The Ridge Meadows Flames lost just their second game in 11 outings over the weekend, but worse, they lost a goaltender.
The Flames were upset by the Delta Ice Hawks 5-2 in their regular Friday night home game at Cam Neely Arena, but improved their regular season record to a 9-2 with a 7-6 win in Mission on Saturday.
The loss the team has felt most keenly is goaltender Braedon Fleming, who moves on to the B.C. Hockey League after being picked up by the Langley Rivermen.
“We’re all happy for him,” said Flames head coach Bayne Ryshak.
Fleming and Paul Tucek had formed a formidable tandem, mentioned in every conversation about the Flames hot start to the season in the Pacific Junior Hockey League.
Fleming played five games and posted five wins, two shutouts, a sterling .946 save percentage and a goals against average of 1.78 per game.
The Rivermen were watching Fleming – a Langley resident who played with the junior A club last season as an affiliate player.
Tucek had been putting up numbers almost identically impressive to his rookie crease counterpart, until the past two games.
General manager Jamie Fiset said the entire team shared the blame for the Friday loss.
“The best way to characterize the whole game is we weren’t on. We never really settled into a rhythm, never really played our game,” said Fiset. “Everybody came out and played a six-out-10 game.”
Veteran forwards Bradley Crompton and Andrew Strelezki both scored for Ridge.
Tucek allowed five goals on 32 shots and was pulled with 13 minutes left, making way for affiliate player Chad Cromar out of Mission, who stopped all five shots he faced.
The Flames badly outshot Mission 44-22, but the score in their win was a one-goal differential of 7-6.
Fiset said that’s because the Flames were giving up odd-man rushes and breakaways.
According to the Flames stats, he said, the Flames had 15 good scoring chances on their 44 shots. But the Outlaws had 12 prime scoring chances on just 22 shots, and managed to convert half of them.
“Every chance we gave up was a prime scoring chance,” he said.
He said the Flames got up 5-2 late in the second period, and through they were going to cruise.
“We got up and got complacent. There’s still room for improvement,” he said.
The game was tied 6-6 until Crompton got the game winner with 1:45 left to play. That was his second goal and third point of the contest.
Ryan Wellburn had a goal and an assist, and Strelezki, Galbraith, Alex Furlan and Ryan MacDonald also scored.
Fiset said teams are measuring themselves against the Flames, because they have been the best through the first quarter of the season.
“We have a big target on us.”
The weekend scoring gives Crompton eight goals and 17 points, which is good for third in league scoring. Stelezki is right behind him, with one fewer assists.
The Flames were up against a hometown boy in net, as Matthew Trulsen is a rookie with the Outlaws, and made 37 saves on 44 shots.
Fiset said he is exploring trades and other options to replace his departed goaltender, and plans to have a backup on the roster by Friday.
“At this point, we’re looking for the best fit. I’m looking for the guy who is going to be the best fit with Paul,” he said.
Ryshak said Tucek probably wanted a couple goals back from the weekend’s play, but bad goals happen to every goaltender.
“We’re confident in him, he’s going to be fine. He’s our guy.”