks had travelled to Terrace—and they went home empty handed after falling 6-5 to the Kings.
The next day, during a Sunday matinee that had to compete with the Grey Cup for attention, the Kings trounced Williams Lake 5-2, gaining confidence that stuck with them through a bye week and on the road to Kitimat and Rupert Dec. 7 and 8, where they won both games on the road.
They’re now off for the Christmas break, and fans are hoping they can keep the mojo going.
“Hopefully we can keep the high spirits and come back hungry to win again,” said Hallock. “We’ve got Rupert and Kitimat as our two next home games here. So both of those guys will want some revenge. But if we can come off the break not having had too much turkey and keep that team spirit going and keep going with the same kind of consistency we had in the last four games, there’s no way we can’t just keep winning.”
A playoff spot isn’t guaranteed at this point, and coach Tooms says the games are only going to get tougher as the season draws to a close.
But the Kings’ schedule is in their favour—especially since the team doesn’t have to face the league’s undefeated powerhouse, Smithers, again this year. Terrace lost to them twice this season—one close 5-4 game at the beginning of October, and then a more decisive 7-2 loss in November.
“The toughest game will be Kitimat, and we’ve already had their number a couple of times this year,” said Hallock.
Hallock is hoping these recent wins will translate into higher attendance numbers when the season resumes in the new year.
Like everyone else in the league, he believed the lockout would mean more people attending local hockey games—but that hasn’t been the case.
“We only have three more home games until the playoffs,” he said. “I’m hoping we get some good turnout that first weekend in January because we’re really suffering financially.”
Prince Rupert and Kitimat are both playing in Terrace the first weekend back, Jan. 4 and 5. And then the Kings won’t be back at home again until the season closer against the Omenica Ice on Jan. 20.
Then, fingers crossed for the Kings, its playoff action.
“I’m hoping to get a playoff spot,” he said. “The Coy Cup’s going to be in Kitimat this year so it’d be nice to be able to move onward and upward and get into the Coy Cup.”
And word is that first-placed Smithers has declined to participate in the Cup this year, which would mean a more evenly-matched tournament for the teams involved.
But even if they did turn up to the tournament, Hallock remains confident in his team.
“Smithers sort of out classes the rest of us, but the way our guys are playing… the way they played those last four games, I think we could beat Smithers,” said Hallock. “If we ever got a goal or two ahead, I don’t think our guys would let them come back.”