The two-time defending CIHL champion Smithers Steelheads are in a tailspin, the likes of which this organization hasn’t experienced in years, after losing their fourth and fifth straight games over the weekend, 4-1 to the Terrace River Kings and 7-6 to the Quesnel Kangaroos.
The weekend got off to a troubling start on Saturday night against the Terrace River Kings, a team that hadn’t beaten the Steelheads in more than four years.
In the early going, Terrace served notice they wouldn’t be cannon fodder for the normally high-powered Steelheads offence any longer.
They began with a tenacious forecheck that kept the Steelheads on their heels throughout most of the first frame.
Their gritty work on the end-boards paid off when River Kings’ captain Steve Cullis put the road team up by one just three minutes in. Rob Millar responded for the Steelheads less than three minutes later to even the game at two.
With five minutes remaining in the first, the River Kings got their first of three ugly goals in a row on the evening, on a play that looked like it should have been called for icing.
The second period was chippy and neither team was able to generate any quality chances. It ended scoreless.
In the third, the River Kings doubled their lead just 30 seconds in off a screened, tipped point shot from Corbin Legros.
Three minutes later, they put the game away for good on another screened shot from the slot – Cullis’ second of the game.
It was hard to fault goaltender Tyler Perreault on any of the goals.
For their part, the Steelheads mustered quite a few solid scoring chances, but as is often the case with scoring droughts, they seemed to be lacking the confidence to bury the puck.
River Kings’ goaltender Garret Muir was solid, making 41 saves in the victory.
“We had a lot of chances early and we just couldn’t score,” head coach Tom DeVries said. “The game was close but they just got some confidence and we seemed to lose all of our confidence.”
“That’s just the way it goes sometimes.”
After the loss, the Steelheads were itching to get back on the ice for their second game of the weekend, against the Quesnel Kangaroos on Sunday afternoon.
Two weeks earlier, the teams played a tight overtime game, but the Steelheads only had enough skaters for two lines.
In the first period the Steelheads played like a desperate team.
Mark Arnold and Randall Groot gave the home team a 2-0 lead just three minutes into the game.The Steelheads peppered Kangaroos’ keeper Ryan Manderson, tallying 12 shots in the first eight minutes, but he held them in it.
The Kangaroos got one back before the period ended, but the Steelheads ramped up the pressure in response.
They added three more – two from Josh Aspenlind – and took a 5-2 lead into the final 20 minutes.
Up 5-2, with one period to play, it looked as though the Steelheads longest losing streak in three plus years was about to end.
But they couldn’t stay out of the penalty box.
The River Kings scored three straight goals in under five minutes to tie the game up at five.
Though only one was on the powerplay, the Steelheads couldn’t get the puck out of their zone for what seemed like minutes on end.
With three minutes left, the wheels fell off.
Kanargoos’ defenceman Alex Mackenzie fired home a shot from the high slot to give the Kangaroos their first lead of the game.
To their credit, after an awful turn of events, the Steelheads found their game again. They upped the intensity and sent wave after wave of attacking forwards into the Kangaroos’ zone.
With the seconds ticking down, Josh Aspenlind scored his third of the game to tie it up at six apiece and send the game to overtime.
The Civic Centre exploded as the team and its fans let out a huge sigh of relief.
“That was huge that we could come back like that,” captain Darryl Young said. “It’s too bad we had to do it, that we let that lead slip, but it was a big goal.”
One point guaranteed, the Kangaroos got a questionable powerplay on a minor hook away from the play.
Shortly after the powerplay ended, Chris Rigby jumped on a turnover, streaked in alone and went high glove side on an outstretched Tyler Perreault.
“We had them on the ropes but we just couldn’t finish them,” DeVries said.
“I think we got some great scoring chances early and it looked like we were going to run away with it, but it just didn’t happen.
On the plus side, the Steelheads scored more than two goals in a game for the first time in four.
The Steelheads are back to the grind next weekend with two straight road games against Prince Rupert and Kitimat.
“It’s our first time playing Prince Rupert this year, but I think the key is going to be moving the puck well against both teams,” DeVries said.
To that end, he expects practice this week to be heavily focused on defensive zone puck movement.
“We struggled a lot to get the puck out of our own end this weekend, so we are definitely going to have to work on that.”
To a man, the players, coaches and management are all saying the right things.
No one seems worried they won’t be able to right the ship.
The Steelheads play three on the road before heading back home on Dec. 14 to face the Houston Luckies in their last game before the Christmas break.
Following that, they’ll try to exact revenge on Terrace, at home on Dec. 28.