Amassing a regular season record of 5-9-8 and a league leading 248 minutes in penalties, the Sharks enter the league playoffs as the 7th seed. Only the top 8 of 10 teams in the division were eligible to play in the next round, so we were pleased to simply earn the spot to begin with. The 7th place finish means we draw the 2nd place squad, against which, as it turns out, we have a quite favourable record of 1-1-1 including a win in our most recent contest just a couple of weeks ago. I’ve told our players I think part of their motivation comes from being haters of my beloved Winnipeg Jets as our competitors wear similarly designed jerseys. I’m all good with using whatever we need, including a little sporting irony.
Adding to the playoff challenge is a second, provincial playdown, series which starts next weekend. This will be a four game, double round robin format against the 1st and 6th place teams in our loop, which are also our closest geographic rivals with plenty of familiar faces to stir our players’ emotions. Some players from both teams even go to school together; an odd juxtaposition created by the lack of territorial restrictions in girls’ competitive hockey in our province. Players I’ve released are on one of these other teams and vice versa. Lots of motivation on all three benches to use and worry about.
Last weekend, we left the country for a little pre-playoff, team building tourney and some cross-border shopping (which may have been the highlight for some of our teen-aged competitors). The team fared well against some admittedly weaker competition winning the first two matches 7-1 and 5-0 respectively. However, we were still faced with a must win in game three against the apparent strongest team in the eight team tourney as only two clubs would advance to a single championship game, knowing one other team had a perfect record as well. A close 2-1 defeat in our third and unfortunately final game meant no fourth or chance to take home a tourney win. But the entire weekend experience was a success on a whole from a team building perspective and served to show the girls their goal scoring potential when they play as a team.
In a few hours, we hit the ice in the first tilt of a best 2 out of 3 series, with game two coming less than 24 hours later. Getting off to a quick start in such a short format is a must. To me, the difference-maker will be motivation and hard work; something our team’s success has hinged on in pretty much every game we’ve played this year. The girls have shown their ability to skate and play with every team we’ve faced to this point. And so, my/our challenge as a coaching staff will be to bring the best out of our players; to get them all on the same page and firing on all cylinders to lean on a couple of oft-used, but oh so appropriate clichés. I think I’ll lean on my previous playoff habit of creating a motivational sign to give our players something to focus on. The pre-game messages will be short and to the point.
If you’ve any last minute advice, I’m all ears.