The adage ‘you have to be good to be lucky’ certainly didn’t apply on Saturday night, as the Smithers Steelheads trounced their northwest rivals from Houston 12-2.
The Steelheads jumped out of the gate and gave themselves an early two-goal cushion on tallies by Spencer Brooks and Matt Arnold.
Shortly after, it looked as if the Steelheads had scored again, but the goal was waved off on a goalie interference call against Lane Perry.
That didn’t stop the Steelheads for long.
With time ticking down in the first, Randall Groot fought off a check from behind the net, then streaked out in front to tap in a Amadee Marshall rebound to put the Steelheads up by three after 20 minutes.
The second period started much like the first one ended.
Kirk Meaver received an outlet pass, streaked down the right side and buried a snipe from a tight angle over the outstretched glove hand of Colton Wardrop.
Twenty seconds later, Arnold dumped the puck in and Perry, forechecking hard, stripped the puck off Brad Crump and scored on a wraparound.
That was all she wrote for Luckies’ starting goaltender Colton Wardrop, who allowed five goals on 25 shots.
Backup goaltender Brock Hendrickson didn’t fare much better.
The Luckies tried to make a game of it in the second half of the second period.
They scored two goals in three minutes to pull within three goals of the Steelheads, the second, right off a face-off in the Steelheads’ zone.
After allowing a few leads to slip away in recent months, the Steelheads kept up the intensity and the forecheck, responding with their sixth goal of the game on the powerplay, when Arnold tipped home his second of the game while battling for position in front of the net.
Down four goals again, the Luckies upped their chippy play and the gloves came off. Eric Smith fought Shay Long and a melee ensued.
Fans in attendance had to endure a 20-minute delay while the refs sorted out the penalties.
In the end, Long received five and a game for being the third man in.
In the third, the Steelheads came out and put the game away in the first minute.
Darryl Young deked out Hendrickson on a partial breakaway and Arnold completed the hat-trick just 17 seconds later on a two-on-one with Perry.
With the game firmly in hand, the rough stuff and chippy play subsided.
But the Steelheads weren’t done scoring.
They added four more garbage-time goals to put up a 12 spot on their hated Highway 16 rivals.
Perhaps more impressive, they tallied 59 total shots on the Houston goal, the highest number in the CIHL so far this season.
They did a good job of spreading out the scoring too: 13 of their 16 skaters finished with at least a point.
Leading the way were Arnold with a hat trick and Adam DeVries with two goals and an assist.
With the win, it looks like the Steelheads are back in championship form, just in time for the stretch run to the playoffs.
“It’s always nice to come out and route Houston, that was awesome, our team played great today,” Tyler Perreault said.
Head coach Tom DeVries was equally impressed with his team’s performance.
“I would say this is the first time we’ve really put it all together this year,” DeVries said.
“We obviously racked up some goals there, and they were shorthanded a bit.
“It was fairly close for a while there, but it makes a big difference when you’ve got five good defenceman and you get a solid performance from your goaltender.”
After a bit of a rough stretch, Tyler Perreault has rounded into form of late, and, with Mike Wall committed to defence for the year, it looks like he will be the go-to option for the Steelheads.
He currently holds the third best Goals Against Average in the CIHL this season.
“I don’t think we’ve been playing that badly this year, we just haven’t been getting the bounces,” Perreault said after the win.
“It’s pretty easy to play well when your defence is playing great in front of you, then you develop some confidence and you just have that feeling that the puck is going to hit you and it’s not going to go in.”
The Steelheads also got a number of key players back from injury or work related absences. Minute chewing defenceman Ryan DeVries returned to the lineup for the first time in eight games, after he suffered a concussion against Kitimat on Oct. 20. Spencer Brooks played his third game in the last four, after missing most of the season, Kirk Meaver returned for his first in five and Matt and Mark Arnold each played in their third games of the season.
With Booth, Brooks and DeVries back, the defence corp is rounding into form.
“I think having those guys back makes a huge difference to our team,” DeVries said. “Right off the bat tonight, you could tell the defence was moving the puck well and you can tell that makes all the difference in the world.”
Puck-moving defenceman, who can make a consistent outlet pass out of the defensive zone often go unnoticed.
The River Kings added two elite defencemen to their squad this year and it’s turned them from bottom feeder to contender.
With five or six games remaining for most teams in the CIHL’s West Division the race for first has become a dogfight. Just six points separating first from last place.
In spite of their month long, six game losing streak, the Steelheads find themselves at the top, with 16 points and a 6-3-4 record heading into the stretch run.
With the team gelling and their woes seemingly behind them, it looks as though the Steelheads are once again the team to beat in the CIHL this season.
The ability to throw out a full lineup for road games is the only area of concern, but with playoffs coming, the executive brass is expecting a higher turnout in the weeks to come.
It was the last meeting of the regular season for the regional rivals, the Steelheads won all three, by a combined 21-5 score.
They might face off against the Midget Storm before the Christmas break and hold a couple of practices to stave off the rust. The Steelheads next game isn’t until Dec. 28 when they host the Terrace River Kings, who beat them for the first time in three years the last time they played.
The week after they’ll wrap up their home portion of the schedule with back-to-back match ups against the Lac La Hache Tomahawks and the Williams Lake Stampeders.
Then it’s on the road for two against Prince Rupert to wrap up the year.