The Ghostriders are one point away from securing their spot in playoffs after a double win last weekend.
The Fernie side went up against the Creston Valley Thunder Cats and Castlegar Rebels at Fernie Memorial Arena last Friday and Saturday.
A vocal fan base spurred the Riders onto two convincing wins, which elevated them to second place in the Eddie Mountain Division and just one point off playoffs.
Friday’s match up was an emotional one after Fernie traded Kory Zinck for Creston Valley’s captain Tyler Witzke earlier in the week.
Ghostriders head coach Jeff Wagner said while it is unusual for a team to give up their captain, with the Thunder Cats in last place and unlikely to make a playoffs, the trade is advantageous for Witzke, who is facing his final junior season.
“He wanted to play for a team that’s playoff bound and I have some history with him. Last year I was in Creston, so we know each other pretty well,” said Wagner.
“We’re happy to have Tyler… he’s been generating a lot of offense for us and he’s a big part of our penalty kill, so we get a lot from both ends of the ice from him.”
Witzke joined the Riders with 17 goals and 12 assists under his belt.
Wearing his familiar #26, he proved his worth within minutes of his first game when he scored Fernie’s second goal in the first period Friday.
“Obviously on the Creston side, they wanted to spoil the party for us and we wanted to rally around Tyler, and he was emotional playing his old team,” said Wagner.
“It was nice to see him get the monkey off his back and score in the first period and he set up another one. It was an emotional game and I thought we channelled it pretty well.”
Johnny Elias was the first to put a point on the scoresheet for the Riders, with an unassisted goal in the first period. The Riders maintained their lead throughout the game, with two more goals by Gavin Lawrie and Nikolas Sombrowski, and only one for the Thunder Cats.
Saturday’s game against Castlegar was not as easily won, with Fernie facing a three-point deficit at the start of the second period.
In a stunning comeback, the Riders managed to put five goals away that period, with Kyle Ford scoring twice for his team. Other goal scorers were Brendan Nemes, Lawrie, Derek Green and Keelan Saworski.
Another goal by the Rebels in the third wasn’t enough to prevent a Riders’ victory and they finished with six goals to the Rebels’ four.
“I thought we showed a lot of resilience,” said Wagner.
“We were down three nothing, it could have been a ‘pack it in and hope for a better result next game’. But we put on our work boots and got back at it and pulled out a victory tonight, so it’s good.”
As of press time Tuesday, the Riders were sitting on 45 points, ranking them second in the division and fifth in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League. Close behind were the Columbia Valley Rockies, who were to play the Riders at Fernie Memorial Arena that night.
The game was rescheduled from November when the arena was closed for roof repairs and expected to be an exciting one.
“This game is an easy one to be motivated for,” Wagner said Saturday.
“We just took the lead on them in the standings but they have two games in hand, so every time we play them is going to be a big game and it will probably come down to the head to head match up when it comes to home ice advantage in the playoffs.
“I don’t know if anyone is going to catch Kimberley at this point but our goal, moving forward, is to secure that second place spot so that we can have home ice advantage in the first round at least.”
Following Tuesday, the Riders have two away games in Spokane and Grand Forks.
They’re back at home on January 25 and 26 for games against the Kimberley Dynamiters and Nelson Leafs.