The ‘Roos opening weekend had enough ups and downs to satisfy any carnival attendee, with a shoot out loss and a comeback win to keep the fans energized for the coming season.
With more than 800 fans in attendance for each of the games, the arena was packed and ready to cheer.
The ‘Roos came into the game sitting in a game deficit, as both the Omineca Ice and Kitimat Ice Demons had played a pre-season tournament, which offers a great start to the season, Kozak said.
“There’s a big difference between practicing to playing,” he said.
The ‘Roos lost their first game against the Omineca Ice, 6-5 in a shootout and stole the win from the Kitimat Demons in a 4-2 final on Sunday afternoon.
The ‘Roos started their season with a supercharged game against the Ice that shot right past the 60 minute mark into a goal-for-goal shoot out, which they eventually lost.
Both teams came charging out of the gates into the first period, with Omineca seeing the fruits of their labour early on, when Mitch Philpott managed to slot the puck past ‘Roos tender Ryan Menderson, just 1:22 into the first.
Not even three minutes later, the ‘Roos answered back off the stick of Harley Gilcks, assisted by Justin Foulton and Levon Johnston.
The same trio made magic once again, not four minutes later, with 11:47 left in the first, to give the ‘Roos the lead.
The period continued with a lot of action and a lot of talking, in front of the net. All of which cumulated in a dust up in front of the Omineca net between Waylon L’Heureux and David Gordon from the Ice. After the ensuing discussion between refs, the ‘Roos ended up one man down, with an additional roughing penalty for Joel Boyetchko.
The Ice capitalized on the penalty to tie it up with less than a minute remaining in the first, when Tyrell Turgeon found the back of the net.
In the second, the slightly winded ‘Roos hit the ice, but weren’t able get a handle on the period through the first 10 minutes; the first period’s excitement had taken a toll, said Kozak.
“Our guys were so hyped to play the game, so our thing was to try to calm them down. They lost a lot of energy before the game even started. That first period was such an emotional thing. We hemmed them in, our shots were two to one 14-7 until they had back to back power plays and got four shots and scored a goal. Second period, you could see guys were dying and we had to get back to basics, making simple plays,” he said.
Manderson did his best to keep the floundering ‘Roos in the game, including a nice stop on a tricky round-the-back pass in front of the net that had Manderson sprawled, stopping it with pads in the air.
The Ice kept the pressure up, out shooting the ‘Roos, until it finally payed off with a goal at 8:47 into the second to put them ahead 3-2.
Not two minutes later they followed up with their second in the period to put them up on the ‘Roos by two.
Kozak called for a breather that seemed to work as the ‘Roos started to work their way back into the game.
The ‘Roos almost closed the period with a goal, as the puck skittered around in the crease with no goalie behind it, but it couldn’t quite make it home, leaving the ‘Roos down 4-2 going into the final period.
The ‘Roos weren’t able to capitalize on a vestigial power play going into the third, but it didn’t take them long to open the gates. It was Gilks, within two minutes of the whistle, who found the key for and completed his hat trick for the game.
Less than half a minute later, Spencer Holmes nabbed the equalizer to great fanfare.
With the game close and physical, there were more than a few parliaments around the Ice’s goaltender to discuss the finer points of hockey.
After 10 minutes of play, the Ice took the lead again, making for a tense atmosphere in the Twin Arenas.
The ‘Roos didn’t give up through to the final minutes of play, when Justin Fulton brought the ‘Roos back into a tie game with 2:22 left in the final period.
Despite a tense moment after an Ice player rushed the goal, which resulted in a penalty for the Ice instead of the goal it looked like it might have been, the clock ticked down to a tie in regular time.
The resulting shootout was a back and forth affair, as the first four goals were tag-teamed. Paul Girodat nabbed the first goal of the shootout, which was quickly made null by the Ice’s Tyrell Turgeon in the next shot. The Ice’s Kalen Bird was the next to outwit a goalie and the ‘Roos’ Holmes followed, keeping the shootout tied. Omineca’s Cam Kilbreath opened up the scoring again soon after, which was kept in check by the next shooter, Levon Johnson. Rodney Funk broke the back-to-back pattern in the next shot by scoring for the Ice, a feat that wasn’t matched, resulting in the Ice’s win.
“Lot of new players on the team and we’re still trying to get used to playing with each other still, but by the third period, there we started to pick up a little bit. We had a strong first and third and lost the game in the second,” L’Heureux said.
Coming off the loss and diving right back into the game the next night was made easy by fan support, L’Heureux said.
“Everyone’s morale was up, because we’ve had good fan support. We get 900 plus fans, which keeps everyone’s heads up at home because we want to give a good show for the community. Overall our team felt we played pretty good for our first game of the season, so it wasn’t that hard to come off that loss,” he said.
Sunday’s match was a counterpoint to the back-and-forth, frenetic play of the previous game. The game started on a low boil that crept up to a bubbling end.
The ‘Roos learned from the Omineca game and eased their way into the game instead of charging in and using their energy up in the first.
In the first period, the teams spent most of their time in neutral territory, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, trying to adjust to a strong Ice Demons team.
“The first period, I liked the way they played the game. They have a good system; they fore-check well, they penalty kill well and we had to adjust to it a bit. Our plan was to get on their defense. They like to rim it around the wall, so we took away the wall. We adjusted to their team well,” Kozak said.
It wasn’t until deep into the first, with under three minutes left, that an Ice Demon was able to slide the puck past Manderson in a scrimmage in front of the net.
Down one nothing, the Kangaroos kept banging away, but were unable to make anything count, despite ramping up the pressure through to the end of the first.
With a disciplined first under their belt, the ‘Roos came back into the second ready to keep up the momentum they had begun to collect. The ‘Roos got even with the Demons 3:34 into the second, with Curtis Gassoff slipping it behind the Demon’s tender.
Three minutes later, the Demons would keep the game interesting by putting the hometown team down a goal, again, after a bad pass by Manderson behind the net ended on the stick of an Ice Demon, who passed it in front for their Captain, Derek Wakita to feed it into an empty net.
The first half of the third was a tense affair, with the clock slowly winding down as the ‘Roos tried to figure out the Ice Demon’s defense and make something happen.
The period heated up slowly until Levon Johnson got his stick on rebound and pounded it through 9:31 into the third, followed a few minutes later, to a large cheer, by Brolin McGowan’s first of the season to go ahead.
The Ice Demons, being down for the first time in the game, scrambled to get the lead back, but Manderson kept his end on lock, snatching a few very good chances from the hands of the Demons.
Not content to rest on a one-point lead, the ‘Roos continued to push for a cushion, which Devon Whalen managed with just over three minutes left in the game.
The two-point lead deflated the Ice Demons, leaving the ‘Roos with control to wind down the game for the win.
“We knew that we had to wear them out and a lot of hard work contributed to make that win,” L’Heureux said.
The ‘Roos are back in action Oct. 27 and 28 against the Smithers Steelheads and Houston Luckies respectively.