While several Prince Albert hockey clubs are still in the midst of playoff battles, the Icehawks have been on the sidelines for more than a month and have had ample time to analyze a season that was wrought with frustration.
The Icehawks were dead last in the Prairie Junior Hockey League after posting just five wins in 40 games including a 19-game losing streak to end the season. In fact, the club never picked up a victory after the Christmas break which ultimately meant the playoffs were not in the cards.
“We went into the year with a very young team,” explained Icehawks general manager Al Pasloski recently. “We have to chalk it up to total inexperience.”
“Vets we were counting on to come back went a different direction,” added Pasloski who also noted that trades never worked out and that other variables such as school and jobs took precedent over hockey for some of the players. “We played most of the year shorthanded. We have to pick a team that is more committed; the ones that did show up had to carry the load.”
In several games down the stretch the Icehawks had as few as 10 skaters for games and in those matches they would have the early lead, but simply run out of gas by the third period.
One player that did benefit from the added ice time was 18-year-old rookie Brett Boyer who scored 25 times and added 17 assists in just 34 games. Boyer ended up being the runner-up in rookie-of-the-year balloting for the league.
Goaltenders Tyler Gordon and Jayden Rieben also gained valuable experience, maybe even more than they bargained for, as the duo faced 1865 shots over the course of the season.
It was also a season for learning for head coach Kim Dryka who was running the team for the first time after spending many years at the minor hockey level.
“Going from midget to junior was a real eye-opener for him,” said Pasloski.
Dryka will be back with the club next year and so are several of the players who were committed to the team. Therein lies a small problem as league rules allow just two overage players and the Icehawks have four to choose from. Dane Madsen, Bryce Nemish, Ryley Lajeunesse and Lyndon Arcand are all eligible to return so some tough decisions will have to be made.
Pasloski says that in addition to rejuvenating his team he will be working closely in trying to get the PJHL more exposure as he feels that the league should be considered a stepping stone to Junior A and not a final resting place for players who are winding down their junior careers.
“The league has worked hard to clean up its image,” explains Pasloski. “It was the first year for suspensions for fighting and they are not tolerating any checking from behind.”
“They might try a Showcase Tournament,” added Pasloski who referenced a tournament in Minnesota that started out with little interest but has blossomed into a scouting Mecca. “We have to work harder at getting our kids more prepared to get to higher levels.”
Pasloski knows that all starts with having a more competitive team and adhering to their policy of icing a local and regional team the coaching staff plans to spend more time recruiting players, starting at the bantam level. They also want to establish a better affiliation list so that when they are shortstaffed they don’t have to endure the consequences they suffered through this year.
It is going to be a long summer, but the Icehawks plan to be much better next year. Time will only tell and they have lots of that to get ready.