Klippers capable of finishing games strong

(Originally published in the Kindersley Clarion. October 29, 2014)

IMG_0671Lately it hasn’t mattered how the Iron Horse Kindersley Klippers have started, because the team has found a knack of finishing games.

A 1-1-1-1 record in the last four games might not give the Klippers a winning record in the last week, but the points earned from overtime and shootout losses throughout the season have helped the team claim first place in the SJHL as of Oct. 27.

Head coach Rockie Zinger would like to see his team start games quicker, and he believes the Klippers will get to that point. Zinger said there’s no secret formula that will create hot starts from the team. What it comes down to is players stepping up and taking advantage of early chances to get the team rolling.

“A big part of it’s a leadership thing where our older guys who have been around the block a few times have got to take the onus on making sure they come out with a better effort and making sure their team comes out with a better effort to start games,” Zinger said.

Yes, the Klippers haven’t been able to start games the way they’d like to. But they sure can finish them productively, and it’s evident in the amount of overtime hockey the team has seen this season.

Eight of the team’s 14 games have ended in overtime or a shootout. Of those eight games that went beyond regulation, the Klippers have forced seven games beyond 60 minutes of play.

“It’s good to know that our group isn’t going to mail it in when they’re down by a couple,” Zinger said. “They’re going to continue to work hard and force the issue. We’ve been able to do that on a pretty consistent basis, and that’s a good thing to know in the back of your mind.”

This week was no exception for the Klippers. The Klippers lost to the Battlefords North Stars 4-3 at the West Central Events Centre on Oct. 21. The Klippers started slow once again, allowing the North Stars to take 20 shots on goaltender Evan Weninger in the first period and a 3-0 lead. However, three third period goals evened the score and the Klippers seemed poised to send another game to overtime. Battlefords’ right winger Brady O’Sullivan had other plans and netted the game winning goal with just 13 seconds left on the clock.

The Klippers faced a tough weekend schedule with three games in as many days against some well-rested teams. A rested Klippers team took on the Yorkton Terriers on Oct. 24, a Melville Millionaires team with no game the prior night on Oct. 25, and finished with a return trip to Yorkton on Oct. 26 after the Terriers took Saturday night off. Zinger was happy to see his team earn four of a possible six points during the weekend, after winning the first game against Yorkton, losing in a shootout to Melville, and losing in overtime against the Terriers to close out the weekend.

The Klippers opened with a 4-1 victory against the Yorkton Terriers – the reigning RBC Cup champions – and were aided by Klippers scoring machine Owen LaClare. LaClare scored a natural hat trick during the game, with two goals on the power play in the second period and finished the task off with an empty netter in the third.

Zinger traded with the La Ronge Ice Wolves for LaClare in the offseason, and he’s gotten exactly what he expected from the left winger who was the only SJHL player to crack the Canada West roster at last year’s World Junior ‘A’ Challenge. In his last three games LaClare has scored six goals for the Klippers. He missed the final game of the road trip with a minor injury. However, Zinger expects him to be ready for this week.

“It’s no secret what Owen is,” Zinger said. “He’s a goal scorer. He can put the puck in the net. When he can shoot the puck and shoot often, he has a lot of success. That’s what he’s gotten back to.”

LaClare’s efforts this week gives him a team-leading 11 goals and four assists for 15 points in 13 games. LaClare is tied for the third most points in the SJHL.

In the next game against the Melville Millionaires it was LaClare who tied the game at 2-2 in the third period with an unassisted shorthanded goal. The comeback effort was aided earlier in the third frame with a goal scored by Connor Garden off the stick of Graham Lanigan. After five minutes of scoreless overtime, the Millionaires slipped one by goaltender Nathan Hargrave in the shootout to win the game.

Despite feeling mentally and physically drained, the Klippers came out strong against the Terriers on the final night of the road trip. The Klippers outskated, outplayed, out hit, and out shot the Terriers throughout the entire first period.

However, the Terriers roughed things up in the second period according to Zinger, and it resulted in two fights during. Carter Sawicki and then Derrick Morrell each received five minute major and game misconducts for fighting, and it eventually led to both Zinger and Terriers head coach Trent Cassen getting ejected from the game.

Zinger, who watched the footage on the way back to Kindersley, said he saw some “extra-curricular” activities by the Terriers that he didn’t believe should have been allowed, and that’s what led to a lot of the aggression on the ice.

In the end, he was content with winning on their home ice, and not allowing the Terriers a regulation win to cap off the weekend.

“For two, three years we’ve taken some pretty bad lumps from Yorkton,” Zinger said. “There’s no love lost by us when you go into their building and beat them. You don’t feel bad about it. And they don’t like that because they’re the Yorkton Terriers and you’re not allowed to beat the Yorkton Terriers.”

Despite having a league-leading 21 points in the SJHL, the Klippers dropped from first to sixth in the SJHL power rankings. However, the record didn’t hinder the team’s national ranking. In fact, it helped it. The Klippers rose two spots to 11th overall in the country on the CJHL rankings. The only other SJHL team in the national rankings are the fourth ranked Notre Dame Hounds, who dropped from second.

The two nationally ranked teams – and division rivals – will hit the West Central Events Centre on Halloween night for the first time this season. It will be the Klippers’ second game in as many days as the team travels to North Battleford the night prior.

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