They’ve taken a few nasty licks over the past three games, but the players and coaches of the Rimbey Rock are keeping their heads high and are remaining positive as they finish out the regular season and head into the playoffs.
Over the three-game stretch, the Rock have given up 34 goals including a 10-3 beating at the hands of the Red Deer Vipers at the Community Centre last Friday night. In their two previous games, the Rock lost 12-2 to the Three Hills Thrashers and 12-2 to the Mountainview Colts.
But according the head coach Derek Sweet-Coulter, some things are simply out of the control of himself and his players.
“We’ve caught the injury/sick bug in the last couple weeks and the boys have been faced with a tough situation but they’ve faced it in a positive matter,” Sweet-Coulter said. “After losing a tough game to Ponoka a while back 3-2, we beat High River two days later with 13 skaters after being down 3-0 in the second period. These boys have character and when they are all going at the same time there is no team in the league that we can’t beat. It’s just a matter of getting that consistency from everyone on a night-to-night basis.”
Regardless, the Rock are hanging tough in the Heritage Junior Hockey League’s Prairie Division where they sit in second place – one point ahead of the Ponoka Stampeders. Considering the team took a one-year leave of absence and returned this season with many new faces, you can’t really ask for much more, except maybe a bit more consistency.
“Consistency is always tough to get when you have a young inexperienced team, they’re still learning and the boys have made huge strides this year. It may not show it in the win column but these boys are coming along,” Sweet-Coulter said. “With one practice a week they’ve been able to learn and pick things up quickly and have shown it on the ice at times. We have nine wins on the year but if you look at our schedule we have had tough games where we lost by one or two goals. We lost three games by one goal, lost another three games by two goals and tied one game. If you take those seven games and add it to our win total, we’re a .500 hockey club.”
Despite the fact that the team is young in age, the coach said his players are learning more and more each game and is confident they can hold on to second place when they face the Stampeders in Ponoka this Wednesday night.
“We’re a young team and we knew coming in it wasn’t going to be easy. When you lose games by one or two goals a lot of it is being young and inexperienced,” Sweet-Coulter said. “You know you are going to lose a few games like that but the main thing is you learn from those games and move forward, realize what your mistakes were and prevent them from happening the next time you are in the same situation. We have an opportunity Wednesday night to win our tenth game of the year and I am confident we will.”
As for the situation on the defensive side of the rink, Sweet-Coulter said the team has been missing one of their key cogs in the wheel, but expects a return just in time for the playoffs.
“Goaltender Zach Cross has been away for the last few games which didn’t help our cause. Zach returns to the lineup for Wednesday night’s game in Ponoka which will give the boys a confidence boost,” he said. “We hold our playoff fate in our own hands, if we defeat Ponoka on Wednesday night we will clinch second place in our division and face the Red Deer Vipers in the first round who we tied 3-3 in their barn back in December. If we lose we will face the Blackfalds Wranglers.”
Including the goaltending, Sweet-Coulter said there are several Rock players who have stepped up to the plate for the team this season.
“Players who have stood out in my eyes this season would have to be Wyatt Robinson, Cody Lewis, Davin Waisanen, Lee Fraser, who is now playing Junior A hockey in Drayton Valley and Zach Cross,” the coach said. “You can also put Jarrett McConnell in that group as well who battled sickness for two months and you still couldn’t keep him off the ice. As a 21 year-old, you come to expect great things from him and he has done a good job with these young players. At times things can be frustrating for an older guy who just wants to win. There is no doubt this team would have had a tough time being competitive without Zach Cross. He is a mature stand up guy who has that competitive edge that a lot of coaches wish they had. These players are leaders on this team and they bring the kind of work ethic every night that is needed to compete in this league.”
Despite their regular season record of nine wins, 24 losses and one tie, Sweet-Coulter said the team is eagerly awaiting the playoffs and is hopeful fans turn out in droves as they enter the ‘second season’. He also took the time to acknowledge everyone who made the return of the Rock possible.
“I would like to thank all the fans and sponsors who have supported this young team this season. There’ve been ups and downs but the main thing is that Rock playoff hockey is returning to the Rimbey Arena and we are all very excited,” he said. “It has been a long time since we have seen Rock playoff hockey in Rimbey and there should be a buzz around town. These boys have improved so much since the start of the year and as everyone knows anything can happen in the playoffs. When you have the best goaltender in the league great things can happen, the boys just have to support and trust each other, things will fall into place.”
Following the game in Ponoka on Wednesday night, the Rock will finish off the regular season this Friday when they will face the Thrashers in Three Hills.
For more information on the Rimbey Rock and the playoffs log on to www.rimbeyrock.com and click on the link ‘news from the bench’ for weekly updates on the team. If you’d like to give the Rock some much-needed support on the road, game time is 7:45p.m. in Ponoka.