Rupert readies for CoyMarch 5 2011 at 5:03 PM
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In more ways than one, the 2011 Coy Cup will be memorable for Prince Rupert.
True, the Rampage, the CIHLs newest entry, is getting to host the provincial tournament in only its third year of existence, having just completed their most successful season in history, going 11-5 and winning a round versus Hazelton, before falling 2-1 to the Kitimat Ice Demons.
And for Rupert, its the first time Kaien Island has hosted the Coy Cup since 1978, when at that time, the Prince Rupert Kings came an overtime goal away from advancing to the nationals at the hands of the Prince George Mohawks, who actually won the Hardy Cup (national title) that season.
But theres even one more surprise in store: the most successful born-and-raised Rupert hockey player is returning home for the first time in 15 years to suit up for the Rampage.
Robin Gomez, who just wrapped up his first season as head coach of the Saanich Braves in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League (Jr. B), is expected to arrive in Rupert on Sunday, and his size and strength will be a welcome addition to a Rampage team, based on size comparisons to other CIHL teams, is a little on the smaller side.
Were excited to have a good crash-and-bang guy, said Rampage captain Colt Stava. Were excited to have him back.
Joining Rupert at the Coy Cup, which begins Tuesday March 8 at the Jim Ciccone Arena, are CIHL champions Williams Lake, Kitimat, and Powell River, the defending Coy Cup champions.
Success at the tournament for Rupert wont be easy, said coach Frank Pyde, as all three visiting teams play a similar fast-paced style, where turnovers can quickly wind up as goals.
You cant give them time to make a pass, he said. But were sort of the rookie here. All three of those teams have been to the Coy Cup, and have won it.
Rupert is very familiar with Kitimat, since theyve now faced the Ice Demons seven times this season, winning four, but lost the last two that allowed the Ice Demons to advance to the CIHL finals against Williams Lake.
It was a little bit of a let-down losing to Kitimat, said Stava. Hopefully that was an anomaly.
The Rampage also had the chance to get a look at Williams Lake, who play a style that can only be summed up one way: firewagon hockey.
Theyre the most talented team weve played, said Stava. Theyre a pretty team to watch.
Pyde added: They play a fast game, and all four lines are quick.
Powell River, then, is the wild-card. Rupert isnt sure what to expect from the defending Coy Cup champs, but by all accounts, their style is similar to that of the Stampeders.
Dylan (Lawrence) is from Campbell River, so he sort of knows what they are like, said Stava. And he says they have some real good players. So its nice to get them right off the ferry (Tuesday night).
Indeed, Rupert will open the tournament Tuesday night at 8:15 p.m. against Powell River, while Kitimat and Williams Lake renew hostilities at 5 p.m.
The interesting sub-plot to this story is the history that Gomez is bringing with him to Rupert. On one hand, he is the only born-and-raised Rupert hockey player to ever suit up in an NHL game three, in fact, with the Washington Capitals in 2005 after the lock-out. Granted, it was three exhibition games, and after that, Gomez spent most of the rest of his hockey career in the East Coast Hockey League, two levels down from the NHL, but even Stava still talks about Gomezs claim-to-fame his dust-up with NHLer Rob Ray, which is still a popular viewing on YouTube. So one could consider Gomezs return as a hero finally coming home.
But if Rupert fans are looking forward to some legendary duking-it-out during the Coy Cup, Pyde is quick to shake his head.
Were not looking for him to be doing that, he said. If you scrap, youre gone for the next game. But hes not going to be afraid to go to the net.
For the first time since he was a young kid, Gomez didnt lace up the skates this season; instead, he was busy with his role as coach of the rebuilding Saanich Braves. And while the regular season record wasnt great, as the team only managed 15 wins, the team came together at the end, winning six of seven games heading into the playoffs, and then they gave the Comox Glacier Kings the scare of their lives in the first round, taking the series the distance, before falling 2-0 in the decisive game 5.
We had OT in Game 4 to win the series, but couldnt get it done, said Gomez. And Comox was only two points out of first place, and we gave them a good fight.
If Saanich had managed to win that series, then Gomez coming up to Rupert for the Coy Cup would have been a moot point. Instead, the outcome has helped bring together a very interesting homecoming for a local hockey player.
After all, he left minor hockey at age 14 to go play hockey at Notre Dame in Saskatchewan, and then played four years in the Western Hockey League. And he went on to have a good professional hockey career, even though the majority of it was spent in the ECHL with the South Carolina Stingrays.
But the hometown favourites reputation took a bit of a hit during the 2007-08 hockey season, when he signed with the Victoria Salmon Kings of the ECHL so he could play hockey closer to home. A line brawl that went horribly wrong ended up with Gomez allegedly sucker-punching a Las Vegas player who was taunting the Victoria bench, and Gomez was initially charged with assault.
