The Steelheads are making a late season push for first place in the West Division, after they tallied back-to-back wins over two Eastern foes this past weekend.
First up, a date against the woeful Lac La Hache Tomahawks, who were a CIHL worst 3-11-0 heading into Friday night.
Adding to their uphill climb, the Tomahawks brought just 10 skaters on the road trip, to go up against a full contingent of Steelheads.
And early on it looked as if the Steelheads might roll to their biggest blowout of the season.
The home team opened the game with two goals in the first five minutes, both by recent returnees to the lineup, Calvin Johnson and Matt Arnold.
Ian Smith added a third before the first horn, and the Steelheads were on their way.
Lac La Hache pushed back in the second, carrying most of the play and outshooting the Steelheads by a 2-1 margin. They got one goal back, but the Steelheads answered with two more to put the game out of reach.
Up five goals, the Steelheads took their foot off the gas pedal and coasted to a relatively effortless 6-1 victory.
Steelheads starting goaltender Tyler Perreault wasn’t busy, but he made several spectacular saves when called upon. The Tomahawks generated a number of odd-man rushes – including three breakaways – counter to play, over the last 30 minutes; Perreault stopped them all.
“I thought our goaltending was really solid,” head coach Tom DeVries said. “Tyler didn’t see a lot of shots, but he made the saves when he had to.”
It was a full-team effort for the Steelheads. Ten different skaters hit the scoresheet as DeVries rolled his lines all night long.
Game two, less than 24 hours later, provided a more challenging opponent.
The CIHL’s first place team, the Williams Lake Stampeders, came to town, and though they too had a short bench, the Stamps gave the Steelheads everything they could handle.
At the start, the Stampeders looked like the fresher, hungrier team. They got out to a quick 2-0 lead on the slumbering Steelheads off two powerplay goals.
The shots were 12-3 for the Stampeders after the first 10 minutes.
But Captain Darryl Young energized the team with a few hardworking, hard-hitting shifts in a row, sending a message that the Steelheads weren’t going to go belly up.
He was rewarded for his pugnacity halfway through the first Steelheads goal of the game on a lucky bounce off a Stampeder defenceman’s glove.
Young added another in the first to tie the game up at two, and he was just getting started.
The Stampeders stuck with the Steelheads in the second, but in the third, two straight goals by Young put the game out of reach.
He finished with four goals and two assists, sealing the 7-4 Steelheads’ victory.
“It was just one of those games I guess, where the bounces just seem to go in,” Young said.
“He’s our leader, he’s our captain, he always plays hard,” Tom DeVries said. “So it was nice to see him get those goals.”
Now the Steelheads head to Prince Rupert to take on the Rampage in their final two games of the regular season.
Back-to-back wins gives the Steelheads a shot a first place in the West Division, depending on what the River Kings do in their final two games. Terrace has a two-point lead in the division, but will play back-to-back road games against the CIHL’s top two teams next weekend, Williams Lake and Quesnel. The Steelheads will need four points and have to hope that the River Kings get only one, in order to overtake them. With more wins and the advantage in head-to-head match-ups, Terrace holds the tiebreaker.
But more importantly, the Steelheads like to set a positive tone and get rolling before the real season begins.
“Hopefully we can go in there, take two and give ourselves some momentum heading into the playoffs,” Young said.