The Northeast BC & Yukon Midget Trackers, who have been an a roll since December, split their weekend games at home against the Peace River Royals and Grande Prairie Storm Jan. 12 and 13.
On Saturday, the Trackers hosted the Royals at North Peace Arena where the local squad was looking to get their seventh win in a row.
The Royals, the top team in the Trackers’ North Black Division in the Northern Alberta Midget Hockey League, had a different agenda and showed no signs of being tired from their long bus ride.
“I was just going in there hoping that guys compete. I wasn’t really looking for any expectations,” said Trackers’ head coach Brennen Giroux. “For me as a coach I wanted to sit back and see what they do. We let in two weak goals right at the start. We were riding on a six-game winning streak and I thought the guys would come into the game with a chip on their shoulders but they came out flat. That showed on the score sheet.”
“We respected them way too much and let them get their legs from the bus being on the road.”
The first period was a write off for the Trackers, who were down 2-0 after 20 minutes. After the first intermission the team went back on their home ice with a bit more gusto and managed to get a goal, but Peace River was on a roll and the game ended 4-1.
“It was really a chess match in the second and third where both teams were playing their systems really well,” Giroux said. “Peace River worked their system to a T and all it takes is one mental breakdown during a shift. They beat us 2-1 in the second and third, we just have to approach that as a chess match and really be focused on playing our systems until something breaks down then capitalize on our chances.”
“By the time we hit the playoffs I want to see our team improve on their systems against that team because if we go far into playoffs we’ll probably be meeting up with them in the division final for sure.”
On Sunday, the Trackers played against the Grande Prairie Storm at the Dawson Creek Memorial Arena, the second-place team in their division.
The Trackers left their loss behind them and followed the lead of captain Mark Readman to a 4-2 victory.
Readman, who had four points (2 goals, 2 assists) in Sunday’s game, was like a new player on the ice.
“We talked to him before the game in terms of his leadership and he’s been in a funk lately. We wanted to talk to him about how he’s been putting too much pressure on himself to be a good captain, to be vocal in the dressing room,” Giroux said, adding that they assigned him as captain because of who he was naturally.
“He didn’t have to change anything, just come and play his game everyday and guys will look up to that,” he said. “He completely dropped all his expectations [on Sunday] and played his game. Guys fed off of his energy and it was probably the best game I’ve ever seen him play. I’m really happy with him.”
Readman’s line mate Ricky Bateman had two points on Sunday, rallying behind his captain’s newfound energy.
“Since before we went on our streak that’s been our main objective, to change the morale in the dressing room,” Giroux said. “It’s been a really good change and we’ve seen success from it.”
The Trackers are 9-for-7 in the last 13 games and have moved up in the standings to third place in their division, only four points off from catching up with the Storm and taking over second.
Giroux prefers if the Trackers stayed in third, which is strategically their best spot for the playoffs that begin just over a month from now, but his priority is with his team’s performance and overall camaraderie.
“I’m not focused on standings anymore,” Giroux said. “I’m more concerned with how we’re playing, how our morale is and if we’re playing our systems well.”
The Trackers have one more month of regular-season games before the post-season begins. Giroux is more than pleased by how far his team has come since September, statistically and personally. They’re a unified squad now, he said, sacrificing the body for each other and working as a unit.
He can’t help but be excited for the future.
“I’m so excited about the playoffs and how our team has improved tremendously,” he said. “I’m just really excited as a coach in my first year and really happy with the support I’ve gotten. It’s been a really good year.”