The Steelheads are off to a start worthy of their standing as CIHL champs after a second straight weekend with back-to-back 8-5 and 4-3 wins over Lac La Hache and Kitimat, that moved the team to 4-0 and into sole possession of first place in the West Division.
Hosting the Lac La Hache Tomahawks on Saturday night, it looked as though they would skate away with an easy victory without breaking much of a sweat.
The home team scored three goals in the game’s opening seven minutes from Al Tolmie, Daryl Young and Calvin Johnson.
Halfway through the first frame the shots were 14-3 for the Steelheads, but, perhaps fearing an embarrassment at the hands of the former champs, the Tomahawks began the comeback trail.
Lac La Hache got one goal back with seven minutes left in the first, but conceded again to head into the first intermission down by three.
The teams exchanged goals in the first 10 minutes of the second, then with time ticking away in the period and their chance of a comeback dwindling, the Tomahawks scored two goals in 1:16 to pull within one.
Things went from bad to worse. The Steelheads took two back-to-back boarding penalties to give the Tomahawks a two-man advantage for just over a minute. Lac La Hache held the puck in the Steelheads zone, generating chances, but couldn’t solve netminder Tyler Perreault.
The Steelheads heavily outplayed the Tomahawks for 40 minutes, but only had a one-goal lead to show for it.
“The first three goals seemed fairly easy and our guys were probably thinking this was going to be a 10-0 game or something,” head coach Tom DeVries said. “After they came back, we just tried to make sure that everyone played a team game and stopped doing things individually.”
But in the third the home team came out and put the game away for good.
Adam DeVries and Al Tolmie each added their second goals of the evening in the first two minutes to put the Steelheads up 7-4.
With the game out of hand, the chippiness escalated and Lac La Hache lost their composure. They took 10 minor penalties including five straight of the roughing variety, to salt the game away.
Overall, both teams played sloppy defence, but the Steelheads’ offensive pedigree carried them through a less than perfect game.
Less than 24 hours later on Sunday afternoon, the Steelheads took on the second place team in the West, the Kitimat Ice Demons.
The games were like night and day, literally and figuratively. The first game looked like a game of pickup, the second like the final game of the playoffs.
Early on, the Ice Demons were able to use their speed to continually stretch the Steelheads’ defence and generate chances off the rush, but the defence corps, lead by the always steady Ryan DeVries, generally recovered and limited the damage.
Nine minutes in the road team took a 1-0 lead, but Josh Aspenlind answered on the following shift to tie the game at one.
The Steelheads had the majority of chances in the first, but couldn’t get a second goal by Ice Demons goaltender Thomas Mildenberger. The shots were 13-8, Steelheads after one.
In the second the Ice Demons sent a flurry of action towards Steelheads goaltender Tyler Perreault, but a few late stick checks, timely body-checks and big saves kept the game knotted at one.
The Steelheads spent most of the opening 10 minutes of the period in their own zone and didn’t register a shot on net until the 10:39 mark.
After weathering the storm, the home team played the rest of the period in the Ice Demons’ zone, but couldn’t get the go-ahead goal until the final seconds when Calvin Johnson received a pass from Kirk Meaver, broke in alone and buried a backhander past Mildenberger.
In the third, defencemen Mike Wall scored his first of the season off a tipped point shot from Ian Smith and Calvin Johnson added his second of the game off a snapshot from a cross seam pass in the high slot.
Up 4-1 with 10 minutes left, it looked like the Steelheads had it in the bag. But they had another lapse.
The Ice Demons scored two goals in under two minutes – the second off a powerplay from a questionable call on a Mike Wall hook – to make the end of the period interesting.
Down 4-3, Kitimat had a chance to pull their goalie with a faceoff in the offensive zone with 1:30 left, but chose not to.
The Steelheads took advantage of the decision, clearing the puck and keeping it out of the zone for an entire minute.
As the seconds ticked, the Ice Demons’ gained the Steelheads zone and set up.
But Perreault made two huge saves with seconds left – stopping a screened point shot and then stacking the pads to prevent a wide open Ice Demons’ forward from burying the tying marker – to preserve the victory.
“These are the types of games we want to play,” defenceman Mike Wall said.
“I think last night we played down to their level. When we skate hard and get the puck down low we dominate. It’s only when we start playing lazy and as individuals that we have trouble.”
Head coach Tom DeVries is usually hesitant to single out the exploits of individuals on the Steelheads, but not on Sunday.
“Calvin Johnson played a great game up front, hard work, definitely our player of the game. You could ask any player in the room and they would say that.”
This weekend the Steelheads hit the road for two games against Lac La Hache on Saturday and the Quesnel Kangaroos on Sunday.