The Ghostriders playoff run ended last week when the Rebels won the series in game six, but despite the loss, the Riders proved why they were the leaders in the Eddie Mountain Division.
“I was surprised that we won as many games as we did,” said associate head coach Rick Hillier. “There are some less competitive teams in the league, but the teams that are competitive are pretty equal.”
During the regular season, the Riders only lost five games, two games early in the season were lost to the Castlegar Rebels, and three in December to the Creston Valley Thunder Cats.
One game that stood out for Hillier was the only Revelstoke game that the Riders played at home on December 4.
“They are a pretty good team, and they came in here and we really had be on our toes,” said Hillier.
The Riders beat the Grizzlies 5-2.
Several rivalries appeared as the regular season progressed. The Golden Rockets and the Creston Valley Thunder Cats emerged as tough competitors.
“Golden was a bit of a different team, they were totally offensively oriented. You never knew what was going to come out of those games,” said Hillier.
Golden stretched every play and had really good faceoff plays.
Hillier said that some of the seasons most memorable wins were against Golden because of the way they were able to hang on at the end of a game to achieve a one goal win.
“They were happy to give up eight goals if they scored ten and won 10-8,” he said.
The games between the Thunder Cats and the Riders quickly became some of the most heated of the year.
“It was a battle with Creston all year,” said Hillier.
Despite losing to Creston in December, the Riders came back to beat the Thunder Cats at the end of the season.
Creston proved to be a strong opponent due to their physical approach to the game.
In the regular season, many of the games against the Thunder Cats were full of fights, penalties and several led to suspensions including a couple two game suspensions for Verner.
For the Riders, Hillier said the biggest lesson the team learned this year was staying disciplined and keeping composed.
“It’s just as hard sometimes to keep playing a system when you’re up by five goals as when you’re down five goals,” he said.
The KIJHL playoffs didn’t end the way the Ghostriders and their fans were hoping but Hillier said that the playoffs taught the team lessons they weren’t able to learn during the regular season.
“We learned some things about ourselves as a team because in the regular season when you only lose five games there isn’t a whole lot of adversity there, so the playoffs were a different story,” he said.
The Riders are now gearing up for the Cyclone Taylor Cup, and Hillier says despite losing to the Rebels, the team is ready to get back on the ice for the provincial championship.
“The players are pretty resilient,” he said. “They bounce back pretty quickly.”
Even though the Riders aren’t playing right up until the Cyclone, they have been practicing every day.
The teams that will be coming to the provincials are going to bring a lot of different plays and skills because they all represent different leagues.
“We want to cover as many of those bases as we can, and be as prepared as we can,” he said.
Hillier said one of the toughest competitors in the Cyclone is likely to be the Peninsula Panthers from Vancouver Island.
“They went down three games in their last series, and made a goal tending change, and then battled back to win four straight games,” he said.
The Cyclone Taylor Cup starts at 3 p.m. on March 31. To get tickets for the games visit the Ghostriders website at www.fernieghostriders.com