By Alex Kyrias, NAHL
The casual hockey fan may not know how the Dawson Creek Rage differs from all the other NAHL teams. The obvious it that they are the only Canadian team in the NAHL. However, fans may not realize that the Rage have to adhere to different rules, more specifically, when dealing with the composition and make-up of their team. While the 27 other teams in the NAHL are allowed two imports (two players that are non-United States citizens), the Rage are the complete opposite. Their roster has to be made up of entirely of Canadian citizens with the exception of two players, who have to be United States citizens.
“It is a challenge for us,” said Rage head coach and general manager Scott Robinson. “First, we have a lot of competition with other junior leagues, not only within British Columbia, but within the entire country of Canada. We have to recruit players a totally different way than the rest of the NAHL teams.” The only way to compare what Robinson and the Rage have to go through on an annual basis is to look at something like the NCAA college football scene in the United States and the recruting teams have to do. The sheer number of players that play junior hockey in Canada make it all the more difficult for a team like the Rage.
With that in mind, the Rage embarked on their inaugural season in 2010-11 as a part of the NAHL’s West Division. “There were a lot of unknowns for us starting from scratch last year, but I think we managed to put together a season that everyone was very proud of,” said Robinson. The Rage struggled out of the gate, winning only three of their first 13 games. By the time the second half of the season rolled around, the Rage were 12 games under .500.
The Rage heated up in the second half and had a stretch in January and February where they won 10 of 14 games. It actually got everyone in Dawson Creek thinking playoffs, but they fell a few wins short of the fourth and final spot, ultimately secured by Kenai River. “The first half was very tough for us, but I was proud of our guys because they could have mailed it in, but they stuck with it. By the end of the season we were playing some really good hockey and although we missed the playoffs, it gave us a lot of confidence heading into this season,” said Robinson.
Heading into the 2011-12 season Robinson said that the Rage’s strength is going to be their team defense. The majority of defensemen from last year are all eligible to return to the team and Robinson was particularly excited that he would be returning one of his two main goaltenders from a season ago in Edward Dyson. Dyson, 19, is your prototypical goaltender of the modern age… tall, lanky, flexible and able to cover a lot of net because of his size. He represented the Rage at the first NAHL Top Prospects Tournament in Boston, Massachusetts last season, getting plenty of looks from college and professional scouts. Despite the fact the Rage finished with a losing record, Dyson was able to post a winning record along with a very respectable 91.2% save percentage.
The immediate need that Robison is trying to address is the Rage offense. A season ago, the Rage averaged less than three goals a game, something that has to improve if Dawson Creek wants success in 2011-12. Over the summer, the Rage also lost leading scorer Dakota Mason in a trade. Robinson believes that instead of a bunch of superstars on offense, he will have a ‘scoring by committee’ approach.
Leading this committee will be captain Scott Fellnermayr, who returns to the line-up after finishing second in scoring last season with 39 points in 55 games. Like the Rage, Fellnermayr’s best hockey came during the second half of the season. In his final five games, he had six points, which is why optimism is so high for this season for the team captain. As for any new players who may be able to help the Rage this season, Robinson was encouraged about those he had coming to training camp, but reserved comment about any of them until he had a chance to go through training camp.
Robinson knows it will be another challenging season thanks in large part to the emerging West Division. Not only is it home to the Robertson Cup Champion Fairbanks Ice Dogs, but the travel is the most extensive in the league. However, it is something Robinson relishes. “We know we have to play our best hockey each and every night or else we will not win. The West is such a competitive division that every game provides our players with a test and that’s the only way they are going to become better.”
Next up in the NAHL’s 28 teams in 28 days series, the Robertson Cup Champion Fairbanks Ice Dogs.