Fans got a good look at what might be in store for their 2015-16 Rupert Rampage campaign with two home games to kick off the season, and what they saw should excite them.
Minus a few hiccups, mostly in the latter Sunday game versus the Quesnel Kangaroos, it was a complete effort from the rhinos in both Saturday’s 5-4 shootout loss against the Williams Lake Stampeders and Sunday’s 4-3 shootout win against the ‘Roos.
The home opener on Saturday pitted the Rampage against the powerhouse Williams Lake Stampeders, who only suffered one loss all year in 2014-15, and took the regular season title for most points, before bowing out to the Terrace River Kings in the CIHL post-season final.
But the Rampage were up to the task.
“It just shows the character of the team. They were giving it everything they had and they want to play better for their hometown and their team. They’re a pretty proud group of guys and they’re going to put a better effort for them this year than they did last year,” said Rampage head coach Roger Atchison after Saturday’s matchup.
The Stamps didn’t intimidate the home side either, as the Rampage scored their inaugural goal of the season just three minutes into the game when Kory Movold jumped on a loose puck and potted it past Stamps’ netminder Justin Foote.
But Williams Lake showed why they’re a perennially dominant team when they later jumped out to a 4-2 lead, thanks to markers by Matt Lees, Nathan Zurak and two from Kaleb Boyle.
The Rampage didn’t mail it in. With only 1:16 left in the second period, Brayden Horcoff notched his first of the season, when a feed from the corner by captain Jared Meers found his stick and he banged it home to come within one.
Newcomer Tyler Halliday also notched his first of the regular season when he beat Foote on a shorthanded breakaway with three minutes left in the first period to knot the score 2-2.
In the third frame, Devin Palmer tied things up 4-4 with a shot from an almost impossible angle along the goal line, to beat a down-and-out Foote, who had saved a flurry of shots seconds earlier, to send the game to extra time.
Overtime solved nothing and the shootout went nine rounds before Dylan Richardson beat Rampage netminder Devon Gerrits to take the win. Francis Johnson also beat Gerrits in the skills competition, but Rampage forward Mike Coolin notched his own immediately afterward in the seventh round to keep it going.
Gerrits may be comfortable with some of the western teams’ attackers, but he’s hardly seen the Stamps much at all over his career, and didn’t quite know what to expect from them in the shootout.
“When you play Terrace and Kitimat and Smithers, you get a feel for the players, but when you play Williams Lake, you might see them once or twice a year. Anything can happen,” said the goalie after the game.
“Devon made some great stops. We hung him out to dry on the PK (penalty kill). He made the first save, but they got a couple good rebound goals on him,” said Atchison.
“[The defence] allowed me to see the puck, which is the main thing for a goalie. So as long as I can see it, I can generally stop it,” Gerrits added.
The next day, a short-benched Quesnel Kangaroos squad came to town, but the Rampage were unable to capitalize on Quesnel’s fatigue or their own power-play to put them down early.
Three extended five-on-three man advantages for the rhinos only resulted in one goal, coming from Patrick Robert in the third period. The Kangaroos hung in against the Rampage and matched their effort, despite being down seven skaters, with the Roos’ Paul Girodat injuring his leg and being unable to continue the game in the first frame.
Alternate captain Justin Fulton struck first for Quesnel, beating Rampage netminder Jarrod Hildebrandt up high for the early Kangaroos lead nine minutes into the first.
Rampage defenceman Tyler Ostrom responded with a goal on the power-play, jumping into the play on the half-wall and ripping a shot past Quesnel goalie Richard Ward to tie it 1-1.
That’s where the score would sit for the majority the game, with each team running into penalty trouble and having to field their penalty killers and power-play specialists more often than they would have liked.
Hildebrandt showed his proficiency with the trapper after he made a number of fine glove saves to keep Quesnel from overtaking the rhinos.
But in the third, two point shots beat a screened Hildebrant when the Roos’ Dan Kirkham and Joey MacDonald shot from the blueline to add two more markers for the visitors.
Robert’s tally and a goal from Ben Towner equalled things up at 3-3 to end regulation time.
Again, overtime didn’t solve the game and this time the shootout featured even more intrigue. When facing elimination after a goal from Quesnel’s Mike Wakita would give them their second straight loss, Robert scored for the home team when he skated down the ice and his blade caught an edge. While tumbling, he got a shot off and beat Ward to tie the shootout 1-1.
The Kangaroos argued that Robert came to a stop before shooting, but to no avail. Seconds later, Meers scored to win the game for the rhinos, 4-3.
It was a solid weekend for Tyler Ostrom, who logged big minutes at even strength, on the power-play and penalty kill, and added three points from the blueline to pace the defence on the score-sheet.
“In junior, I usually shut down people, but up here I’m getting the opportunities [to let loose offensively] so it’s nice,” said Ostrom.
“Mostly [I play with defensive partner] Marcus Atchison … I grew up playing with him my whole life, so it’s nice to be back together. All through atom and midget rep and we’ve gone to a few provincials together.”
Coach Atchison liked Saturday’s effort a little more, but commended Quesnel’s persistence.
“They’re a veteran team and they’re missing a few players and they know how to drag it out to keep it close and stay in the game. I thought our pace was not quite as good as we could be early on and I think that that kept them around … I think we needed a little more compete tonight,” he said Sunday.