FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – The 6 – 0 – 0 Fort St. John Huskies are not willing to take their foot off the gas pedal as they prepare for a pair of weekend games against Sexsmith and Fairview.
The final two games before the Huskies start welcoming fans into the North Peace Arena will offer coach Todd Alexander a second look at teams that they faced weeks ago. The Huskies have beaten every NWJHL opponent once, and they’ve bested their B.C. rival Dawson Creek Kodiaks twice.
Overall, coach Alexander says the games have been tightly contested.
“We’ve played everybody fairly tight. There haven’t been many runaway games by any means. It appears that everybody’s got pretty good goaltending,” said Alexander. “Some of the teams were missing some key players when we played them, some nights we were missing key players too, but the show goes on.”
The Huskies style of play is sometimes imitated but rarely duplicated.
“I think the style of play that we play is different from a lot of the other teams in our league, but they play similar games. It’s interesting that way. So we approach the week depending on how it all lines up. Sometimes, you don’t want to make too many adjustments because the style some teams play is just so close. That does help us out a little bit in preparing and getting ready for the weekend.”
Alexander has been pushing team discipline on his players from the way they approach training, practise and how well they stick to their systems in games. So far, so good.
“Our habits are always a work in progress. In practise, we’ll stop a drill just to make sure that we’re not getting into a habit of not finishing off a drill, taking a lazy angle or turning a certain way. If you do it too many times in practise, all of a sudden it shows up in a game. Our discipline has been coming along. We’ve still had our moments, and we always will. None of us are perfect, including myself.”
By hounding his players about details and discipline now, he can focus his attention on tactics later in the year.
“These are the things that we’re heavy on right now so that, when we get to those situations later on in the year, we don’t have to think about it, we can worry about set plays and finding weaknesses in our opponent.”
After six games, the Huskies’ powerplay has performed better than the stats show, but they are scoring on 23 per cent of their opportunities. Combine that with a penalty kill percentage of 77 per cent, and special teams are looking good. Two things make great penalty killers, says Alexander.
“Faceoffs are a big part of that, we’re sitting at about 69.5 per cent, and goaltending has been pretty good too. That’s obviously your best penalty killer, your goalie, and with our tandem, we’re hovering at about the .900 mark [for save percentage].”
Alexander says he’s happy with his powerplay units and how they manage to create sustained pressure and momentum, even if they don’t get rewarded.
“It’s not as easy as it looks, it takes a lot of reps, and we’ll just continue to give the special teams the amount of time that it needs. I do see some really good things growing within it. At the end of the day, if your powerplay gets in there, has great zone time, it creates momentum for you. There have been a lot of times where we haven’t been rewarded on the stat sheet, but we’ve been rewarded right after the powerplay because of the pressure that we put on the other club.”
Five out of the six games have been decided by one goal, something that Alexander says builds character.
“Lots of these games, even though they’ve been one-goal games, they just don’t feel like a one-goal game. We’ve had lots of puck possession time, we’ve had lots of scoring opportunities, and we haven’t been giving up much. There’s nothing wrong with having to play in these one-goal games because it builds a lot of character and you learn a lot about your hockey club. I haven’t seen any panic with these guys. We just continue to focus on ourselves and pay attention to the things we need to do to be successful.”
If he had to choose one zone where the Huskies could improve, Alexander says he wants to continue seeing progress in the offensive zone.
“We can definitely spread the defense in the zone a little better and get our east-west game going down low a little bit. There are still great things going on there, but I want to continue to grow in the offensive zone.”
The Huskies will face off against the Sundown Oilfield Sexsmith Vipers at 8 p.m. on Friday, and on Saturday, they take on the Fairview Flyers.