It has been a cold December for the Junior Canucks who are winless in four games this month, while things aren’t about to get any easier with one game left before the Christmas break.
The Junior C’s are in Grande Prairie on Thursday to meet the Kings, who trail North Peace by a point for first place in the North West Junior Hockey League (NWJHL).
Following Dawson Creek’s loss to Fort St. John on Saturday at Memorial Arena, Canuck’s head coach Eric Fulton said his squad isn’t playing with the desperation they need to bust out of a slump.
“There is no sense of urgency on this bench and it bugs me, because when you play this game every shift is important – we’ll play good for eight [shifts] and two we’ll have bad ones. You can have bad shifts but not to the point where the puck is in the back of your net every time,” stressed Fulton, who said Canucks’ players could expect to be well acquainted with the ice this week prior to Thursday’s matchup.
“I think we need to inject some work ethic, if it isn’t there already we’ll have to inject it in them somehow,” said Fulton.
In December, the Canucks dropped a game to Slave Lake – who are now in third place eight points ahead of the Canucks – and fell to Beaverlodge, Fairview and Fort St. John, teams that trail Dawson Creek in the standings.
Fulton agreed that one of the main issues for the Canucks right now is their inability to put the puck in the net.
“That’s definitely a problem,” said Fulton, referring to the Canucks’ offence during their 4-3 loss to the Huskies Saturday.
“You can tell you have a bunch of guys standing up straight around the net. When you’re north and south, not east and west, it’s bad news - you’re weak on your stick, you’re weak on your skates. There was a ton of rebounds laying around that crease that we just didn’t have the gumption or motivation to get to.”
Add to that, Dawson Creek has dropped to last place in league scoring with 66 goals in 22 games.
The Canucks have also been without their starting goaltender David Readman since mid-November after he injured his knee in a 5-3 win over Slave Lake. But Fulton has said backups Michael Chute and Kaden Bouchard – both affiliated players – have done what it takes to keep the team in games. Fulton said Bouchard was one of the Canucks’ best players Saturday night.
Fulton remarked that players would get the message on Thursday if he doesn’t like what he sees in Grande Prairie.
“We’re playing one of the top teams in the league, I don’t know how we’re going to turn it around in two practices but I know one thing we’ll be competitive in that game,” he said. “We’ll go down to one-and-a-half lines if we have to because there are guys on this team that don’t deserve any ice time right now – it’s disheartening because I know they can play the game.”
Grande Prairie, who boasts the top line in the league with three players sitting atop the NWJHL in scoring, will be no easy task for the Canucks. Kings’ forwards Corey Wamsteeker and Lyndin Lewis are tied with 60 points each, and are followed closely by teammate Nolan Trudeau, who has 19 goals and 44 points.
After starting the season undefeated with 14 straight wins, the Kings have dropped three games in their last eight, but some recent losses, according to Fulton, makes the Kings an even more dangerous hockey club.
“They are a team with a ton of talent – they have more than any other team in the league – but if you have talent and no heart you’ll struggle in this league and that’s probably what they are going through right now,” said Fulton. “They are finding their adversity right now and it’s going to make them a better hockey team.”
The Canucks resume play in the New Year with road games against Fort St. John and Sexsmith on Jan. 4 and 5.