Raiders reach Rocky Mountain heights
Hockey: Bantam AAA team tops division, earns first ever playoff berth
By: Remy Greer
| Posted: Wednesday, Feb 12, 2014 06:00 am
Spent the last year Rocky Mountain Way, couldn’t get much higher.
The Rocky Mountain Bantam AAA Raiders clinched top spot in the Ram South Division with a 6-2 win on Saturday over the Calgary Royals to cap off a remarkable turnaround season which saw the squad easily qualify for the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
“It’s a huge accomplishment for the boys. We came into this weekend knowing we needed a win,” said Raiders first-year head coach Mickey Kluner. “They came out today, battled hard and got the two points.
“The dressing room is ecstatic, they’re confident, they’re proud, they’re thrilled.”
Rightfully so. Rocky Mountain’s 20-10-3 record is in stark contrast to last season where the club, then known as the Okotoks Oilers before rebranding in the off-season, was dead last and picked up just one victory on the campaign.
“It shows us that Okotoks has changed and we’re actually coming to play this year with a chance to win,” said Raider Nolan Steer, a second-year centre from Okotoks. “It’s a lot more fun playing on a winning team because everyone’s a lot happier than if you’re losing every single game.
“We just had better chemistry this year and we’re getting things done as a team rather than trying to be individuals.”
Second-year blueliner Dakota Krebs was optimistic the Rocky Mountain way was better than the way they had, even if the worst-to-first scenario wasn’t fully envisioned.
“I knew we had lots of returning guys and thought we would have a good chance at making a difference against other teams,” said Krebs, an alternate captain from Okotoks. “I didn’t know we were going to be first place.
“The team bonded very well right off the start. Hard working team, hard working players, good coach and we brought our full effort to every game, every practice.”
Rocky Mountain left no room for doubt on Saturday at the Scott Seaman Rink in DeWinton.
First-period goals came from winger Kade Nagy, pivot Riley Romashenko and Steer. Following a scoreless second frame, Millarville’s Zach Huber broke free and smoothly executed a backhand deke to perfection. Nagy would add his second of the game on a penalty shot and DeWinton’s Ty Budai buried an empty-netter to round out the scoring for the hosts.
Calgary’s Alec McLeod and Luke Henry scored in a losing cause for the visitors.
“Everyone was up and ready to play, we were all getting focused before,” said Steer of the four-goal-win. “Everyone wanted first place.”
The top-seed in the Ram South gives Rocky Mountain a first-round best-of-three series clash with the fourth-placed Red Deer Rebels Black. The Raiders took the season series 2-1, but dropped its most recent result to the central Alberta squad in mid-January.
“Teams come in knowing they’re playing a first-placed team so I think there’s a small mental aspect,” said Kluner, noting the importance of holding onto momentum. “The details, the work ethic, the culture and keeping us positive. Just making sure we don’t change anything as far as our habits going into the playoffs.”
The Raiders opened their playoff run on Tuesday night, after the Western Wheel’s press time.
Game 2 is Saturday in Red Deer. If necessary, Game 3 is slated for a 2 p.m. puck-drop at the Scott Seaman Rink on Sunday.
For the latest scores and schedules for the Rocky Mountain Raiders go to ambhl.ab.ca