Bay Arena atom A team finding its groove
Atom A squad hosts home tournament in Bay Roberts; sends message to other teams
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.”
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.
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
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.