CeeBee Stars gearing up for second half
If you were to categorize the season for the Eastlink CeeBee Stars heading into the Christmas break, one phrase comes to mind — middle of the road.
The CeeBees (4-9-1) have not been bad, but they haven’t set the Newfoundland Senior Hockey League on fire either. The team has been in the middle. Heading into the second half of the season, the CeeBees sit tied for last place in the six-team league with the Gander Flyers.
“It’s not the start we wanted,” said coach Peter George.
Expectations were running high for the Harbour Grace franchise. It was coming off a miracle championship run to the Herder Memorial Trophy after a dismal regular season in 2012-13.
However, a public call for fan support nearly ended the season before it began.
But, the remainder of the fans would come around and the CeeBees started the season splitting its opening weekend with the Mount Pearl Blades
That was followed up with a fourgame slide, dropping series’ to the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts and the Western Royals.
Since then, the club has been unequivocally even keeled. The CeeBees split a series with the Gander Flyers and twice with the Clarenville Caribous early in the season before collecting just a single point in the first half home-and-home finale with the Mount Pearl Blades.
“Between just a new team and lineup changes, and trying to get the team to come together and gel, it’s been a process,” said George. “We’ve been happy with the buy in.”
At times the CeeBees have played strong, competitive hockey, while others have seen the team outmatched.
It has been common for the team to win a close game one night and then drop the next contest by two or three goals.
This lends itself to another storyline from the season’s first half — playing with a short bench.
It has not been out of the question to walk into the S.W. Moores Memorial Stadium in Harbour Grace and see 14 or 15 players suited up for the night’s action.
The team has been dealing with some significant injuries to defenceman Fred Earle and forward Cody Roach, which has limited the number of players available to the team.
“It’s frustrating, certainly from a coaching standpoint,” said George. “You want to put the best five on the ice that you can to try and win hockey games.
“It’s not only for the coaches, it’s for the players too. You feel for them. They’re working as hard as they can, and you can see, in some games they just run out of gas.”
Work commitments have also played a part for players such as Donnie Gosse, Doug O’Brien and Wes Welcher.
“We haven’t been able to put a full line-up on the ice,” said George.
Getting back to full strength
The final series with Mount Pearl saw the return of a number of pieces that will play huge roles in the second half.
Earle made his return to the lineup, while defencemen Brad Yetman and Donnie Gosse played their first games of the season.
“(Earle) wasn’t 100 per cent but he strengthens our back end,” said George.
He highlighted the return of Gosse as an integral piece to the puzzle going forward.
“His presence back there is a big part of our team,” said George. “Getting all of these guys in the lineup on the same night for a two-game weekend is something we look forward to.”
Despite the sub .500 record, there have been bright spots for the CeeBees.
Second- year forward Jordan Escott is third in league scoring with 22 points, while captain Mike Dyke has been his usual, dependable self. Dyke has paired with defenceman Tyler Gale to form a strong combination on the back end.
The pair sit in the top-10 in blueline scoring, while Doug O’Brien sits just outside that point bracket.
“The overall game has been good,” said George. “Our special teams, as well, have been a pleasant surprise. We haven’t had a lot of trouble scoring on the power play.”
The coach also pointed to a strong penalty kill as one of the bright spots from the first half of the season.
“That part is going well,” said George.
Officials with the club feel the team is starting to turn a corner heading into the second half of the season.
“The team is coming together,” said George.
The CeeBees are back in action on the weekend of Jan. 3-4 in a homeand-home series with the Blades. The next home game is Jan. 4 with puck drop scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
“Getting all of these guys in the lineup on the same night for a two-game weekend is something we look forward to.” — Peter George
CeeBees goaltender Joey Perricone flashes some leather in the final weekend of the first half of the Newfoundland Senior Hockey League season at the S.W. Moores Memorial Stadium in Harbour Grace on Dec. 14.