‘On the outside looking in’
One-third into the season, Crushers in unfamiliar terrain
They’ve lost six of their past seven, are three games under .500 and outside a playoff position.
Just 19 months removed from a Maritime Hockey League title and having never missed the playoffs in their 13-year history, it’s not what the Junior A Crushers — and their fans – are accustomed to.
“We are in a situation that is unfamiliar to us, as an organization,” general manager/assistant coach Chad McDavid said, with his team in the midst of a six-day break before they welcome the Miramichi Timberwolves to the Pictou County Wellness Centre on Thursday.
The Crushers are five points back of the Truro Bearcats, who are in the final playoff spot of the South Division.
“We are not usually on the outside looking in come mid-November. If we can’t find a way to turn this thing around in the next month or so, we’ll have to re-evaluate.”
All teams deal with injury, but when the Crushers lost defenceman Marc Gagnon in late October, it was a tough loss: coincidentally or not, the losing started when Gagnon went down with an upper body issue.
“Marc was arguably our best player until he was injured and he ate up a lot of minutes on our blueline. He played in all situations,” McDavid said.
The injury, which may keep Gagnon out for another five weeks, forced other defencemen on the roster to take on additional workloads. McDavid added that the team has been inconsistent this season, attributing that in part to all the new faces.
“Sometimes when that happens, when half your team is new to the league — or the area — it takes time for guys to get comfortable and to gel (but) our back end, as a group, are getting better every day.”
Coach Doug Doull said it’s not a matter of the Crushers getting dominated on most nights. “We’re not getting outplayed for long stretches of time, but we’re breaking down in spots and can’t find the will to claw back. We are like that eager little puppy that shakes and tears at things and then lets go, unlike the old dog who bites and holds.”
The next several weeks will determine a lot about the Crushers, and whether they’ll be buyers or sellers (perhaps neither) as the Jan. 10 trade deadline approaches.
“We’ve got to start winning some of these games if we want to be in a place where we can add pieces at the deadline,” said McDavid, who acknowledged that if the Crushers look to be out of the playoff race when January arrives, “my phone will be ringing off the hook,” with phone calls from other teams looking to add veteran help.
■ Captain Michael Dill, the MHL scoring champion last season, hasn’t had a multi-point game since Sept. 28, which was 13 games ago.
Coach’s Take: “Dill’s forcing things, in my opinion, and that’s the sign of a frustrated hockey player.”
■ The Crushers have only one player averaging a point per game this season (Jacob Hickey has 8G, 10A in 18 games) and have been out-scored 31-15 in their past seven. Dylan Riley has come on of late, but last season’s rookie of the year still has only six goals.
Coach’s Take: “We have a young team, but some veterans would tell you they would have liked to have contributed more to this point.”
Forward Jacob Hickey is shown in the Crushers’ 5-2 loss last Thursday to the Summerside Western Capitals.