Weeks Crushers head coach Jason Malone, right, and Truro Bearcats head coach Shawn Evans shake hands after Game 4 of the Eastlink Division final on April 6. Truro defeated the Crushers in four straight games to advance to the MHL final.
NEW GLASGOW – It has been just over a week since the Weeks Crushers season ended with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Truro Bearcats – it still stings a little.
After losing the opening three games of the Eastlink Division final, Pictou County had their backs against the wall in a must-win situation in Game 4 on April 6. Tying the game in the third period they forced overtime, but it was all for not. Daniel Poliziani scored with 2:32 remaining in the first 10-minute overtime period to put the nail in the coffin.
“I felt like we played well in Game 3 and Game 4, but at the same time when you put yourself in that hole and you can’t come out with an effort and result in Game 3, you’re scrapping and clawing for anything positive at that point,” said Crushers head coach Jason Malone. “Unfortunately our group just wasn’t able to get it done.”
Pictou County’s goal this season was Kent Cup or bust, so to speak. With an experienced, returning roster and ten 20-year-olds, it doesn’t take a hockey expert to realize this was a big year for the junior A squad. This was a three-year building process meant to put the organization in a position to make a championship run.
Malone said it wasn’t pressure that led to the final results in the division final, although they did notice the effects it had on certain players.
“Pressure is an interesting thing,” he said. “Some people love it and other people can’t handle it. I think we saw the results of that this year, where some players thrived with it and others didn’t deal with it very well.”
Looking back on the season and trying to evaluate what went wrong, or where it went wrong, has been tough for the P.E.I. native. In his fourth season with the team he said both he and the organization were confident in the players they had in the lineup each night, but that when they doubted themselves slightly it didn’t go well.
“The mental side of the game is where we lacked this year and looking back we had such a great start to the season and the expectations were being met,” said Malone. “Once there was a little seed of doubt that was planted and we lost two or three games in a row it really seemed like it began to spiral and it’s tough to continue to say and preach the same things when you know you have a good hockey club and you’ve seen them perform at a high level.”
Further to his point about struggling to deal with doubts, Malone said they knew they would have to beat Truro to win their division and their game plan had to be executed perfectly for them to be successful.
“Again, when that seed was planted it seemed like it spun out of control and it goes to the coaching staff and the players in the room that it wasn’t dealt with properly and unfortunately I feel that was part of our season ending early.”
Another dynamic, which Malone understands to have been a major topic of discussion, was being able to only dress nine 20-year-olds per game while having 10 on their roster.
For most of the season Tyler Doyle was expected to be the odd man out, but in January was given an opportunity to step back into the lineup when David Stephens went down with a lower-body injury. It was when Doyle was out of the lineup that fans and team supporters tended to voice their displeasure with Malone and the coaching staff.
He missed 11 regular season games and all but one playoff game.
“It was extremely hard,” said Malone. “From outsiders looking in I don’t blame them (for being upset). I know what Tyler brings to the table and I know what he is capable of. It was also understood between us and the staff and the players that Tyler was our tenth 20-year-old. That was a result of a combination of things. You look at while we were coming down the stretch Tyler was in the lineup and the team wasn’t performing at a level that we were happy with, and Tyler was playing inconsistent hockey.”
This decision is something that Malone felt Doyle struggled with, as well as the coaching staff.
“People probably assume that was easy for us, but it definitely wasn’t,” he said. “The amount of sleep that I lost over decisions to keep Tyler out of the lineup was a lot, but at the same time we’re trying to do what was best for our club and the nine 20s we had in the lineup we felt were the best ones to give us a chance to win game in and game out.”
Dealing with backlash from upset fans over Doyle being out of the lineup and the team falling short of their goal hasn’t changed any future plans for Malone. He still has two years left on his contract with the Weeks Hockey Organization and expects to get right back to work preparing for next season.
“I can understand it, it’s a performance type of sport and you’re expected to get the results,” said Malone. “We didn’t get the results that we wanted this year and part of the blame goes on my shoulders and our staff’s shoulders. With that being said the organization has full confidence in myself and the staff that we brought in to ice a good product year in and year out.
“As it stands right now I know I have the confidence of our board and our organization and I’m going to continue to do my job until I’m told otherwise.”
Before he does get 100 per cent focused on draft preparations he said he’s focused on spending time with his wife MaryBeth outside of a hockey rink. The couple got married in December, meaning they haven’t had much time together away from hockey since the wedding.
“(Right now) she comes first, family comes first and we’re going to make sure I’m spending some quality time with her and from there obviously we look at the draft and make sure we’re icing a product we’re happy with and are getting a camp in a few months that we’re satisfied with,” he said.
“That (preparing for the draft) has obviously started, but first and foremost I’m looking after family first right now.”
Being focused on the product on the ice primarily, Malone doesn’t deal directly with making the Crushers game day work the way it does in the stands. He said things wouldn’t run so well without the volunteers.
“Getting back to what I said about family, I truly appreciate everything that our volunteers have done this season,” he said. “I think it’s time for them to spend some time with their families. We understand it’s a rigorous routine on Thursday nights here for them to perform their duties. Just from myself, the staff and the organization, the job that they do is second to none. We have the best volunteer base in the league and without them we don’t know where we’d be as an organization.”
On Twitter: @NGNewsChris