Sockeyes No. 1 again
The Richmond Sockeyes are back atop the Pacific Junior Hockey League standings.
The Sockeyes (17-4-1) drew even with the Delta Ice Hawks following a 5-2 victory over the latter Tuesday at the Ladner Leisure Centre, and with a game in-hand on the Hawks were in position to take the outright lead in the Tom Shaw Conference with a win Thursday over the Grandview Steelers at Minoru Arenas.
“It was a pretty tight game through two periods (tied at 2-2), but I thought we got the better of the game as it went on and were fortunately the ones who got a few bounces in the third and capitalized,” said Richmond head coach Aaron Wilbur.
Delta, which has won both games played this season in Richmond, got the quick start they were hoping for when Brent Chreptyk scored just 1:09 into the first period. But the Sockeyes got that one back when Daniell Lang scored at 9:32. Richmond’s leading scorer, Dean Allison, notched the first of two goals at 13:39 of the second to give the Sockeyes a 2-1 lead, but Delta’s Tanner Gattinger scored at 18:45 to knot the score at two going into the third period. Allison’s second goal—his 13th of the season and 30th point—proved to be the winner, with Rudi Thorsteinson adding the final two goals in a span of 3:03, including a power play marker at 14:16. Both goals were set up by line mate Jeremy Hamaguchi.
“That’s a really good club they have (in Delta) and there’s never any easy games against them,” said Wilbur, whose Sockeyes have, ironically, won both games in Delta this season. “A big part of the process during the regular season is learning how to win away and in our case (the Ladner Leisure Centre) is a building where we want to feel comfortable.”
Goaltending was also a factor in Tuesday’s win, with the Sockeyes’ No. 1 stopper Kootenay Alder making 37 saves—most notably several at key moments including one point-blank in the second period.
“If he doesn’t come up with those maybe the course of the game is changed,” said Wilbur.
It’s not been an easy climb back to the top for the Sockeyes, who’ve seldom had their starting lineup intact since the season opener. But depth and perhaps most importantly consistency have enabled them to stay on pace with the defending PJHL champion Hawks. So, too, has the realization that defence is just as important as offence.
“I feel like we’ve got a lot guys who can put puck in net, and so if we do the right things and play well away from the puck odds are we’re going to score enough to give ourselves a chance to win,” said Wilbur.
“The toughest thing to teach from a coaching perspective, and to get players to buy into, is how important it is when they don’t have the puck. Junior hockey is where players either grasp that part of the game or they don’t. And it’s usually the difference of them eventually getting a scholarship or turning pro.”
Wilbur was elated with the “outstanding job of checking” by the Sockeyes in the third period in Delta. He said one hopes for that kind of consistency, but like anything else it’s a matter of repetition.
“You get accustomed to a routine and it becomes habit,” said Wilbur. “Every guy in the NHL was a stud in minor, the AHL or even in the EHL, but it’s those real fine lines that separate guys from going on to the NHL or not. Often that gets lost on people. Being a player encompasses everything you do from the time you wake up to when you go to bed. Guys who buy into that are generally the ones who are (most) successful.”