In their first home game in nearly a month, the Border Bruins ran rampant over the Spokane Braves, taking the Dec. 6 game handily by a score of 6-1. With five minutes left in the third, home fans were wishing Spokane a comfortable journey south, chanting “Warm up the bus!”
After he potted the team’s fifth of the night, forward Josh Garlough-Bell didn’t give in to the taunts from the opposition, instead just taking off a glove to stretch out all five fingers – 5-1. It was a reaction of confidence, and a sign that some swagger was returning to the black and gold’s dressing room.
Even though they would go on to lose the next night, falling 8-6 away to the Beaver Valley Nitehawks, the weekend surge in scoring was a strong reaction from the Border Bruins to what had been a rather dreary one-month road trip.
Before last Friday’s game, the last home fans saw of the Grand Forks Border Bruins, starting goalie Shane Zilka was laying on his back, alone in his crease, defeated after conceding an overtime goal against the 100 Mile House Wranglers on Nov. 8. It was a sucker punch to fans and those who’ve watched Zilka in action – the goaltender is normally dancing to the music between whistles and leaning half his body over the bench gate when his colleague Dillon Beebe’s between the pipes, urging his team forward.
“He made some big saves in that game and let us get to overtime,” said captain Liam Stalwick, who led his teammates off the bench after the early November loss to circle the still Zilka and rally the goaltender back to his feet. Stalwick said the team felt like they’d let their goalie down.
It was the team’s third-straight loss and their last home game before setting out on an extended six-game road trip. November battered the Border Bruins, handing them 10 losses in 12 games, a spate of injuries and gut punches to morale.
“It’s been a long month,” said head coach John Clewlow before the team’s Dec. 6 home game against the Spokane Braves. “Long and horrible.”
Stomach flus and a rash of injuries seemed to pick players off the bus with each long, tense and quiet ride home to Grand Forks after each loss.
Though the sophomore coach had hoped the team’s Nov. 29 4-3 win in Invermere would be a turning point for the team, he saw his team fall back into a slump the next night in Fernie, where they fell by five goals and lost Clewlow’s go-to motivator on the bench.
Captain Liam Stalwick dislocated his shoulder – a season-ending injury for the 20-year-old. Losing the Red Deer native means losing yet another strong forward in quick succession – Border Bruins season leading scorer Nathan Cohen-Wallis was traded to the Revelstoke Grizzlies late in November, a tough be necessary move to shake up the line-up, Clewlow said.
“The only way to improve your team is to move your good players,” the coach said. “You can’t move a bottom and player and receive an all-star back.”
So instead, he traded a player in his last year in the league for two younger ones. One, Kyle Bailey, notched three assists in his first two games as a Border Bruin. Seventeen-year-old Kasey Jackson, who Clewlow recently picked up from Osoyoos, tallied a pair of helpers over his debut weekend.
Meanwhile, Corbin Maxfield, a new d-man from Kamloops, also got an assist. All three new additions are over six feet tall, adding some size to the Border Bruins lineup too. (Though, while Maxfield may be the same height as Stalwick, he’s a good 60 pounds lighter, as shown by his baggy spandex hockey socks that were cinched tight with tape at his knees and ankles during his debut).
Off the ice, Stalwick said he still plans on finding other ways to have an impact on his team’s games, as they push to add a few more wins before the Christmas break.
“I was the captain, the guys voted for me,” he said, “so I think if I can stay around and try and help be a voice off the ice and on the ice, if I can come skate at practices and just stay around the boys and try keeping positive all the time, it’ll help the team a lot.”