Thanks to a formidable 7-3 run in its last 10 games, the Dawson Creek Rage’s playoff hopes are still very much alive.
Positioned in fifth-place in the West with 40 points, the Rage is only nine behind Kenai River for the division’s fourth and final playoff position. Both teams have 11 games left on the regular-season docket.
Catching the Brown Bears might be a tall order, says Rage head coach Scott Robinson, but one that has the first-year club energized as it heads down the stretch.
“There’s no question we’ve turned a corner,” said Robinson, whose team is 19-26-2 on the season. “We were hoping to do it prior to Christmas, but it just didn’t happen and that’s left us in a difficult position as far as the playoffs are concerned, but, as long as that chance is still there, we’ll continue to pursue it.”
Solid goaltending performances from Edward Dyson and Andrew Walsh have fueled much of the Rage’s recent success, according to Robinson, as has the assertiveness and confidence that’s begun resonate throughout the team’s entire defensive corps.
The addition of 19-year-old forward Zac Ashdown, who has 12 points in his first eight games with the Rage, hasn’t hurt, either.
“His arrival has increased our depth upfront and the trickle-down effect is that we’ve solidified three lines that can generate something offensively,” said Robinson.
Forward Dakota Mason, the team’s leading scorer, continues his torrid scoring pace, striking for eight goals and 11 assists in his last 10 games, with 6-foot-5, 212-pound Evan Ripley, 18, taking major steps towards becoming a top-flight defenseman, according to Robinson.
“All of our players have gained an understanding and a confidence level that they can contribute to our team’s success,” he said.
The Rage also received some monumental news recently when Walsh, a Dawson Creek native, became the first player in the organization’s history to commit to a Division I program.
The 20-year-old will begin his college career at Bemidji State University next season.
“To have the first guy be a hometown boy and a guy who’s put in the effort over the years to earn the right to play at a great school like Bemidji is outstanding,” said Robinson. “The staff at Bemidji does an outstanding job and Andrew is very excited about being a part of that.
“To Andrew’s credit, he took on the challenge of being ‘the guy’ for an expansion team and there were a lot of days when he didn’t get a lot of support. To see a kid get rewarded for his performance under these circumstances is exceptional.”
The same can be said for the Rage as a whole. Being a new team in town, the organization has worked diligently to convince the community that the club - and the North American Hockey League - boasts both a high level of talent and entertainment value.
After some early skepticism, the locals have begun to embrace the team and all its stands for, both on and off the ice, with the squad averaging over 1,000 a game in attendance at EnCanta Events Centre.
“Early on, people were coming to check it out and I’d say they were spectators,” Robinson explained. “Since Christmas, though, it’s become very obvious they’ve become fans.
“The players have done a great job in winning the town over and our supporters now have the feeling that this is Dawson Creek’s team - something they’re proud to have represent our city and the people that live here. It’s been a very special and unique thing to watch.”
And though it won’t be easy, the Rage wants nothing more than to reward those loyal supporters with a trip to the Robertson Cup Playoffs in its first season.
Among the remaining games on the Rage’s schedule is a three-game, regular-season series finale against the Brown Bears in Kenai River.
“Rather than look at the big picture, we’re really focused on picking up enough points on (the Brown Bears) to make that series into a meaningful fight for a playoff spot,” said Robinson, whose team travels to Wenatchee for a two-game series this weekend. “Kenai has been playing well of late and hasn’t allowed us to gain much ground at all, but we’re just going to handle our end as best we can.
“Our attitude is good and we’re planning on making things interesting down the stretch.”
WEST DIVISION NOTEBOOK
ALASKA AVALANCHE: With last weekend off, the Avalanche, tied for second place with Wenatchee in the West Division standings (55 points), plays its next eight games at home beginning with a two-game series this weekend against Kenai River. In his first two games with the Avs since being acquired from the Wild, 18-year-old forward Eliot Grauer, from Mukioteo, Wash., has a goal.
FAIRBANKS ICE DOGS: A healthy John Stampohar rang up two goals and an assist in the Ice Dogs’ two-game sweep over Kenai River last weekend. “John’s really been a welcome addition to our lineup since returning from an injury a few weeks ago,” Ice Dogs head coach Josh Hauge said of the 20-year-old forward from Hibbing, Minn. “He plays with a lot of energy every night and his leadership is invaluable.”
FRESNO MONSTERS: Forwards Jordan Lovick and Derek Sutliffe (game-winner) picked up the goals in the Monsters’ 2-1 triumph over Wenatchee on Friday. Goaltender Tom Conlin turned back 20 shots. With this weekend off, Fresno welcomes Dawson Creek to town for a three-game series beginning on Feb. 23.
KENAI RIVER BROWN BEARS: Forwards Brad Duwe (goal, assist) and Brett Lubanski (two assists), the Brown Bears’ leading scorer with 52 points, both fashioned two-point weekends as Kenai River lost two games to division-leading Fairbanks. The Brown Bears, who hold the fourth and final playoff spot in the West Division after 47 games, travel to Alaska for a two-game series on Friday and Saturday.
WENATCHEE WILD: Forwards Jacob Barber (hat trick, assist), Tyler Hope (goal, assist) and Blake Saylor (game-winning goal, assist) all racked up multiple-point nights in the Wild’s 6-0 victory over Fresno on Thursday. Goaltender Brandon Jaeger stopped all 19 shots he faced to earn his fifth shutout of the season. Wenatchee welcomes Dawson Creek to town for a two-game series on Friday and Saturday.