Derek Georgopolous

Derek Georgopolous

KIJHL: Riding together into the playoffs

The final games of a very successful regular season bring mixed emotions for the Ghostriders ahead of the playoffs.

Sara MoultonFree Press Staff

The Fernie Ghostriders completed their KIJHL regular season with three back-to-back games against the Columbia Valley Rockies last weekend, winning two of the tilts and securing second place overall in the league ahead of the playoffs.

While the post-season schedule leaves the potential for several more weeks of play, the end of a very successful regular season brings a variety of emotions for the club’s five 20-year-old players who are wrapping up their final year in junior hockey.

“It’s been a long ride, but I can’t believe it’s here,” reflected team captain Dylan Robertson after the season closer on Sunday.

“It snuck up on me, and now I realize that I’ve got a playoff run and that’s it. I’ve just got to make it count now.”

Aaron Neufeld and Joel Burgess are also finishing their junior careers with the Ghostriders after serving as alternate captains for the past two seasons. Hailing from Calgary, Neufeld had little idea of what to expect when he arrived in Fernie as an 18-year-old in 2012.

“I really didn’t know much about Fernie … but as soon as I got here and as soon as I met the guys, like Robby and Burge, I just knew that this was going to be my home.”

On the other side of the coin, Burgess’ roots in the South Country and his family history with the Ghostriders made the Fernie franchise a natural fit for the Jaffray local when he joined the team in 2010.

“It’s been awesome; having my family out here for almost every game … I’ve met and played with some great guys, and it’s gone fast.”

For head coach and general manager Craig Mohr, the contributions of his “20-bombs” have been an integral part of the team’s success this season. While the club held the rights for Robertson, Neufeld and Burgess when Mohr took over as bench boss in June 2014, the return of Derek Georgopolous and acquisition of Sam Plaquin rounded out the five available places for 20-year-olds and solidified the leadership of the team.

Ghostriders at ChristmasChristmas cheer for Aaron Neufeld, Derek Georgopoulos, Joel Burgess, Sam Plaquin and Dylan Robertson. PHOTO: Sara Moulton

“They’re the leaders of the pack … our record through the regular season is a huge credit to those guys,” explained Mohr.

“It’s so rewarding for them, and I think this playoff run will be the topping on the cake for those guys because they’ve put so much work in this year.”

The season record includes not only finishing very comfortably at the top of the Eddie Mountain division, but also clinching second place overall in the entire league and topping the Kootenay conference. The final statistics of 37 wins, 11 losses, four overtime wins, three overtime losses and one tie are a commendable achievement for the club.

As for the three-game-weekend against the Rockies, the Friday night bout at the Fernie Memorial Arena proved to be a breeze for the home side, smashing their opponents 7-2 in front of over 800 spectators. The Rockies were out for revenge the following night in Invermere and put up a full 60-minute battle, but it was again the Riders who emerged with a 5-4 victory. Finally, playing their 52nd game in five months, the two teams took Sunday night’s tilt all the way to overtime where the Rockies managed to finish their disappointing season with a 3-2 overtime win.

The Ghostriders’ focus will now move to the playoffs, which begin this Wednesday, Feb. 18 in Fernie against the Golden Rockets. While acknowledging the strength of the Golden squad, Mohr expressed his confidence in his team’s preparedness for the weeks ahead.

“We’re ready. This group have shown nothing but hard work all year and that’s not going to change … you can’t look too far ahead and you can’t look behind.

“On Wednesday, we get going and we’ll have the Fernie Memorial rocking; it’s the start of something magical that could happen over the next couple of months.”

And as summed up by Neufeld, that special something could very well be a league championship.

“I’m just happy that we’re one of the best teams in the league, and we’re going to make a run for it and hopefully hoist that trophy over our heads.”