It was like looking in the mirror for the Prince Rupert Rampage as they took on Smithers.
After a tough stretch where the team lost nine straight and a road trip that took them away from home for five games in a row, the Rampage got back in the win column by defeating a very similar and very speedy Smithers Steelheads team, 6-5 on Saturday night.
But they couldn’t close out a perfect weekend as the fish exacted their revenge on Sunday, beating Prince Rupert 7-4.
“A team like this, if you make mistakes like we did in the second [period], it’ll cost us a couple goals,” said forward Tom Robinson after Sunday’s tilt.
“They move the puck so well and they’ll capitalize.”
The Steelheads (5-4-0), who play almost the same speed, passing and counter-attack game that the Rampage employ, gave Rupert audiences a treat with two very back-and-forth games and the evenly-matched teams each took away two valuable points for the West division playoff race.
The Rampage (2-9-1) had one of their best starts out of the gate in their whole season on Saturday night, setting the tone for a 2-1 advantage after one period.
With goaltender Jarrod Hildebrandt taking the reins, Craig Munro and Kory Movold scored in the first period, replying to Smithers’ Adam deVries who opened the scoring 8:06 into the game.
But the match quickly unravelled for the home side as four straight Smithers goals in Saturday’s second period gave the Steelheads the commanding 5-2 lead after two periods. Brendan deVries scored twice in a row and Ian Smith and Mark Arnold added singles for the fish, blitzing Hildebrandt for the lead.
“You’ve just got to forget about [those goals],” said the goalie after the game.
“In Kitimat [two weeks ago] we came back within one goal [in the third period] and that’s what we were talking about in the dressing room. We knew we could do it.”
With fans fretting over a potential loss to the team they’re chasing in the standings, the Rampage showed their resiliency and came out blazing in the third.
Rupert’s Devin Palmer started the comeback after capitalizing on a turnover in Smithers’ end and taking a nice feed from Jared Davis to one-time it home.
After that, Robinson scored on a broken play that had the puck bouncing from one rhino to the next and Smithers goalie David Little lost it in the confusion to cut the lead to 5-4.
A nice goal and a dangle by Movold had the forward scoring top-shelf over Little for his second goal of the game and the equalizer.
Penalties to three Steelheads and a right wing-streaking Mike Coolin scoring the game-winning goal capped off the team’s win in the dying minutes.
“That was the fastest we’ve come out since the home-opener,” said Hildebrandt, who earned his first-ever Central Interior Hockey League (CIHL) win.
“[It was] my second home start so I was pretty nervous in the first couple periods and that showed, but when we came out in the third, I just felt like I had to be solid in the last period.”
Sunday’s affair didn’t go as successfully for the rhinos. Penalty trouble and breakdowns led to the Rampage giving up a 4-2 lead that they worked hard for in the middle of the second period.
Smith scored for Smithers at a near-impossible angle along the goal line to cut Rupert’s lead to 4-3 and he scored again after he received a long, stretch pass and deked out Sunday’s starting netminder Devon Gerrits to tie the contest 4-4.
“Those stretch passes were hurting us all weekend,” said Robinson.
“Five-on-five I think we were plus-five or plus-six in goals so I mean five-on-five we were playing good … and we were hitting; we were forechecking and backchecking hard and that got us the win [Saturday] and a close game today but staying out of the box should have been key for us.”
Jared Meers, who was allowed to play last weekend due to a lifted suspension after league officials reviewed the game in Kitimat where he was ejected, scored first for Rupert on Sunday. Palmer, Jordan Weir and another highlight-reel goal by Movold gave the rhinos their four goals Sunday.
Ryan Green, Smith’s two goals and Brendan deVries’ hat trick contributed to the Steelheads’ win. The fish scored twice into the empty net as Gerrits had left for the extra attacker with 2:30 remaining in the game.
The Rampage sit five points back of Smithers for the final playoff spot with four games remaining.
It doesn’t get any easier for Rupert now as they’ll face Kitimat in an away game on Saturday, Dec. 27 and finish the season with three games in a row against West Division leader Terrace in January.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
The Williams Lake Stampeders continue to roll the CIHL, taking down the Lac La Hache Tomahawks 8-3 on Saturday night and 13-4 on Sunday in their doubleheader.
Jassi Sangha scored four times and added an assist while David Gore notched a single and had three assists for the Stamps (11-1-0) in their first contest. Donovan Nicholas had two for Lac La Hache (3-8-0).
On Sunday, Gore had four goals and two assists while Nicholas scored all four goals for Lac La Hache.