By Matt Laurin
After an embarrassing showing on home ice against Nelson, the Fernie Ghostriders responded with back-to-back road wins against Grand Forks and Spokane this weekend.
The Nelson Leafs took full advantage of a Riders team showing signs of rust after the New Year, outshooting the home team 56 – 21 on route to a 6 – 2 beat down on Friday night.
“We just didn’t have it against Nelson. We made it close at one point, but they really handed us our lunch. It was a good wake up call though,” said forward Braeden Monk.
A resilient Riders squad bounced back on Saturday, beating the Border Bruins 7 – 4 in Grand Forks, before escaping Spokane with a 3 – 2 overtime win on Sunday.
Tyler Gonzalez led the offensive assault in both games with three goals and an assist, including the overtime winner against the Braves, Josh McKissock, who had three assists, while Monk also chipped in with three helpers.
The Riders (25 – 11 – 1 – 2) hold a one point lead on the Golden Rockets, in what now looks to be a two-horse race for first place in the Eddie Mountain Division. The two teams meet again in Golden on Friday.
With wins in five of their last six road games, Monk said the team is playing with a lot of confidence.
“Guys just seem to not have as much on their minds, and just focus on getting the job done,” Monk said. “We just play a simple game and the wins keep coming.”
To limit distractions, head coach Barry Wolff has started to collect his players’ cell phones before games.
“I don’t know if that’s it, but it certainly hasn’t hurt us. The less distractions we have, the better,” Monk added.
After the departure of Brendan Burge to Invermere, the Riders’ offensive production dipped. But the team seems to be finding their stride heading into the home stretch of the regular season.
“We seemed to be gripping the stick a little tight and trying to do too much. We have to keep it simple, and guys have to worry about being the player they are, not who they want to be,” Monk said.
With 45 points in 39 games this season, Monk has quietly emerged as the team’s top scorer. His success, he said, has a lot to do with the chemistry he’s developed with line mate Dylan Rota.
“I give him the puck, and he shoots. We compliment each other’s games really well. He can wheel, and I’m not the fastest skater in the world, but I can distribute the puck.”
With just 13 games remaining in the regular season, the Riders will lean heavily on their veterans down the stretch. If they can keep getting production out of their youngsters, they will be in a good shape heading into what they hope will be a long playoff run.
“We feel like we have the guys in our dressing room to really make a push come playoff time,” Monk said.
The Riders’ next home game is January 19, when they host the Penticton Lakers for the only time this season.