Don’t write the Slave Lake Icedogs off just yet. As reported earlier the junior team was playing with a skeleton crew after losing several players last month. And lately they’ve been getting walloped all over the ice by the High Prairie Red Wings.
That happened again – although a bit less severely – in a Wednesday game (played in Enoch), that ended 7 – 2 for the Red Wings.
But then a kind of turnaround: A come-from-behind 5 – 4 win over the Northern Alberta Tomahawks (Enoch) on Friday, followed by a 10 – 4 victory over the same team in High Prairie on Saturday night.
All this with just seven forwards and four defencemen. Or less, given that a couple of injuries happened in the course of those three games.
Head coach Gregg Kennedy figures conditioning was a factor in the Icedogs’ success; that, and the fact that team play is starting to improve.
“Other teams were ahead of us tactically,” he said. “But conditioning was not a problem for us.”
Kennedy says this came into play in a big way in Saturday’s 10 – 4 win. The game took place less than 24 hours after the Friday game in Enoch, and his players seemed fitter and the other guys more tired. Kennedy credits the long winter of not enough team practicing, but lots of working out.
The turnaround happened sometime in the Friday game in Enoch. The Icedogs were out-playing the Tomahawks, Kennedy says, but trailing on the scoreboard. His between-periods pep talk was something along the lines of: ‘We’re trailing by one, but we’ve got them right where we want them.’ Sure enough, less than a minute into the third, the ‘Dogs’ Jonathan Giancotti scored to tie it, and three minutes later Daniel Gosselin put them ahead. Rhys Bremner’s empty-netter proved to be the winner. Also scoring for Slave Lake were Matthew Brousseau and Justice Shillingford-Borges.
Saturday’s game score is mis-reported as an Enoch win on the league website, Kennedy says. It went emphatically in Slave Lake’s favour. The scoring stats were not posted by press time, but according to the coach, Shillingford-Borges had three goals and two assists, Brousseau, Giancotti and Tyson Lambert each scored two, Griffin Thiessen scored once and Bremner had five assists.
In the Wednesday loss to High Prairie, Kyler Roy and Thiessen were the Slave Lake goal-scorers. John Burbridge faced 49 shots in the Slave Lake net in the loss.
Looking forward, the Icedogs play High Prairie on Wednesday, May 5 in Enoch. Friday, May 7 they tangle with Fox Creek in High Prairie. The two teams get back at it Saturday afternoon in High Prairie. Fox Creek, having lost its home ice, is now also calling High Prairie home for the duration.
The Icedogs’ final regular season game is May 12, again vs. Fox Creek. Playoffs begin May 14, Kennedy says. As things stand, it will be Slave Lake vs. The NA Tomahawks in a best-of-three first round. High Prairie and Fox Creek will play in the other semi-final series.
Kennedy isn’t sure if the final series will be best-of-five or best-of-seven, “but the plan is to be done by the end of May.”
Asked if it’s possible to pick up any more skaters before the playoffs start, Kennedy says “we’ve reached out to a couple of the guys who left,” and it’s possible some may show up to play a few more games.
That would certainly come in handy; the margin of error is very small when you only have 11 skaters. But those 11, it appears, have turned a corner and are heading in a good direction. It all starts with the effort they are putting in, says the coach.
“The kids work hard,” he says.