The ‘Roos split an important regular season ending weekend, losing to the Williams Lake Stampeders before bouncing back to beat the Terrace River Kings.
Starting their final regular season against their Cariboo nemesis, the ‘Roos were anxious to put their last game far behind them and they succeeded as the two teams played exciting hockey, with Williams Lake squeaking ahead 4-3 despite a ‘Roos comeback rally late in the third.
“We just ran out of time,” coach Brian Kozak said.
“We came together in the end though and that’s a big step for us.”
Williams Lake’s Nathan Zurak was the first to put numbers up, with less than five minute left in the period, beating Ryan Manderson with some deft stick handling.
Justin Fulton tied it up four minutes later during a four-on-four. David Gordon dropped it back for Fulton, who snapped it from the red line past the Williams Lake keeper.
Despite the pace, one was all each team would come away with for the period, despite great chances for the ‘Roos, including a couple breakaway chances from Matt Stang and Alessio Tomassetti that went wide or rang off the post.
Coming back in the second, both teams kept up the pace, with chances going to both teams and a couple of beautiful saves by Manderson. But a double minor to Gordon at 7:43 put the ‘Roos in a compromising position. Manderson kept the Stamps off the scoreboard for the first two minutes, but Williams Lake finally found their way past at 9:38 and then again at 10:10.
With the two-cushion, Williams Lake worked to keep the lead, closing down the ‘Roos.
“They played a smart game against us,” Kozak said.
In the third, tensions boiled over. Waylon L’Heureux and Tyrel Lucas tried to settle it with fists and both got game expulsions for the fight.
The Kangaroos kept their efforts up, but it was Williams Lake who scored shorthanded. A bad pass after the 12 minute mark, gave Zurak the puck and a whole lot of empty ice between him and Manderson. Zurak flipped it to Matt Lees who was all alone and beat Manderson to put the Stamps up 4-1.
Facing a steep climb, Kozak pulled Manderson with just over four minutes left on a face off deep in the Stampeders zone. The gamble paid off with a scrambly goal credited to Rigby Burgart. Kozak rolled the dice again two minutes later and was rewarded with another goal, this time off the stick of Paul Girodat. A third attempt had ‘Roos fans hoping for an overtime period, but time ran out, leaving the ‘Roos down a point.
Sunday, The ‘Roos ran into an equally difficult Terrace River Kings, beating them 6-3 in a close, fast-paced game.
The match started out chippy and violent.
“It was one of those games – both teams were very fired up because it was important game point wise for the Coy Cup,” Kozak said.
The top three teams from the CIHL will play in the Coy Cup.
Just over six minutes into the game, Burgart scored, putting the ‘Roos in an early lead. A backhand dump by Gordon four minutes after skittered past the Terrace goalie to give the ‘Roos some room to breathe.
But the continued physical play put the ‘Roos down two players for a minute late in the first and Terrace took advantage, to put the game at 2-1 going into the second.
The physical play continued into the second, with skater playing the body as much as the puck.
Steve Cullis posted the only goal of the period for Terrace, tying the game at 13:24.
The tied game did wonders for the players’ focus, as the third saw only two penalties.
Before the first minute was out, Terrace took the lead, but it only lasted for a minute, until Nick Tomassetti buried a rebound.
Tyrell Turgeon got the go-ahead five minutes into the period, and the cushion on a wonderful shot in close, as he toppled, that found its way over the goalie’s pad and in.
The ‘Roos didn’t let up for the rest of the game, with Girodat marking another after Terrace pulled their goalie late in the third, resulting in the 6-3 final for the ‘Roos.
From the coaches to the players, the Kangaroos are happy looking back on their season.
With 12 wins and six losses the ‘Roos had a good year by the numbers, with a peak of a sevengame win streak.
The season started off rough, with the ‘Roos on the road for the first five games, of which they only managed to win one, but as soon as they put their skates on home ice, things began to change.
“It was a learning experience and then our guys just bought into the ‘Roos way and we got onto that seven-game win streak. Then we take a break and come back and for whatever reason we’re not the same team anymore,” Kozak said.
The team pulled together and clambered back to a respectable position, before really hitting their stride mid-way through and blazing their way through the, near, half-season win streak.
Lac La Hache put a stop to the ‘Roos win streak. The Tomahawks knew how to play the ‘Roos, winning half the matches between the two teams, a feat considering the ‘Roos were near the top of the standing for much of the season while Lac La Hache sat around the bottom.
Kozak is optimistic about playoffs.
“If we play our game that way we’re supposed to, we have every chance we’ll win this thing,” he said.
This season has been one of the best for the team.
“I think all in all, the season was a success,” Curtis Gassoff, the team’s assistant captain said.
“We’ve been moving forward since our first year in the league and we’re looking forward to playoffs.
Now the Kangaroos face the playoffs and everything that comes from that, with an eye towards accumulating enough points to make sure they get in the Coy Cup.
The ‘Roos won’t see action until the end of the month, starting the playoffs on the road against Houston.