Soaring Sockeyes on record pace

  Richmond Sockeyes linemates Jeremy Hamaguchi (left) and Rudi Thorsteinson (centre)are joined by teammates in another goal celebration.       - Don Fennell photo
Richmond Sockeyes linemates Jeremy Hamaguchi (left) and Rudi Thorsteinson (centre)are joined by teammates in another goal celebration.
— image credit: Don Fennell photo

The Richmond Sockeyes' offence may be high octane, but it's attention to detail without the puck that pleases head coach Judd Lambert more.

The team's rookie goaltending tandem of Jonah Imoo and Kootenay Alder sports a combined 0.95 goals-against average, which when combined with an average of 5.79 goals for per game has the Sockeyes doing just swimmingly in the Pacific International Junior Hockey League this season. With 18 wins against a single loss, the Sockeyes are on a record pace which if maintained for the balance of the 46-game regular schedule will equate to 43 wins (a .947 winning percentage) and 86 points.

"It's a good start but there's still a long way to go," cautions Lambert. "The constant challenge is to help the players maintain their focus. We've still got some work to do."

There have been many examples throughout hockey history of great regular-season teams that have fizzled in the playoffs. One of Lambert's biggest tasks will be ensure the 2011-12 edition of the Sockeyes isn't among them. But he's confident the players, a demonstratively tight group, has both the talent and resolve necessary for long-term success.

Not many junior hockey franchises have enjoyed more success, historically and in recent years, than the Sockeyes which prides itself on consistently putting a winning team on the ice and helping its players graduate to the next level and beyond. Two players who began this season with the Sockeyes are now regulars at the Junior A level—Turner Popoff with the Victoria Royals of the Western Hockey League and Brayden Low with the Merritt Centennials of the B.C. Hockey League. Current NHLers Karl Alzner (Washington Capitals) and Jason Garrison (Florida Panthers) are among the team's impressive list of alumni.

Advancing their players' hockey careers, and winning, go hand in hand, says Lambert, who backstopped the Sockeyes to a provincial championship in the early 1990s and was a draft pick of the NHL's New Jersey Devils.

"We want to make this an attractive place to come and play," he says. "And having success and keeping a consistent message helps you do that. I think we provide a pretty good environment for players to grow as hockey players and as individuals."

Recognized as a tough but fair coach by many in the hockey fraternity, Lambert believes commitment and discipline are probably the two most important factors in succeeding. And being motivated enough to want to accomplish your goals.

"That's a message we're trying to deliver every time we get together as a team," he says.

Clearly, these Sockeyes are heeding the advice. The numbers speak for themselves.

First in the Tom Shaw Conference at 18-1-0, the Sockeyes are eight points clear of second-place Delta Ice Hawks whose 28 points are second best in the PIJHL. Richmond also boasts the league's top scorer with rookie forward Justin Rai, 17, tied with Thomas Hardy of the Aldergrove Kodiaks, each with 36 points. And rookie goalie Jonah Imoo sports a league-best 0.83 goals-against average, having won all 12 of his starts—six by shutouts. His goaltending partner Kootenay Alder, 18, who is also a rookie, is second in the league with a 1.15 goals-against average and six wins in seven starts. He has two shutouts.

After going undefeated through their first 14 games, Richmond was upset 2-1 by Aldergrove on Nov. 9 in which Kodiak goaltender Ross Baadsvik stood on his head making 45 saves including 22 in the first period. But the Sockeyes quickly got back on track, and impressive fashion, winning their next game 4-0 over the Abbotsford Pilots on Nov. 10. They've since defeated the Grandview Steelers 3-1 and gained a measure of revenge against Aldergrove by beating the Kodiaks 6-1 (Kevan Killistoff had two goals and assist) last Thursday at Minoru Arenas. In their latest game, the Sockeyes blasted the Port Moody Black Panthers 7-2 in which Kyzen Loo scored six points (two goals and four assists). Rudi Thorsteinson had a gol and two helpers and Keenan Webb, Daniel Tait and Troy Kaczynski picking up two points each.

Scheduled to play at Delta on Tuesday, the Sockeyes will forgo their traditional Thursday night home game this week but will be back at Minoru Arenas for a Dec. 1 first showdown with the North Delta Devils. Faceoff is 7:30 p.m.

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