Ju­nior Fly­ers look to get things go­ing

The Compass - - SPORTS - BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER nmercer@cb­n­com­pass.ca

The Trin­ity-Pla­cen­tia Ju­nior Fly­ers started the New Year on the right foot last week.

The team shutout the vis­it­ing Mount Pearl Wild 2-0 on Jan. 4 at the Trin­ity-Pla­cen­tia Sta­dium in Whit­bourne to earn a big two points. Dy­lan Cook and Con­nor Stevens pro­vided the of­fence while Coady Ed­wards stopped all 22 of the shots he faced in goal.

For the Fly­ers, it was their first win in their last five games and im­proved their record to nine wins, nine losses and one shootout loss through 19 games. That left them with 19 points and fifth place in the eight-team St. John’s Ju­nior Hockey League prior to ac­tion this past week­end.

The Fly­ers are lumped in with the CBN Ju­nior Stars and the South­ern Shore Break­ers in the mid­dle of the eight-team league. A sin­gle point sep­a­rated them from the fourth place Stars, while they were lead­ing the Break­ers by four points.

“It’s pretty even there in the mid­dle,” said Fly­ers coach Eu­gene Hutch­ings. “There is not much of a break be­tween us.”

Con­sis­tency will be the big key for the team mov­ing into the fi­nal nine games of the reg­u­lar sea­son. The team used 29 dif­fer­ent play­ers prior to the Christ­mas break, the sec­ond most in the league.

The team has used a lot of dif­fer­ent line com­bi­na­tions, and there’s been a steep learn­ing curve for some of the younger play­ers.

“I used a lot of mid­get-aged play­ers be­fore Christ­mas,” said Hutch­ings. “I’d say they played more ju­nior hockey then they played mid­get hockey.”

With hopes of a ic­ing a con­sis­tent lineup in 2015, the coach is not shy about his ex­pec­ta­tions for the re­main­ing nine games.

“I think we can win at least six of our next nine games,” Hutch­ings told The Com­pass last week. “That will give us a good run up to the play­offs.

“I’m hop­ing we’re go­ing to get out of the first round of the play­offs.”

For this to hap­pen, the coach will need “his lead­ers to be lead­ers” and for the team to start play­ing the way it did when the Fly­ers started the sea­son with four wins in its first five games.

The Fly­ers looked to con­tinue build­ing sec­ond-half mo­men­tum last week­end in a pair of games with the Stars and the CBR Rene­gades (re­sults were not known prior to dead­line).

Jump­start­ing the of­fence

If the Fly­ers want to make a jump in the stand­ings, one way to do is to find a way to kick­start their of­fence.

The team has av­er­aged a pal­try 3.3 goals per game this sea­son, which is good for 63 through 19 games. That puts them sec­ond from the bot­tom in the league.

“Get­ting the team back will be a big help to the of­fence,” said Hutch­ings.

Of­fen­sively, the team is led by Con­nor Stevens, who has 20 points (11 goals, nine as­sists) on the sea­son. He is fol­lowed by rookie and for­mer provin­cial ma­jor mid­get stand­out Jor­dan Richards (14 pts) and Jor­dan Mercer (12 pts).

The Fly­ers have strug­gled de­fen­sively in the first half of the sea­son. The team has al­lowed 85 goals through its first 19 games.

That is a 4.47 goals a game clip for a team look­ing to push it­self into the top-4 of the St. John’s-based league.

Get­ting bet­ter for the Fly­ers means tight­en­ing up their de­fen­sive zone cov­er­age and mak­ing sure that first break­out is spot on.

“Mak­ing that first break­out pass means you’re go­ing to other way with the puck,” said Hutch­ings.

Get­ting strong in goal

When teams come back down to earth after a hot start, it is usu­ally the back end where you see it the most.

That means the goal­tend­ing has slipped a lit­tle, along with the play in front of them. Still, the tan­dem of Coady Ed­wards and Conor Thomp­son has been solid for the Fly­ers. The pair have sim­i­lar num­bers through 19 games.

Ed­wards has a 5-6 record with a GAA of 4.23 and an .880 save per­cent­age, while Thomp­son has a record of four wins and four losses with a 4.55 GAA and a .890 save per­cent­age.

“I’d like to see them get back to the way they were play­ing at the be­gin­ning of the year,” said Hutch­ings. “We’ll be al­right.”

The team is next in ac­tion Jan. 18 when they wel­come the North­east Celtics to the Trin­ity-Pla­cen­tia Sta­dium in Whit­bourne. The game is sched­uled for an early af­ter­noon start with puck drop set for 2:30 p.m.

Trin­ity Pla­cen­tia Fly­ers de­fence­man Josh St. George (right) is checked by CBN Ju­nior Stars for­ward Philip Rus­sell in this Com­pass file photo.

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