Brent Forster - RDC
The Red Deer College Kings were looking to kick off 2018 with a solid effort against the Concordia University Thunder and in their first game after the holiday break they played better as the game progressed. After the Thunder opened the scoring on the power play, the Kings persisted, found their skating legs and picked up a 5-3 win at the Penhold Multiplex.
Mike Salmon started in goal for the RDC Kings while Tanner McCorriston got the nod for the Thunder. Both goaltenders made some key saves in the first period. Tyler Benko struck at 11:19 to give Concordia University a 1-0 lead with the man advantage. Over 20 minutes, the Kings outshot the Thunder 12-8.
In the second period, the Kings hit the ice with energy and they responded 1:11 into the frame. From the right side Scott Ferguson sent a shot on net which eluded McCorriston to knot the contest up 1-1. Ty Mappin and Tyler Berkholtz set up the equalizer. With 10:34 remaining in the middle frame, Phil Dillon found the back of the net to give the Thunder a 2-1 edge. Dillon faked the shot, carried the puck to his left and found the open cage. Just over a minute later, Berkholtz evened the game 2-2. The fifth-year forward from Penticton was stationed at the left side of the net and was set up perfectly by Lynnden Pastachak and Mappin at 10:28. With 6:55 left in the second period, the Kings took a 3-2 lead off a wrist shot by Donovan Lumb. The former Weyburn Red Wings forward was sprung up the right side by Jason Miller and Arie Postmus, and he beat McCorriston on the blocker side. Shots were even 8-8 in the middle frame.
The Kings continued to press and with 9:00 remaining in the third period Mappin scored a beautiful goal to give RDC a 4-2 edge. Pastachak and Berkholtz earned the helpers on a precise passing play. It was Mappin's third point of the night. With 2:39 remaining McCorriston was pulled in favour of the extra attacker and 1 minute later Dillon pulled the Thunder pulled within a goal on a scramble in front. With 4 seconds left, Landon Kletke sealed the 5-3 home win into an empty net. Tanner Butler and Dylan Baer added the assists. Over 60 minutes, the Kings outshot the Thunder 33-19.
Jason Miller was named the player of the game for the Kings and won several key face-offs late while Phil Dillon received the honour for the Thunder.
Despite the slower start, Kings Hockey Head Coach Trevor Keeper liked the final two periods and the Kings' ability to use their quickness. "We didn't like our first period but it is understandable because we haven't played since the end of November. We didn't have any games over that six week period and we came back with three practices. The guys worked out hard but it was a bit of a slow start for a home game," said Keeper. "We addressed it between the first and the second period and then we started to use our speed. That is our identity – being hard on pucks, forechecking, reloading and getting above their players so they can't get out of their end, and because we did that we had a lot more opportunities with the puck to make plays."
Concordia applied pressure late but the Kings appeared confident and held their ground in earning the win. "In the first half of the season there may have been a bit of panic late in the game but now the players find a way to get the job done with focus," said Keeper.
As the game wound down, the details of the game were important. "We knew that they would stretch two players and when they pulled the goaltender early we wanted to have a quick man on the puck to take away their options," said Keeper. "Winning face-offs and winning one-on-one battles were important."
In the rematch on Saturday, the Kings will look for a faster start. "We want to have a quicker start and be better in the first period. That is partially due to the long layoff and they are no different," said Keeper. "The Thunder play on Olympic sized ice in Edmonton so we want to get our feet moving right away from the drop of the puck."
The Kings were without a few players, including Dylan Thudium who shares the team lead with 20 points. "We were missing Dylan (Thudium) tonight with an injury and he's near the top in league scoring," said Keeper. "He will be a game time decision on Saturday but the guys who stepped in to the open positions played really well."
In the latter half of the home-and-home series, the second place RDC Kings (10-4-1-0) will face the Concordia University Thunder (4-10-1-0) in Edmonton on Saturday, January 6 at 8:15 p.m.