Kitimat goalie Tom Mildenberger entered Saturday’s Rupert-Kitimat matchup a relative unknown in the CIHL’s 2014-15 season, but left it a hero for the Ice Demons.
Mildenberger stopped every shot that came his way (25 in all) in a 4-0 Ice Demons shutout victory over the Rupert Rampage, handing the rhinos their fourth straight loss, and was almost superhuman in the second period when the Rampage (1-3-1) poured on assault after assault of a barrage of shots and saved most of them with his lightning quick glove-hand.
So what was the tendy thinking during his flashy, NHL-calibre glove stops that had the crowd ooo-ing and aww-ing and Rampage forwards looking skyward?
“Thank God they stayed in my glove,” said Mildenberger after the game.
Indeed, rebounds were a rare sight off of Kitimat’s netminder, who so far has taken a back seat to Shahar Moudahi and Brett Vilness during Kitimat’s woeful start to the season (they stand at 1-4-1) – and their win in Rupert on Saturday was their first of the season.
“I’ve been having a rough year, so I’ve been trying to focus on following the puck a little bit better and for the first period, I was struggling a little bit and fighting the puck but in the second period I got a lot of shots and was able to see the puck so it was a good confidence-builder,” said Mildenberger who earned his first shutout in his CIHL career.
In the second frame, Rupert’s top line broke out on a 2-on-0 rush and Mildenberger lunged out to meet the connecting pass head on and stop the squad from scoring their first tally, and then unbelievably managed to fly back across the crease for the juicy rebound that the rhinos’ third man in had gotten to.
Before that flurry, Mildenberger flashed the leather more than a few times to put on a one-man show for the crowd.
Rupert had beaten Kitimat in the season opener, and the Ice Demons hadn’t had much luck since then – going 0-4-0 in their previous endeavours before topping the Rampage in their shutout victory.
It was the first time Rupert was held scoreless since Oct. 9, 2011 when they lost to the now-defunct Houston Luckies 1-0.
“We’re finally coming together as a team. We’re moving the puck a little better – supporting the puck and guys are coming in front of the net so [opposing] goalies can’t see the puck so it’s good,” added Mildenberger.
Josh Slanina scored twice for Kitimat in the game, once in the first period where his slapshot beat Rupert’s netminder Devon Gerrits from the left face-off circle.
Two more goals in the second period – one a centring feed in front for a one-timer by Demons captain Derek Wakita, and another when Steven Venman scored on a 5-on-4 man advantage for Kitimat, had the Rampage reeling, down 3-0 after two periods.
Slanina notched another one to round out the 4-0 score in the middle of the third period with a slapshot from the point that beat a screened Gerrits.
“They had some fast legs out there tonight – faster than any us and their goalie – I mean what did we have, four or five posts and the goalie was on fire. So no excuses, we definitely beat ourselves,” said Rampage general manager Ron German after the game.
“We didn’t use our speed as well as we should have. We have to put pressure on their defence and their d-men tonight were more confident with the puck, so unless you’re on them fast, you give those guys one step and the next thing you know, they’re past you,” said German who mentioned the other Mildenberger – Jeff Mildenberger – as a big reason why Kitimat’s defence was so successful. Jeff had two assists on the evening.
Rupert now sits tied for third with Kitimat in the West Division with three points, one behind the Smithers Steelheads who hold down the final playoff spot. Smithers has a game in hand on the Rampage.
Next up for the rhinos is their eastern road swing that sees them take on Williams Lake on Saturday night and the Quesnel Kangaroos on Sunday.
“Hopefully we’ll have lots of bodies to go – there may be a couple injuries (Jordan Aubee and Devin Palmer) … they’ve got big teams there at home and then when you ask the guys to take a three-day trip, it’s a big commitment for sure,” said German.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
The Terrace River Kings (4-1-0) continued their torrid start to the season with a doubling up of Kitimat, 6-3 on Friday night at home. Luke Gordon had two goals and an assist and Chapen Leblond added a goal and three assists for his efforts in the win.
The Williams Lake Stampeders (6-0-0) remained undefeated Saturday night with an 8-5 win over Lac La Hache. Matt Lees had four goals and one assist while Nathan Zurak picked up a goal and two assists.