CeeBee Stars gear­ing up for sec­ond half

The Compass - - SPORTS - BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER

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.”

Strong points

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.

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