Head coach Brett Reusch’s biggest task right now is making sure his streaking hockey team doesn’t get too far ahead of itself.
This past weekend’s Pacific Junior Hockey League Winter Classic at Minoru Arenas couldn’t have gone much better for the Richmond Sockeyes.
Not only did the hosts sweep their games against Abbotsford (5-0) and Aldergrove (4-1) to stretch their win streak to seven, they got some help as well. The two teams above them in the standings — North Vancouver and Delta — could only manage splits, leaving the Sockeyes just six points out of top spot overall with two games in hand.
Richmond (23-7-2-1) also has a favourable schedule with a home-and-home series against the Surrey Knights (1-33-0-1) then a meeting with the expansion White Rock Whalers (13-9-0-2). There’s a good chance the Sockeyes will push the streak to 10 before heading into a huge home-and-home series with first place North Van (Jan. 24-26). Just don’t tell the head coach that.
“In this league you don’t take anything for granted. We have to go out and earn those wins every night. Any team can beat any team,” warned Reusch.
“We have 11 games left and we look at each as a four-point game. Our main objective is to finish first. If we can get a few more wins under our belt then we will be in position to control our own destiny.”
Abbotsford came into Richmond Friday night as the PJHL’s second highest scoring team thanks mainly to 20-year-old sniper Baylee Wright who leads the league with 96 points in 33 games which is 29 more than his nearest rival — linemate Jacob De Waal. Yet the Pilots couldn’t solve Sockeyes goaltender Jeremy Kelleway who also blanked them 3-0 on home ice back in October.
The 20-year-old was at his best in the early going and leads the league in shutouts (6), goals against (1.74) and save percentage (.944) by a wide margin. After a season of playing junior “A” in Alberta, the White Rock resident stepped away from the game last year before being convinced by Reusch to come back for his final year of junior.
“He lives (in the Whalers) backyard so it wasn’t easy. It took some work but we have a few guys he played (in the Delta Hockey Academy) with,” added Reusch. In the first minute (against Abbotsford) we could have been down 1-0 three different times. We weren’t ready to play but Kelleway kept us in it. That was huge. Once we settled down it went from there and the momentum carried.”
Michael Araki-Young, Brady Sprague, Marcus Pantazis, Nick Wilson and Isaac Alvarado looked after the scoring.
The eighth place Kodiaks hung tough with Richmond for the better part of three periods. A spectacular end-to-end goal by Isaac Embree and Pantazis’ second of the night in the final 86 seconds sealed the outcome. Kelleway made 32 saves.
It was a busy weekend for Pantazis as the rookie standout was also called-up for his B.C. Hockey League debut with the Coquitlam Express on Saturday night in Chilliwack.
The home-and-home with the Surrey Knights will see Richmond on the road Thursday then the teams return to Minoru for a rare Sunday 4:45 p.m. start.