Rebels prepare for Leafs after clinching first place
The Castlegar Rebels picked a good time for a great weekend. The Rebs knocked off the surging Beaver Valley Nitehawks twice in a row, 4-2 Friday and 2-0 Saturday, and then crushed Grand Forks at home 10-4 Sunday for good measure. The three wins, combined with the losses by BV as well as Nelson, clinched top spot and home ice advantage throughout at least the first two play-off rounds for Castlegar.
"It gives you a bit of a mental edge heading into the play-offs but more importantly it's having a good weekend and getting the wins," said Rebels' head coach Steve Junker. "Obviously, if you can get first place it feels good and it's good for our confidence. It does give us home ice which is a big thing.
"More importantly it was about getting our games together. I thought our guys played well. We had good showings from a lot of guys. We were missing some guys that were up in Junior A."
Goaltending was a strong point on the weekend for Castlegar particularly against BV with both 'tenders, Connor Beauchamp and Jordan Gluck, playing well.
"Our goaltending was excellent," said Junker. "They were two tight games as was expected as they always are with Beaver Valley. It was nice to come out on top."
The weekend started off with a home tilt against the 'Hawks in a game that would set the tone for the weekend.
The Rebs picked up late first period goals by Quinn Klimchuk, unassisted, and Stuart Walton, assisted by Jeremy McGregor and Brenden Heinrich, to take a 2-0 lead.
Taylor Stafford brought the visitors to within one at 18:37 of the second, assisted by Ryan Edwards.
Walton's second goal, assisted by Dylan Bowerman and Travis Wellman, put the Rebs up by a pair a minute later. Wellman then gave the Rebs a commanding three goal lead at 2:10 with a power play marker assisted by Aaron Petten and Walton.
Nick Perez closed out the scoring at 12:11 of the third, assisted by Connor Brown-Maloski and Dan Holland.
Saturday the teams travelled to Fruitvale for the rematch. Beaver Valley pounded the Rebels with 44 shots, but goalie Connor Beauchamp stopped every single one to pick up the win and the first all-star. Scoring for Castlegar were Jamie Vlanich assisted by Hunter Jenerou and Diego Bartlett, and Walton, assisted by Riley Ostoforoff and J.R. Krolik.
"Friday night Gluck played excellent. He made some key saves early in the game to keep it 0-0," said Junker. "We were able to score late and keep the lead. Saturday in Fruitvale, (Beauchamp) was solid all night. No real rebounds. He controlled the play. We were short-handed a number of times and he made some big saves. One that anyone who was there would remember, at the last minute we had a wide open net and he didn't give up on it and made a huge save. Both goalies played extremely well."
Despite back to back bruising battles with Beaver Valley, the Rebels had plenty left for Grand Forks on Sunday afternoon at the complex.
Castlegar jumped out to a 5-1 lead after one period and cruised to the 10-4 bashing. Darren Medeiros led the home squad with a hat-trick. Stuart Walton added a goal and three assists. Aaron Brewer and Bartlett each had a goal and two assists. Other Rebel scorers on Sunday were Petten, Wellman, Kane Roberts and Vlanich.
Jordan Gluck stopped 24 of 28 GF shots in net for Castlegar.
"With the big rivalry against BV there was a concern of a letdown against Grand Forks," said Junker. "Tired legs being the third game of three days and playing a non-play-off team; there is a tendency to do that (letdown).
Grand Forks is playing much better lately and they're not an easy opponent. We got into some penalty trouble and let them back into the game after we had scored some first period goals. We eventually closed them out and it was the end of an important weekend for us. Definitely at this time of year is when you want to be coming together."
The Rebels finish off the regular season this weekend with a home and home against Nelson. Although the games are meaningless for Castlegar as far as inter-division standings go, you can bet they'll want to send a message to the struggling Leafs. Another point, though, would capture first place overall in the KIJHL and home ice throughout the entire play-offs. The teams play in Castlegar Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the complex and Saturday in Nelson at NDCC at 7 p.m.
Any questions about resting players for the play-offs like his San Antonio Spurs counterpart Gregg Popovich are quickly dismissed by Junker.
"We're looking to win hockey games and end on the right note," he said. "We're not really looking at the standings. I know if we take care of our business the standings will take care of themselves. We want to work on what needs working on. If we hope to be successful we're going to be playing Beaver Valley or Nelson so this weekend is a big one. There are no more easy weekends. You try not to look too far ahead to the play-offs, but at the same time we need to get ready for Spokane. That's who we're playing in the first round."
Junker doesn't expect the Spokane series to be any kind of cakewalk. The Chiefs always play hard, particularly at home.
"We know they're going to be tough," he said. "They've got some talented guys there who can score. They're a tough team to play against, especially in Spokane. As well, they're a team that relishes the underdog role. They're a much better hockey team than their record indicates."