The Chance Oil Yukon Rivermen Tier 1 hockey team has added another first in their inaugural season – one that made the home fans at Takhini Arena Friday evening very excited.
In their third home series, the Rivermen won their first game in Whitehorse against the North Okanagan Zone Kings based out of Salmon Arm and Vernon, B.C.
After already winning two regular-season games on the road, it was the seventh home game that proved the winner for the new bantam team.
With the help of two short-handed goals, the Rivermen raced to a high-scoring 6-4 victory in the opening game.
“It feels pretty good to thank the home crowd and against this team it feels great,” Rivermen defenceman Owen Palfreyman said following the game.
Many players on the team were already familiar with each other before playing this season. Palfreyman grew up on the ice with many Kings players before moving up to Whitehorse to join the Rivermen at the beginning of the season.
“They’re all friends and everything but on the ice you can’t really have friends. You got to compete no matter who you’re playing against and still work,” he said.
Rivermen defenceman Layton Feist from Dawson Creek was playing against his cousin Jarred Feist and Kings captain Nolan Matthews is from Whitehorse and was able to reunite with former teammates, family and friends during the
Following the series-opening win, the Riverman battled to two draws against the Kings with a 6-6 goal fest on Saturday followed by a 3-3 draw in the final Sunday morning matchup.
With head coach Martin Lawrie away, assistant coach Jake Jirousek took over top duties for the team.
With a four-point weekend, he said this series was a big sign of improvement and that all the hard work is starting to pay off.
“When we first started back in July, it was a ‘Can we get these guys to play Tier 1?’ I got to be honest that this was the first weekend they looked like a Tier 1 team,” Jirousek said following Sunday’s game. “It’s not only a few guys and a
few guys are in the background, now every guy is starting to contribute big differences and guys are starting to play roles.”
In the final game, the Rivermen burst out to a quick 2-0 lead in the first before the Kings got one back before the end of the period.
Up 3-2 with just over two minutes to go in the third, Palfreyman took a holding penalty that neither Jirousek or the young player were too happy about.
The coach continued to plead the case to the referees resulting in a bench minor to the team and a two-minute five-on-three power play for the Kings. With the goalie pulled and a six-on-three advantage, the Kings tied up the game, but were unable to score another with a flurry of chances to end the game.
“The ref makes a call you can’t do anything about it but in my mind you can’t hold with two hands on your stick,” Palfreyman said of the late penalty call.
Over the three games, Jirousek said he saw much improvement in many facets of the game mainly because the team started to believe in themselves.
In the past the team has had some struggles with their power play and penalty kill, but Jirousek said their power play was operating at over 40 per cent during the weekend and the team had two short-handed goals.
The flood gates also opened with the team scoring 15 goals, which they struggled to do earlier in the season.
“It’s something that we’ve been working on, how do we attack better, I think a lot of the guys have relaxed and realize they’re good enough,” Jirousek said. “I was pretty proud of these guys this weekend. This is a big accomplishment just
in how they’re starting to play.”
With not a lot of time to prepare for their next series, Jirousek said they will be getting ready similar to how they prepared for the Kings and are no longer practising every single morning as a full team.
“We don’t need to be on the ice every day. They’re in good enough shape now, now it’s just on little details to make sure they’re ready,” he said.
The Rivermen will host a second straight home series against the Central Zone Rockets from Friday to Sunday at Takhini Arena.