With six games in the books, the Canterbury Red Devils find themselves in a position they would rather not be in again and that’s on the outside looking in.
As the Devils took on the defending champions this past weekend, the Skycity Stampede had all the signs of a champion knocking the rust off for another run. Matt Schneider and crew were held within reason for the first two periods of each game, but then the third periods occurred – allowing a disastrous ten on Saturday, four on Sunday.
Any time you are involved with a sports club, you find out early on that nothing happens in isolation. Positively or negatively, things affect other things. The Red Devils had a confluence of events that ended up sinking the weekend’s efforts.
The commitment to the 3-man forecheck was steadfast through most of the weekend and crucial to the Stampede’s success. Unable to pass or skate the puck out of their own zone, the Devils gave up turnover after turnover deep in their defensive end. The result was obvious – high conversion rates for the Stampede.
The Queenstown-based club didn’t have significantly more chances, they had better chances and stronger possession.
After going down 6-0, head coach Anatoly Khorozov switched to the young prospect Finley Forbes in net, having pulled starter Jonas Barakauskas. This gave Forbes a chance to make some positive saves, including one stretch save in particular that he had no business making. For the most part, it was about getting some much-needed experience, and that he did. So that was positive, and then there was the other ‘positive’, namely a punch-up between Vladislavs Balakuns and the Stampede’s Thomas Carson-Pratt.
Nearing the end of Saturday’s blowout, Balakuns’ frustration boiled over and the import decided to do what many annoyed hockey players have done – fight and get a momentum swing for the next day. Well, it always sounds better than it actually is. Maybe he just wanted his Sunday off, because they would of course receive their one game suspension under IIHF/NZIHL rules. However the true cost is much longer – Balakuns is out 4-6 weeks with a broken hand according to Red Devils management.
The Red Devils goal differential took a hammering too, with 14-2 and 10-3 defeats to the defending champions they now find themselves dropping from third to fifth in the standings. While not a moment of panic yet, the panic button is now visible and the safety is being removed.
The bright side is that the schedule seems to play into their favour with two weekends off in a row due to the scheduling around the 2018 Ice Hockey Classic – plenty of time to get things right again . Their next opponents will be the two Auckland clubs currently sitting 1-2 in the standings.
It’s a simple formula for the Red Devils this year. If they can transition more effectively out of the defensive end, they will get odd-man rushes against aggressive forechecking. Thus far, the offense has been no worse than average, although they may want to look at the performance of their special teams.
The problem is that if those chances are not created, they’ll never catch up against the teams that are physically bigger. The Devils have talent in areas that can easily make up for not being the biggest club on the ice, but those advantages can only pay off if you’re on the right end of the ice.
Main photo: Josh Fraser