River Rats end season on bittersweet note

Coaching staff looking to secure strong 2013-14 line-up

Carole Morris-Underhill editor@hantsjournal.ca
Published on February 12, 2013

This Avon River Rats team photo was taken Feb. 1, just prior to the team’s last home game of the season against the Spryfield Silver and Black Attack.

Carole Morris-Underhill

Although the Avon River Rats hockey team's season ended abruptly, and a little bit oddly, the coaching staff already have their sights set on next year.

Head Coach Rick Purcell said he will be demanding a much more unified team effort next season.

“I will be looking for a commitment from players next year,” said Purcell in a phone interview Feb. 7.

“If guys don't come out to the practice, I don't care who is paying money for what, if they don't come out and commit to the team to practice and show up at the games, they won't be playing,” he said. “I think that really will get a little bit of respect from the players very quickly, and I think overall... hockey players want to play hockey and if they're put in a position where they have to work hard to do it, they will do it. And we will start that right from the beginning of the year.”

Purcell said the 2012-13 hockey season was filled with ups and downs, with the team fighting with the Fundy Phantoms until the very end for a chance at a playoff spot.

“We had some things that seemed to go against us — like the sprinkler busting in a 2-1 game, we had two goals called in overtime both called back against us... which would have given us two points, which means we would have gotten into the playoffs,” said Purcell.

“The final game of the year between Fundy and the South Shore was forfeited to Fundy to give them another two points. Everything seemed to work against us but my message to the guys was really that we can't blame anybody else except ourselves. We put ourselves in a position where we should've been in the middle of the pack — third, fourth place — and then we wouldn't have to worry about things like that.”

The River Rats season ended Feb. 2 when the team was notified the two points that were awarded from the night before were being revoked. The Feb. 1 game against Spryfield was held in Windsor at the Hants Exhibition Arena. The Silver and Black Attack were leading 2-1 in the third period when a stray puck set off the sprinkler system, causing brown water to pool at one end of the rink. The teams agreed to flip for the win, with the Nova Scotia Junior C Hockey League president present. That ruling was overturned, and the two points were awarded to Spryfield.

The River Rats won six games, lost 18 in regulation and four more in overtime. The goals for was 85 and goals against was 140.

Brothers Sam and Ben Ross led the scoring for the home team, with Sam scoring eight goals and recording 16 assists for 24 points and Ben registering 10 goals and adding 11 assists for 21 points.

Rounding out the scoring were Andy West with 10 goals and seven assists and Curtis Lang, with seven goals and 10 assists — both worth 17 points.

“It was a shortened season for all of our players,” said Purcell, noting, “it was a very unusual, unorthodox, disappointing end of the season the way it happened.”

Purcell said the 2012-13 season almost didn't happen as the team had requested a leave of absence from the league.

“I found out on a Thursday about that and I said, 'I'll tell you what, I'll jump in and I'll coach,' and that same Sunday, I was at a meeting in Lunenburg with the league and said we want to withdraw the leave of absence and we will have a team,” he said.

By that time, most of the other teams had already held tryouts and were preparing for a tournament. The River Rats also faced a financial situation where there was basically no money to help offset the costs of running the Jr. C team.

“It was almost like minor hockey tryouts where we said, 'OK, you can play with us but you've got to pay us some money.' In junior hockey, it's very difficult to do that,” he said. “It's very hard to entice people to come and play for you when they have to pay, they have to help out with their ice time. That made it difficult right from the beginning.”

Looking forward to next year, Purcell said they will be actively securing sponsorship during the summer months and holding tryouts much earlier. They will also be looking to have more games played in Windsor instead of Brooklyn.

“We cannot get enough fans to the Brooklyn rink to support a junior hockey team, I don't think,” said Purcell. “It's been very difficult this year and there's a huge difference with the couple of games that we played in Windsor. We had a larger fan base.”

Purcell said the team's biggest struggle was getting a commitment from players to attend practices and games. That's why next season he's placed such an emphasis on individual and team responsibility.

Stay tuned to the Hants Journal for details on tryouts and any venue changes that may occur before next season begins.