Bay Arena atom A team find­ing its groove

Atom A squad hosts home tour­na­ment in Bay Roberts; sends mes­sage to other teams

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER nmercer@cb­n­com­pass.ca

If you watched the Bay Arena mi­nor atom A team at the start of the sea­son, took a break and then watched them again last week you would have been pleasently sur­prised. Coach Rod­ney Mugford has been im­pressed with the progress of his young charges and feels the team is primed to chal­lenge the strong­est atom-aged tal­ent in the prov­ince.

Since the Bay Arena mi­nor atom A team’s first game, coach Rod­ney Mugford has seen a stark im­prove­ment in this squad.

In that game, the Rovers met the Avalon Celtics in an ex­hi­bi­tion con­test. The re­sult was not pretty for Bay Arena.

The Rovers dropped a lop­sided 60 de­ci­sion to the Celtics.

Since then, Mugford and his staff have worked to im­prove the over­all skills of his young charges in Bay Roberts, and the fruits of that labour were seen dur­ing the semi-fi­nals of the Rovers home tour­na­ment at the Bay Arena in Bay Roberts on Dec. 1315.

Bay Arena met those same Celtics in a hotly con­tested match in the cross­over game, with a berth in the fi­nal on the line.

“I don’t think they were ex­pect­ing that. We took them all the way to a shootout,” said Mugford.

The Rovers and Celtics were all knot­ted up at three at the end of reg­u­la­tion. A one-player shootout de­cided the win­ner.

“We were that close to pulling out a big up­set,” said Mugford. “But, it’s like I said to the boys, ‘ Look at how much you’ve im­proved from when we played that same team ear­lier.’”

De­spite the vis­ceral dis­ap­point that must have been preva­lent, Mugford said the tour­na­ment pro­vided a “great mea­sur­ing stick” for the atom A team.

“We can play at that A level,” he said.

Prior to the tour­na­ment, the Rovers had played just three ex­hi­bi­tion games and were still in the learn­ing stages.

The coach has also adopted a more bal­anced of­fen­sive at­tack.

At the be­gin­ning of the sea­son, Mugford placed three of his strong­est for­wards — Daw­son Crane, Damian Laun­dry and Owen Sparkes — on one line.

Since then, these three have split up and evenly dis­trib­uted amongst the other for­wards.

“It bal­anced it out, you know,” said Mugford.

Head­ing into the tour­na­ment, a fo­cus was on find­ing the other team’s de­fence­men in the Rovers’ zone.

“I think they are start­ing to learn their po­si­tions and how to play in their own zone much bet­ter than what they did at the be­gin­ning,” said Mugford. “That’s some­thing we’ve im­proved on, no doubt about it.”

Goal­tend­ing strong

Mugford pointed to his goal­tend­ing as one of the strong­est parts of his team. The Rovers fea­ture a strong tan­dem of keep­ers with Ri­ley Mercer and Kyle Youden be­tween the pipes. Both are ca­pa­ble of steal­ing a game for the team at any mo­ment.

“Ri­ley Mercer played last year and he is out­stand­ing .. and young Kyle Youden, he played atom B last year, and he is af­ter im­prov­ing a lot,” said Mugford.

No pres­sure

For the past cou­ple of sea­sons, Bay Arena atom teams have fea­tured some of the top nine and 10-yearolds in the prov­ince, and these teams have rou­tinely chal­lenged for pro­vin­cial supremacy at the high­est lev­els.

With that, one would think there would be a cer­tain kind of pres­sure in fol­low­ing those teams. How­ever, Mugford is not feel­ing any of that. In fact, that no­tion had not even dawned on him.

“The only pres­sure I feel is try­ing to of­fer the kids as many games as I can,” he said.

This is part of the rea­son Mugford sched­uled his team’s home tour­na­ment be­fore Christ­mas. The hope was he would get in­vi­ta­tions for tour- na­ments back from some of the teams in­vited to the Bay Arena tour­na­ment.

Mugford said he only has one wish for his team ev­ery time they hit the ice.

“I hope they play their best,” he said

Com­pass file photo

Bay Arena mi­nor atom A coach Rod­ney Mugford is shown here run­ning through a drill on the glass at the Bay Arena in Bay Roberts in this Com­pass file photo. Mugford has seen a big dif­fer­ence in this play­ers from the be­gin­ning of sea­son up to last week.

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