By Tyler King
Hockey coaches don’t try to sound like broken records; but at the junior level, sometimes it’s necessary to hammer home the same point repeatedly until the message is received.
When the Fort McMurray Oil Barons have struggled, the refrain from head coach Gord Thibodeau has frequently been similar; the team lacked on-ice communication, and lacked a full team effort.
Following up an incredibly strong 2-0 shutout win over the league’s top-ranked team, the Spruce Grove Saints, the Barons played from behind consistently in an eventual 4-3 shootout loss to the Sherwood Park Crusaders on Sunday afternoon.
“We go from a great effort last night, to – I don’t know what the heck we were doing tonight, to be honest,” said Thibodeau. “We gave up three three-on-twos in the last minute and a half of a 3-3 game. Just absolutely selfish hockey, and it cost us a point.”
The silver lining for the team remains its overall skill and ability to generate scoring chances. The team was never out of the Sunday afternoon game; it merely had consistent trouble finishing the chances it was generating, particularly in the extra frame before the shootout.
“You can’t look at the overtime; if we had played 60 minutes like we had played the first 17 of the third, we wouldn’t have been in that position,” Thibodeau added. “We certainly weren’t very good in the first 40 minutes. Once again, very individual. No communication at all, no help, and subsequently you don’t beat good teams with that.”
While the team’s ability to battle back from two separate one-goal deficits in the third period showed a tenacity that will serve it well come the post-season, the overall concern still remained the main issue for the head coach.
“It comes back to the same thing; you win games as a group,” Thibodeau said. “You help each other out, you make plays, and tonight we didn’t play as a group. A lot of solo rushes, individual stuff, and that’s not good enough to get it done this time of the year. That might win you games in October; it doesn’t win you games in February and March.”
Without naming names, Thibodeau didn’t hesitate in casting his critical gaze in a particular direction.
“Your so-called leaders and best players are supposed to be the ones setting the example, and we certainly didn’t get that tonight,” he said.
The coach’s response was balanced, however, as he didn’t project the team needing to beat itself up for an extended period of time based on a single tough home ice performance.
“You don’t pat yourself on the back for too long after you win; you certainly don’t get down in the dumps for too long after you lose,” said Thibodeau. “That’s the nature of the game; you’ve got to bounce back. You’ve got to forget this quickly.”
Now, the team focuses on a regular season-ending road trip to Lloydminster to take on a very tenacious Bobcats squad and try to maintain a chance at a first-round bye in the playoffs.
“We’ve struggled here since Christmas, and a large part of that is just our refusal to play as a group,” the coach re-emphasized. “If we don’t figure that out, you’re going to have a tough time winning. We were very individual, we were very selfish, we just didn’t make a lot of smart decisions defensively. It’s definitely a concern and a frustration.”
As it stands, the most likely scenario for the MOB is a first-round matchup against the Drayton Valley Thunder; but if the core concerns of the coaching staff aren’t addressed, it’s unlikely the opponent will be the bench boss’s biggest challenge.
Follow me on Twitter @tyler_king