Things are looking up for the Dawson Creek Junior Canucks, who have won their last two games and are closing in on .500 for the season after beating the Sexsmith Vipers 6-3 on Friday night.
After trouncing the Fort St. John Huskies last week and beating Sexsmith two nights later, the Jr. Canucks are seeing success as all pistons are firing on the team. Goaltending, secondary scoring and excellent special teams seem to be big factors in the team's newfound confidence.
"We're definitely playing better hockey," said Jr. Canucks' assistant coach Ian Attew. "It's starting to come around, the guys are buying into the systems and that's why I think we're being more successful.
"From what I've seen we're starting to get goal scoring from other lines other than our top line. We're starting to get secondary scoring and I think that's been a huge difference, too. McCallum and McManus have been putting in some goals for us and we need that to be successful, especially when the playoffs come around."
Goaltender Josh Round has also been a big factor. In his past two games he's had a saver percent average of .941 per cent, making 33 saves on Friday and keeping the Jr. Canucks alive at pivotal moments.
"He kept us in the first period there when they were all over us, and he's definitely kept us in some games," Attew said. "It's nice to be able to rely on the goalie when you have your lapses. He's definitely one of the reasons we're starting to turn the season around and win some games.
"It's a lot easier to play when you know that if you make a mistake the goalie's going to bail you out. Definitely there's a lot more confidence with our team because of that."
In Friday's game in Sexsmith, Dawson Creek's special teams were stellar, particularly in the second period when the team had a power-play goal from Tyler Norris and three shorthanded goals from Spencer Gover, Scott Reczka and Norris.
"We played really well on the penalty kill. We got some luck obviously, but every chance we had we pretty much scored on with the penalty kill and that put us up," Attew said. "We were actually playing better shorthanded than five on five. That pretty much killed Sexsmith when we scored those three goals, we put the game out of reach and it deflated them."
Attew admits his team came out flat in both the first and the third periods on Friday, but their second-period dominance is what won the game for the Jr. Canucks; that and the fact Dawson Creek snuffed out the Vipers' third-period momentum shift.
Sexsmith scored two quick goals early in the third to bring the game to 5-3. Considering that, in the past, the Jr. Canucks have lost the lead in the third period more than once, the Vipers' goals got the bench a little nervous.
"I think we had the lead and we thought we had the game in the bag, then they came back and were outplaying us for a good five, six minutes," Attew said. "We obliviously got back into the game and started playing harder. We definitely had a lapse there. It can be hard sometimes to keep your focus coming into the third with a lead.
"Those two goals kind of scared us. I thought we were going to do our usual lapse where the other team comes back beats us, but we held on to win it."
To wrap up scoring, Kyler Krantz scored Dawson Creek's sixth goal with 14 seconds left to make it 6-3. Shots were 36-30 for Sexsmith.
Going forward, the Jr. Canucks are looking to climb up through the standings of the North West Junior Hockey League. Currently they sit in fifth with 21 points, while the top four teams are tight within a mere five points of each other with the Grande Prairie JDA Kings leading the pack.
Noticing they might've finally found their groove, the Jr. Canucks are ready to take on the league's top teams and earn a spot amongst them.
"We think we should be at least top three hopefully within a month," Attew said. "We should be a contender and a team that the top teams like Fort St. John and Grande Prairie should worry about when they play us. We just need to get up for games that aren't the top teams, that's been our Achilles heel for the year."
On Wednesday the Jr. Canucks will travel to Fort St. John to play the Huskies for the second time in a week. With Dawson Creek beating the Huskies 5-1 last Wednesday, the Jr. Canucks know the Huskies will be looking for some redemption.
"Definitely they're going to want to put it to us because we did take it to them pretty good last game so we have to be ready for that. Obviously with Dawson Creek and Fort St. John there's always been a huge rivalry so it's going to be one of those games that both teams are up for," Attew said. "Hopefully we get some good goaltending again and we come out on top.
"We just need to focus on working hard, getting lots of shots and taking care of our own end The more we shoot, the better off we'll be. Our power play's working a lot better, our penalty kill's working a lot better, so just sticking to what's been working with us and keeping it simple. Outworking them is how we win, if we do that we'll win."
Wednesday's game in Fort St. John marks the Jr. Canucks' second-to-last game of 2014. They'll then travel to Grande Prairie on Friday to take on the league-leading JDA Kings.
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