The Prince Rupert Rampage may have the majestic, horned rhinoceros donning the front of their jerseys, but this season, they’re in for a good old-fashioned dogfight.
Now, the free handouts to the playoffs are no more and only two teams out of the Rampage’s four-team division will make it to the post-season. That puts a lot more pressure on every regular season game for the rhinos, even if the squad will try and keep a quiet confidence about their chances.
“No one’s said anything about it yet [in the dressing room],” said Rampage goaltender Warren Hanson.
“I’m sure the guys are aware of it.”
Between the Rampage, Terrace River Kings, Kitimat Ice Demons and Smithers Steelheads, the West Division is set to battle amongst themselves for a trip to the show. Comparatively, in the East, two spots are up for grabs between the Williams Lake Stampeders, the Quesnel Kangaroos and Lac La Hache Tomahawks.
And the boys say they’re ready for whatever comes at them this year, with Terrace and Smithers providing the most historically tough tests recently. Both teams finished atop the West last year.
However, the Rampage’s first opponent on Saturday for their quest for the Sullivan Motor Products (SMP) Cup, the Kitimat Ice Demons, are no slouches.
“They’re very skilled … we’ve just got to keep it simple; we’re a lunchpail team,” said head coach Roger Atchison.
The Ice Demons took three of five meetings from the Rampage last year, winning the first two games the two rivals played in Rupert. The Rampage would tie the season series with two victories in Kitimat and Rupert after that before the Ice Demons took the regular season series with a 7-4 win on Dec. 28 in Kitimat.
The two squads know a little something about tangoing to open the season. Last year, the Demons stole a 3-1 win at the Jim Ciccone Civic Centre in just the second game of the season and in 2012, the Rampage lost a 6-1 decision to Kitimat on opening day. The team is looking to buck that trend on Saturday.
“They force the play – they don’t sit back,” said Hanson.
“They’re an offensive team. They like the back-door pass quite a bit, and they’re a good team, no doubt about that.”
Kory Movold led the way for the Rampage against the Ice Demons last year, scoring five goals and two assists for seven points, including a hat-trick on Nov. 16. Greg Sheppard followed with two goals and three assists versus the squad.
New to the team this year are two goaltenders – Jarrod Hildebrandt and Devon Gerrits. They’ll battle it out for netminding minutes along with Hanson, who may take a backseat to start the year to allow the new goalies to shine.
“We’ve got two young kids in the dressing room now, so they’re 20 (Hildebrandt) and 28 years old (Gerrits) so they’ll be playing most of the games this year,” said Hanson.
Hildebrandt, who’s new to the city, says he puts a little more scrutiny on himself compared to other years that he’s played.
“It [can be tough] especially with a new team, a new bunch of guys, trying to prove yourself,” he said.
“Everyone seems like they’re excited to get going … they’re treating me pretty good so far.”
The majority of practice time has been spent on odd-man rushes.
“A lot of 3-on-2s, 5-on-3s – just trying to get our passing down, our breakouts. Our first two passes are the most important [out of the zone],” said Hanson.
Game time on Saturday is 8 p.m.
Elsewhere in the league, the Williams Lake Stampeders will take on the Quesnel Kangaroos on Friday night while Kitimat holds their home opener on Friday, playing the Terrace River Kings. On Saturday, Lac La Hache hosts Williams Lake and Terrace welcomes Smithers.