The Castlegar Rebels made it 11 wins in a row in KIJHL action Wednesday night with a 3-0 shutout of the visiting Creston Valley Thunder Cats at the Complex.
The two points left the Rebels in second place, just one point back of regional rival Nelson in the Neil Murdoch division.
Rebels forward Edward Lindsey opened the scoring at 7:25 of the first period with an unassisted goal, and that proved to be the game-winner.
The first period was a fast-paced 20 minutes with no penalties called despite physical play from both sides.
A key Rebels battle plan involved standing up the Creston forwards as they tried to enter the Castlegar zone. There were several huge bodychecks that halted rushes in the first 20.
“We went through quite a bit of video and we had two full meetings where we went through different parts, and one of the glaring things they do is utilize their speed to get momentum going. On the breakout, they’ve got guys cheating and trying to get behind our D. We saw it, it’s a pattern. It was definitely part of our gameplan,” Rebels coach and general manager Bill Rotheisler said after the game.
The second period was not so fast and not so clean.
Vince Bitonto scored on the power play midway through the frame with a perfectly timed tip-in from a shot by Lindsey. Chris Breese drew the second assist.
Both teams let frustration get the better of them and there were many penalties called for initial infractions and immediate retaliation. Creston Valley had eight penalties including a misconduct to Austin Canete who lost it after taking a penalty as he failed to take a Rebels player with him to the box. The Rebels took seven penalties in the period.
“That’s been a constant struggle all year with our guys,” Rotheisler said.
Fortunately for the Rebels, special teams have been special of late. But Rotheisler said the shifts after the PK or PP can be as important as killing the penalty or scoring the power-play goal.
“We have confidence in our penalty kill, we have confidence in our power play, and we’ve got plans for not only during [special teams situations] but we’ve got plans for after that,” Rotheisler said. “The units that we put out after those are different than our usual five-on-five, so we’ve got to plan for the shift after that. If you’ve just killed off two penalties, you want to get a jolt of offence in there to try to get some momentum.”
In the third, Breese got his second assist of the night on the third Rebels goal by Reid Wilson. Chase Daniels had the other helper on that tally.
Lindsey moved into the second spot in the league’s point race with 25 goals and 27 assists for 52 points in 31 games. He’s only two points behind Josh Bourne from the Chase Heat.
A standout on the night was Rebels pot-stirrer Tanner Costa, who flew around the ice, made smart passes, backchecked with tenacity and got in the grills of several Creston players, throwing them off of their game. Those efforts don’t often show on the scoresheet, but they are critical for sustained success at this level. The Rebels recognized the need for grit in the offseason after an earlier-than-hoped-for end of the playoff run.
“We felt we had a lot of offence last year, but we didn’t have a lot of that jam. The signing of Tanner Costa had to do with that, so that was a big part of our blueprint going into this year,” Rotheisler said.
“We signed Tanner for his two-way ability, that’s two ways — offence and defence, not skating and mouth,” Rotheisler said, tongue planted firmly in cheek. “We’ve worked with Tanner for a long time. He’s done a tremendous job of knowing where that line is but he’s getting better and better every day at not crossing it. When he does that and he’s on his game, he’s so good defensively and he’s so good on the other side of the puck.”
“He drew that one penalty where he took one of their best players off, that’s what he does. When he’s in control of that he does a brilliant job. It’s something we mentioned in the intermissions, ‘Tanner, you’re flying tonight, keep it going.’”
Another player showing grit was affiliate player Adam Diotte from the Okanagan Hockey Academy, who blocked several shots on the night including three in one shift, which drew a roar from his teammates on the bench.
“We give out a gift card to the person who blocks the most shots in the game, and that was Adam. He knows where that lane is and he’s not afraid. I thought our affiliates did an absolutely tremendous job tonight,” Rotheisler said.
As for the 11 in a row thing? The coaches try not to focus on the S-word (streak), but rather on the process that gets them there because they know the streak will end eventually.
“We have a formula, we just try to get better every day, and if it results in wins than awesome. Eventually, we’re going to lose a game and we’ve got to be ready for that as well. The boys played really well defensively, and as long as we’re playing well, that’s what we judge our success on,” Rotheisler said.
The Rebels won’t have long to wait to see if they can keep the S-word going, as they host the Grand Forks Border Bruins at 6 p.m. on Friday night at the Complex.