However, in July 2009, a Victoria judge cleared Gomez with a non-guilty verdict, leading to the scenario a year later where Gomez was successfully chosen as coach for Saanich. And there has been some discussion online leading up to the Coy Cup, as other teams in the CIHL may be raising their eyebrows at the decision to include Gomez.
But every team in the Coy Cup is allowed to keep one or two roster spots open for provincial purposes, and with the tournament in Rupert, the Rampage wanted to bring one of their own heroes home. With size as part of the equation, that decision led to Gomez.
It was maybe a joke two months ago, said Gomez. But then it came together, and Im looking forward to going up there and playing in front of my friends.
One would think that Gomezs hockey experience would be a huge asset for Rupert, but Gomez was rather frank in saying that hes actually nervous about playing in front of the Rupert faithful, even though he has played in front of NHL arenas.
Im nervous right now just talking to you, he said. I havent played there in 15 years, and I want to do well and help the team win. Im expecting quite a bit out of myself for the tournament, but then again, I havent played in a year.
But the reaction from the team in Rupert is that both Gomezs experience and size up-front will certainly help their cause.
Hes not going to be afraid to go to the net and muck it up in the corners, said Pyde. And thats what we need.
Still, the biggest worry for Rupert might be on the score-sheet, as at press-time, its still unclear whether CIHL regular-season scoring title winner Rob Millar will be cleared to play, as he continues to recover from a concussion.
You dont want to risk your health for a hockey game, said Stava.
Instead, success at the Coy Cup may be rather simple: goaltending. After all, Williams Lake has the reigning 2010 MVP in net, Justin Foote, who also just happened to kick out 60 shots in their decisive win over Smithers back in round two.
He might be the best goalie in the league, said Pyde.
But Stava thinks the Rampages goaltending is just fine too, thank you, and its likely Keith Movold and company will be counted on to steal at least one game or two.
Plus, Rupert has the most important factor of all in their favour: the home crowd. The team didnt lose a home game all year until that playoff implosion against Kitimat, and Stava expects the building on McBride to be roaring.
Our hometown advantage is huge, said Stava. Well have our crowd, and it will be great.
And with it, the added bonus too: Gomez, coming home.
Ive played in some pretty big games in my career, but this will be pretty fun, said Gomez. Im really excited to play in Rupert.
Rupert will play every night at 8:15 p.m., starting with their contest March 8 versus Powell River. The first place team from the round robin then gets a bye into Saturdays final on March 12, while second faces third Friday night, also at 8:15 p.m.
~Written by Patrick Witwicki
Gomez has Landed!No score for this post
|March 5 2011, 5:12 PM |
Robin arrived in town this afternoon so will be able to get a couple of practices in with his buddies before the first game. Will be good to see him again.
Just CuriousNo score for this post
|March 7 2011, 3:24 PM |
Is he eligible? I know the players had to play 5 regular season games in order to be eligible for the CIHL playoffs...He hasn't played for them all year...are the rules different for the Coy Cup?
signingsNo score for this post
|March 7 2011, 6:45 PM |
well there curious John, yes the 5 game rule is for the CIHL playoffs only.teams quite often sign players for just the prov. playdowns. Kitimat has a couple ,Rusty says the Stamps have a couple , FSJ have acouple ex NHLers for the savage cup.So good on rupert they are bringing back Gomez who has played the highest level from there town. Definetly raises the interest. good luck to all the teams,should be agreat event.
Got to agree with CaptainNo score for this post
|March 7 2011, 7:53 PM |
Any otherwise non-signed available player, who can put his "john henry" on the card before Feb 10, if I have it right, is eligible to play in the Coy Cup.
It will be interesting to watch the new additions for the CIHL teams and see what difference they will make in the team game at the Coy Cup.
I think the teams this year may be as strong a foursome as we've seen in the Cup since about 2006.
I was watching a late Ice Demons practice this afternoon (with the Captain) and I have to say, with all rostered players available, this I believe will be a faster, tougher, better Ice Demons line-up than the one that fell a goal short in game three on the CIHL Rio Tinto Cup final.
This team will have Mildenberger, will have Mayer, will have three strong goaltenders, and I think could surprise fans on Tuesday night, if the lines are right. New coaching tandem has had only three practices, all with players unavailable. In Rupert, barring injuries the coaches will have a tough time making the cuts.
I don't want to make any predictions, but the Ice Demons have had a lot of adversity this year, coach very unwell through the playoffs, key players missing in virtually all critical games, not to mention a slew of injuries, you name it,but still just missed by a single goal.
So, it's a hungry team that felt all year that many Forum posters didn't give them a lot of credit ... and we know some of the Terrace-Smithers posters also have Demons voodoo dolls and pins too...
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