The Yukon Rivermen sophomore season in the B.C. zone tier one bantam league got underway with a flourish thanks to four games on the road Oct. 26 to 28.
“We played four games in under 36 hours,” joked head coach Carl Burgess. “Anything more intense than that wouldn’t have been responsible.”
The Rivermen opened up the season with two games against the East Kootenay Ice, dropping the Oct. 26 contest 6-1 and an Oct. 27 early game 8-3.
There was truly little time to waste though, and the Rivermen were back on the ice later on the 27th for a game against the Central Zone Rockets, losing 10-1.
The weekend wrapped up with a final matchup against the Rockets on Oct. 28 with the Rivermen coming up short, 11-3.
“They got better every game,” said Burgess. “Those were their first league games — the team hadn’t played in six weeks — so we knew we would get better quickly.”
Because of the scheduling challenges tied to running a league with such a large footprint, both the Ice and the Rockets have a full month of hockey under their belts.
“Getting up to speed on game intensity, the only way to do that is to have games,” said Burgess. “By the end of it, we were exhausted but the intensity was there.”
Although the scores weren’t particularly flattering for the Yukoners, Burgess said the team showed promise in keeping up with the Rockets in particular.
“We held them to a 1-1 tie in our third game right up until the end of the second period and into the third,” said Burgess, noting that was the second game for the Rivermen in seven hours.
“(The Rockets) are excellent, and fatigue and injuries caught up to us and they ended up putting a run on us in the third period.”
The rubber match the next day followed a similar pattern.
Most importantly, Burgess and the coaching staff have a much better idea of what is working and what needs work.
“We learned a lot,” said Burgess. “We know the points we need to fix and where we’re strong. … It was a huge jump forward for the guys. Their execution and commitment to the games was excellent, so it’s a matter of fine-tuning.”
Burgess said the team had strong contributions from Logan Cunningham and Andrew Carr, both from Yellowknife, as well as Haines Junction’s Austin Kirk before an ankle injury sidelined the forward.
With the team conceding more than 40 shots per game, goaltenders Wynne Anderson-Lindsay and Devin Vogel were very busy.
“Both our goalies played excellent,” said Burgess. “We played a lot in our end.”
Since the team is comprised of what are essentially two different groups, lineups and team chemistry are a little bit slower to optimize.
Burgess said the lineup at the start of the weekend was largely based on location and familiarity — a defensive pair from Whitehorse or a forward line from Yellowknife — but that it was fluid once the team got into game action.
“There are advantages to that familiarity in practice time, but then once you see live action head-to-head, their tendencies and their strengths and weaknesses show and it’s easier to create lines that make good matches.”
Further good news for the Rivermen is that the team matches up well with the competition.
“We have some of the bigger guys on the ice and some of the smaller guys on the ice,” said Burgess. “We didn’t see a big mismatch in that. The mismatch is just translating to the pace and intensity of the game, not to the skills package and speed of the game.”
The Rivermen are back on the ice Nov. 2, 3 and 4 in Whitehorse for a three-game series with the North Central Cougars based in Prince George, B.C. — a team Burgess said is turning heads early on.
“Prince George is flagged as one of the heavyweight teams in the league, so we’re probably facing one of the top teams at home right out of the gate,” said Burgess.
Game one goes 8 p.m. on Nov. 2, game two is Nov. 3 at 1:30 p.m., and game three is Nov. 4 at 10:30 a.m. All three games are at the Takhini Arena.
Despite a short respite between games, Burgess said the Rivermen are still champing at the bit.
“They’re in the mood. They want to play as much hockey as possible,” said Burgess. “All these players are hungry for more competition and hungry to test themselves.”
Contact John Hopkins-Hill at email@example.com