The Rockets failed to secure a win over the weekend, but for a young team playing against two difficult divisional opponents, there were plenty of positives in both defeats.
A night after a 6-4 loss to their former captain and the Kimberley Dynamiters, the Rockets were bested by a narrow 3-2 score against the Fernie Ghostriders on Saturday at home.
“I think the effort’s there and they’re not laying down. This group wants to win no matter what it looks like. Give them a lot of credit…if they can continue to push themselves and improve, that’s us taking steps forward and that’s what we want to do,” said head coach Jason Stephens following Saturday’s game.
After a scoreless opening 18 and a half minutes, the Ghostriders got on the board courtesy of their leading scorer Cole Keebler, who has set the KIJHL on fire in his final year of junior hockey with 54 points in just 28 games.
The goal came with the Rockets a man up, but the club pushed back with their special teams leading the way in the second.
Mathew Thiessen scored his 11th goal of the season just over three minutes into the second period when his shot from the high slot found a way into the Ghostriders’ net. A heavy screen in front of the Fernie goal didn’t allow netminder Jeff Orser to see the puck until it was behind him.
Three minutes later the Rockets had another goal with the man advantage when workhorse Andrew Dunn tallied his fifth of the year.
Fernie, being a veteran team with plenty of experience under their belt, rebounded quickly and decisively and again it was the trio of Keebler, Zach Befus and Justin Peers doing the damage.
Peers scored a little over a minute after the Rockets had taken the lead, with assists from Keebler and Befus, and Befus added a power play goal less than a minute later, with assists going to Peers and Keebler.
The Rockets had their share of chances the rest of the way, but the teams skated to a scoreless third period and Fernie came away with the narrow victory.
Keyon Bittner looked sharp in the Rockets’ net, managing 35 saves on 38 shots in a losing cause.
Earlier on Saturday, Bittner and fellow rookie goaltender Owen Sikkes were handed the reins after goaltender Brody Nelson was dealt to the Fort St. John Huskies of the North West Junior Hockey League. The Rockets received future considerations and cash in the exchange.
“I definitely want (Sikkes and Bittner) to compete and what we’re going to do with those guys, is we’re just going to put the challenge on them. If one really steps up and plays big, he can play the next game. I thought Sikkes played well last night and Bittner played well tonight,” Stephens said.
The Rockets will be on the road against the Creston Valley Thunder Cats on Friday night before hosting the Ghostriders once again on Saturday.