While a shutout loss to one of the league’s best teams is no reason to hit the panic button, the Castlegar Rebels will need to reach for the reset button as they try to rebuild momentum before the playoffs.
The Creston Valley Thunder Cats came to Castlegar Friday night on a mission. Armed with a solid plan, they dominated all facets of the game in shutting out the Rebels 3-0. The score flattered the Rebels, as goaltender Tanner Douglas made many incredible saves to keep things close.
Rebels coach and general manager Bill Rotheisler gave credit to the visitors but noted a higher-level concern was the focus of post-game chatter for the Rebels.
“Not to take anything away from Creston, genuinely. They played us well, they played us strong. Had it not been for Tanner Douglas it probably would have been a worse score,” Rotheisler said, after emerging from a silent dressing room.
“That staff has done — [Creston GM and head coach] Brad Tobin and [assistant coach] Jeff Wagner — have done a great job overall of building their team and they played us right. But we can’t play that way. Forget the two points… we’re beyond that two points. The problem with the game was far more than that. When everything goes wrong, there’s something deeper there. We were not in a good place tonight but we will be.”
The coach was not exaggerating. Not only were the Rebels unable to create any quality scoring chances five on five, they actually gave up several to Creston while on the power play, including the heart-crushing shorthanded breakaway snipe from Tyler Witzke in the second period. Ronnie Wilkie and Dawson McGuire also scored for Creston, while Levi Mitchell registered a 31-save shutout. Creston moved to 27-9-2-1 with 57 points in the Eddie Mountain Division, second behind Kimberley.
The coach’s frustration was palpable as he recounted how the team knew exactly what to expect from Creston but could not execute. While the Rebels had zero puck-luck with bounces and deflections, Rotheisler wasn’t letting his team off easy.
“This wasn’t a ‘sometimes those things happen’ game. There are those games, this wasn’t one of them,” Rotheisler said.
“We saw the video of these guys, and literally, every goal we saw happen we saw a carbon copy of from their game before in Kimberley. We had conversations about how to handle the puck at the point on the power play and we get scored on. We have conversations about how we’re going to need the wingers to help and look for those guys in the soft areas of the defensive zone coverage, and then we watch them and let them take the quick shot. It was all things we were ready for but for whatever reason, we didn’t execute,” Rotheisler said.
It got to a point where you wondered if the Rebels would decline a penalty and stay five on five. The bobbles and wobbles on the power play seemed to steamroll out of control as the game wore on.
“That wasn’t a good loss. When we don’t do the small controllable things that we do during the week in practice, that’s the result. We weren’t executing through practice all week, and that stuff is important,” Rotheisler said.
Sports psychologists will tell you that you learn more from losses than wins, but Rotheisler said the only silver lining might be the reminder that you can’t go on a winning streak during the season and then think you can switch it to autopilot as you head to the playoffs.
“There’s no switch. We like to think there’s a switch, but there isn’t, it’s a gradual building. Anybody who thinks you can be one way and then turn on the switch, all you’re doing is faking it and it’s a matter of time before the jig is up,” Rotheisler said.
The coach was blunt about the need for humility before the team can emerge from the funk of the loss heading into a week of practice.
“As a staff, we’ve got to step away for a couple of days and let the leadership group take the keys and drive the bus a bit. They’ve got some things internally to iron out. Step one is we have to acknowledge that our s**t stinks. Step two is, that Monday practice has got to be a good practice,” Rotheisler said matter-of-factly.
With the loss, the Rebels dropped two points behind the Neil Murdoch Division-leading Nelson Leafs, who beat the Spokane Braves 4-2 Friday night. The Rebels next face Grand Forks on the road on Feb. 2.