Solid life advice often works just as well in the context of managing athletes in team sports.
For example: Talking things out and planning are critical, but success usually comes down to how you conduct yourself. The visiting Nelson Leafs learned that lesson Saturday night as they “misconducted” their way to oblivion and the host Castlegar Rebels maintained composure in a chippy game that felt like a playoff tilt.
The Rebels staved off aggressive checking in the first period and wore down the Leafs to cruise to a 4-1 win in KIJHL action.
“It’s a very passionate bunch, so it isn’t easy but we’ve dealt with a lot of stuff and it’s well documented, as far as 10-minute misconducts and maybe wearing too much of our hearts on our sleeves in the first, say, 10 games,” Rebels coach and general manager Bill Rotheisler said after the win.
“Honestly, I attribute us going through that to realize that external things don’t matter. If you can’t control it, you can’t control it. It’s easy to say that, but because we went through so much adversity in that way at the beginning of the year, I think it made it easier.”
What they couldn’t control Saturday night were several missed calls by referee Andrew Falcone on blatant cheap shots in the first period, and a clear goal in the second period that was initially waved off as a crossbar. But, Falcone managed to make the right call on the goal after consulting with the linesmen and then he regained control of the game by doling out a match penalty and several misconducts to Leafs players who lost the plot in the second and third periods.
“I thought he did a great job at making sure something that could have gotten out of hand essentially didn’t,” Rotheisler said of Falcone’s work.
The Leafs opened the scoring on a fast break up the left side as Jack Karran hit the short side. The Rebels tied it up soon after on a slick counterattack goal from John Moeller with an assist from Vince Bitonti.
The Rebels quickly regained the lead a minute later on a goal by Chris Breese with assists from Aiden Cornell and Shawn Campbell.
The next goal took about five minutes to register after the refs’ conference, but Edward Lindsey’s power-play shot to the top corner was eventually made official. Dallas Goodwin and Moeller drew assists on the snipe.
Breese scored his second of the night in the third period to finish the scoring, with Lindsey and Matthew Cooper adding assists.
The Rebels brought on some of the nastiness with a late shot attempt on goal after a whistle and several aggressive runs at Leafs starting goaltender Josh Williams. The crosscheck to the head after the Rebels’ late shot resulted in the match penalty and game misconduct for the Leafs.
It was evident that Nelson coach Mario DiBella was urging his players to send a message to the resurgent Rebels with smashmouth tactics.
“Yes, definitely. We get the message, and it’s just water off of our back,” Rotheisler said. “We’re in tune with the fact that they play a certain physical style and we know what to expect. They come out playing hard, and sometimes they flirt with that line and we try to do our best to just play.”
With the win, the Rebels moved to within four points of Nelson for first place in the Neil Murdoch Division. The proximity of kilometres and points — and the history of meeting in last year’s playoffs — ensures the heated rivalry burns hot in every rematch.
“We’re rivals; there’s no way to hide that. We’re two teams with big aspirations for this year that we want to be playing a long time, and we have a history. They did a great job last year in the playoffs at surprising us and it was the same style. If you think it felt like playoff hockey, so did we. We felt that way in the room and we felt this game was just as important,” Rotheisler said.
Rebels caption Bitonti was central to leading by example in the conduct department, chatting with opposing captain Sawyer Hunt to commiserate over the “unusual” calls.
“We always chit-chat during the game. We both think that game was a lot weirder than it should have been. Every game, we talk, we’re good guys. I like him, he’s a good captain and we always laugh together,” Bitonti said after the final buzzer. “A lot of guys know each other between Nelson and Castlegar, so it’s pretty friendly but we’re out here to win a hockey game.”
Bitonti echoed coach Rotheisler’s observation that the Rebels learned their lesson about the importance of composure after being stung by emotional outbursts in the early part of the season.
“Everyone [got] their anger out; everyone [got] to figure out they need to stop with the 10s [10-minute misconducts]. Our team calmed down and now we play like we should. It goes in our favour now that everyone’s calm,” Bitonti said. “That’s something we need to do, that’s how we win hockey games. We stick to our game, we let them run around. If they do stuff like that we let it fly. Obviously, there’s going to be cheap shots back but if we stay out of the box and if we play our game, we’ll win, so that’s what we need to keep doing.”
Bitonti said the Rebels need to dig deep during practice this week to build momentum and boost confidence.
“Our coaches’ systems work really well. I think it will start with a really hard week of practice leading up to the weekend.”
The Rebels next host the Grand Forks Border Bruins Friday at 7 p.m. in Castlegar while the Leafs travel to Fruitvale to face the Beaver Valley Nitehawks at 7:30 p.m. Friday.