It wasn’t pretty, but the Prince Rupert Rampage welcomed the regular season in with a 3-2 victory over the Kitimat Ice Demons on Saturday night at the civic centre.
In a highly-physical match between the two rivals, Cole Atchison scored the deciding goal on a two-on-one early in the third period and the Rampage held the Ice Demons off to open the brand new season.
The nearly-full crowd was kept on the edge of their seats when Kitimat scored a power play goal with less than five minutes left in the game while defenceman Jared Davis sat in the penalty box. The Rampage took another penalty with 27.1 seconds left, giving the Ice Demons an upper hand to tie the game in the dying seconds, but the Rupert team did a good job of shutting down any chances.
“It’s pretty big starting the season on a positive note,” said Atchison just after getting off the ice. “It’s getting guys motivated and get some confidence going and keep the momentum going into the next game.”
Atchison, who scored seven goals last season, said the bad blood between the two teams is just part of the rivalry.
“We just get rough against Kitimat normally and they don’t like when we play physical and when we play physical, there’s lots of penalties. We just got to be tough out there and play through it,” he said.
The game was certainly a rough one. It was physical, but the teams were constantly at each other, taking cheap shots after the whistle had blown. It seemed to take a turn about halfway through the second period. Tyler Halliday got into a fight with a Kitimat player behind the Ice Demons net and was consequently ejected from the game.
The fight “got the boys going,” said Atchison. From then on, the game got more rough. At times in the third period, the referees had some trouble figuring out what penalties to hand out after the players scuffled.
Penalties were a big part of the game, with 14 punishments being handed out in addition to the ejections. Rupert players were in the sin bin eight times, with one proving costly in Kitimat’s second goal. Taking less penalties is an area to improve for the team, Atchison noted. Team president and general manager Ron German agreed.
“That is sort of our nemesis. We can’t win games when you’re in the penalty box. We took some retaliation penalties tonight that could have been way different scenarios. We could have been on power plays instead of taking pointless penalties,” he said.
While German was pleased with the victory, he said there’s a lot of work still to be done.
“I think we struggled a little bit. I believe we are way better than that still,” he said.
The team will get more comfortable in the next game or two and we’re going to be way better this year than we have in the past, German said.
That said, he praised the way the players held Kitimat in its own end so often. Atchison added to the list of what the team did well, saying the forechecking and killing penalties were strong points.
The Ice Demons poured it on strong in the first period. They applied lots of pressure, dominating the puck possession and had plenty of chances to score on goalie Brett Roth.
Kitimat forward Brandon Wakita, eight-year veteran with the team, scored six and a half minutes in to give his team a 1-0 lead.
But momentum shifted when the Rampage had back-to-back powerplays, capitalizing with 6:33 to go, putting the puck past Brett Vilness to tie the game at one.
The Rampage took two penalties late in the period, giving Kitimat a 5-on-3 situation for 42 seconds, but they successfully killed it off.
Vilness was outstanding in the second period. The Rampage had many chances and continued to put the puck on net but the Kitimat netminder was solid, turning them away. But as the hockey saying goes, if you put enough pucks on net, eventually one will find its way in.
Davis scored with four minutes left to give Rupert the 2-1 lead. It was his fifth career goal.
In the dying seconds of the second, Atchison fired a shot that rang around the posts, but the Rampage bench insisted it had gone in the net. German said he also thought it was in but the referee came over and explained he had a close look and it didn’t go in.
In the third period, Atchison found some retribution, scoring a goal in the second minute to make it 3-1 Rupert.
The rest of the period was rough, with the Rampage taking four penalties. Kitimat took advantage on the powerplay late in the frame to make it a one-goal game, but Rupert held them off to the delight of the fans.
The Rampage will next take on the River Kings in Terrace on Saturday, who are looking for its first win after losing 5-2 to Smithers in its opener.