RDC Kings head coach Trevor Keeper believes his team has enough offence to compete with any team in the Alberta Colleges Men’s Hockey League.
He also understands it will come down to defence, and winning one-on-one battles if they expect to have success in the playoffs.
On a day the Kings learned they had secured a playoff spot in the league — the top six teams qualify — they turned in one of their poorer defensive efforts in dropping a 6-1 decision to the SAIT Trojans at the Penhold Regional Multiplex.
“All week you work on skills, with your D-men, forwards, penalty kill and power play and none of that means anything if you’re no good one-on-one and today we were soft with the one-on-ones,” said Keeper.
“I know SAIT is an older, bigger team with good skill, but we had a lot of soft players who didn’t finish checks, lost one-on-one battles and were getting stripped of the puck. The end result was a reflection of that kind of play.”
Both teams had their chances early in the first period, with the Trojans Ryan Matthews and Clay Howe taking advantage of a pair of rebounds to score at 14:05 and 16:59.
Neither team played a lot of defence in the first period with the shots 18-15 for SAIT.
The Trojans added two more goals in the middle stanza with Mitchell Board connecting on the power play at 6:26 and Ben O’Quinn stealing the puck and scoring while shorthanded at 9:31.
Former Red Deer Rebel JD Watt made it 5-0 at 10:22 of the third period on a screened shot past Kraymer Barnstable. Davis Claffey got the Kings on the board at 11:25 with a blast from the point with Mikael Jung completing the scoring at 15:39.
The Trojans finished with 43 shots on Barnstable while the Kings had 35 on Brayden Hopfe.
“We have no trouble when we have the puck where we can use our speed and skill and generally this year we’ve been good defensively and battled hard,” continued Keeper. “But for whatever reason lately we’ve been going through a bit of a rough stretch and this was the icing on the cake in terms of poor play defensively. The guys have to figure that out in practice and decide to get back to work. The offensive side of our game will take care of itself once we start winning the battles and getting the puck back as quickly as possible.”
The Kings wrapped up a playoff spot Saturday when seventh-place Concordia tied Keyano which left them 14 points back of RDC and seven games remaining. Kings own the tie-breaker.
The Kings are third with 34 points, one ahead of Augustana. Both teams have four games remaining. SAIT is first with 42 points, three up on the NAIT Ooks, who has four games in hand.
“The important thing is we’re in the playoffs but we still want to be seeded as high as possible,” said Keeper. “We were looking at finishing second, but now is the time to turn our habits around and play playoff hockey over our final four games. You can’t expect to suddenly turn the switch on when you get into the playoffs.”
The Kings travel to Caronport, Sask., for a doubleheader Friday and Saturday against Briercrest then finish their season with a home-and-home series against Portage College, ending March 1 at Penhold.