Cole Keebler and Spencer Bender starred for the Ghostriders in their game against Columbia Valley on Friday

Cole Keebler and Spencer Bender starred for the Ghostriders in their game against Columbia Valley on Friday

Short-staffed Riders battle on

Through injury and illness, the Fernie Ghostriders battled to a win and a loss last weekend.

By Sam PlaquinFernie Ghostriders

In a tumultuous weekend, the Riders found themselves on both ends of lopsided affairs with a 7-3 victory over the lowly Rockies followed by an 8-4 loss in Golden.

In the weekend’s first contest, the Riders faced off with the Columbia Valley Rockies for the third time this season and, in a similar fashion to their first two meetings, the Riders prevailed in a 7-3 defeat.

Led by an impressive performance by Cole Keebler (4 points) and his linemates Jason Yan and Spencer Bender (3 points apiece), the Riders looked comfortable early on in the game. A goal by Yan in the opening minutes fuelled the Riders to another decisive victory over the Rockies.

The team, short some key contributors including dynamic forwards Derek Georgopolous and Cavin Tilsley, were able to utilize affiliate players Jacen Richards and Trevor Broad. Appearing for the first time with the club, neither of the 16-year-olds looked out of place, as they both delivered strong performances. David Kelly was another notable contributor to the onslaught, with a partial breakaway, where he tucked a pretty one high short side on the Rockies’ goaltender.

A strong power play performance by the McCulloch-Plaquin-Neufeld unit led to a couple of highlight-reel goals. The line seemed to find each other effortlessly, resulting in a couple of easy tap-ins by McCulloch off the hard work and creative plays of his linemates. However, Fernie’s two power play goals were punctuated by the Rockies’ first goal, which bounced in past a seemingly unbeatable Jeff Orser.

Keebler’s line continued their dominance by potting yet another one, but not to be outdone, 20-year-olds Dylan Robertson and Joel Burgess combined for the final goal of the game. Matt Pronchuk also had a strong showing, asserting himself on the blue line as a menace to any team’s penalty kill.

Speaking after Friday’s game, Keebler was quick to credit his linemates for his success so far this season and praised the leadership of the team’s veteran players.

“Fortunately enough, I’m playing with two great players [Bender and Yan] who really help me,” reflected Keebler.

He added, “I think the big part is our leadership; a lot of our 20-year-olds have really helped out this year in welcoming everybody … it brings the chemistry right on to the ice and it’s really noticeable with our record right now.”

Head coach and general manager Craig Mohr expressed his admiration for Keebler’s performance following a 10-month recovery from injury.

“What can I say … he’s had three weeks back in league play and, boy oh boy, he was pretty special tonight,” said Mohr of Keebler.

“We also had two young kids up as affiliates and I thought they did amazing; they both played really well,” he added.

The following night, the same Rider line up came up short on the road against the Golden Rockets. Despite out-shooting their hosts 36-25, illness and injury took their toll on the Fernie boys, who were ultimately outscored. A few shots off the posts by the Riders could’ve changed their fate in what was a valiant effort by the depleted squad.

Look for a healthier team to hit the ice this weekend as the Ghostriders take on the Castlegar Rebels and the North Okanagan Knights in a double-header weekend at home. As always, the puck drops at 7:30 p.m.