Only one way to go for Rock

It was a mere five years ago that the Rimbey Rock were one of the elite teams in the Heritage Junior B Hockey League.

Red Deer Viper Braden Corbett

Red Deer Viper Braden Corbett

Vipers 9 Rock 1

It was a mere five years ago that the Rimbey Rock were one of the elite teams in the Heritage Junior B Hockey League.

Time flies when you’re not having fun. The Rock haven’t been anywhere near the same since that memorable season of 2004-05 when the team finished second in the North Division with a 32-5-2-1 record, and in fact took a year’s leave of absence in 2006.

Rimbey was 4-2 through the first half dozen games of the current campaign, but have struggled big-time ever since.

A 9-1 loss to the host Red Deer Vipers Monday night at the Arena dropped the Rock to 5-18-0-0, but there’s a sense of optimism with the return of head coach Dean Norstrom and general manager Rick Pankiw, both of whom were at the helm of the club during the ‘04-05 season.

Norstrom was absent Monday due to a delay in his return from a holiday in Costa Rica, but first-year assistant coach Tom Shukin confirmed that the club plans on recruiting more aggressively in the near future.

“Definitely, that’s the key. We didn’t start off that strong with our recruitment this season,” he said.

“We (coaching staff) took the reins a little late so we didn’t really get the word out during the summer. We had eight defencemen and 16 forwards come to tryouts, although we did have nine goalies.

“Really, we’re working with a new crew of kids this year. We have a lot of rookies.”

Leading scorer Justin Lawson (8-16-24) is one of three players from Rimbey on the team roster. The remainder of the lineup features six Red Deer players as well as five from Bentley, two from each of Eckville and Sylvan Lake and one from each of Leslieville, Elnora, Ponoka and Spirit River.

“Our strength is not in our Rimbey kids, but we have a real good group of Grade 11 kids coming up so we’re hoping in a few years they’ll help the team out,” said Shukin.

“Of course you really want to shop local and create a team for your own kids, but with small towns there’s an ebb and flow with the kids coming through. And it’s tough right now with pulling kids out of Red Deer when there are such good programs here and in Blackfalds. Those are their first choices in a lot of situations.”

The Rock have seldom been able to dress a full lineup for road games this season.

“A lot of our players work a lot of hard hours and are kind of learning about life as an adult, so all of a sudden we’re missing five or six players for a Friday road game because they can’t get off work,” said Shukin.

“It’s been tough for us on the road that way. We’ve had good turnouts at home and this was like a home game for us tonight with the Red Deer kids. Often when we’re out of town we have three lines and four defencemen, and that’s tough.”

The Vipers led 2-1 after one period Monday, then exploded for five unanswered second-period goals. Patrick Amell recorded a hat trick for the winners, while Maverick Blair and J.D. Morrical each tallied twice and Devon Jonson and David Foord added singles.

Michael MacDonald notched the lone goal for the visitors, who were assessed eight of 11 minor penalties and one of two fighting majors.

Mike Stonehouse turned aside 18 shots in the Red Deer net. Rimbey starter Joel Richard made 31 saves through 40 minutes and Aaron Shukin stopped 24 shots in the third period.

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