From the March 12 edition of The Saint Croix Courier
St. Stephen – Emery Olauson, Aces head coach and GM sits at his desk in the Aces cramped office at the Garcelon Civic Center on Monday after the team’s afternoon practice.
He picks up the book on the desk, the story of the All Blacks, and opens it to the first few pages.
“We were kinda wracking our brains for sports quotes, and it’s such a strange game for us on Saturday because it was really a different set of circumstances than we’re used to,” says Olauson of the Aces win on their home ice over the weekend – also their last game of the regular season. Olauson and Rotheisler always add an inspirational, and whenever possible sports related, quote to the game reviews the team studies, to give the team something philosophical to ruminate on.
“It’s not like win and you’re in. It’s win, and watch a game, and then wait, and then maybe you’re in. And we did think that winning would be enough, but this quote is at the start of this book that I’m reading right now: ‘Exceptional success requires exceptional circumstances’.”
The quote, by former All Blacks coach Wayne Smith, encapsulated everything Olauson and Associate Coach Bill Rotheisler felt heading into the deal maker or breaker Saturday night game.
“It pretty much exactly summed up our game Saturday,” said Olauson. “It was an exceptional set of circumstances. To Grand Falls credit, they gave us an exceptional effort. Their season ended that night, so those guys were leaving it all out there.
“They did a really great job, and it was a pretty entertaining game, and it was a pretty exceptional goal to win it.
“So in every way, it was that quote. It came to life for us.”
The Aces had to win their last regular season game for a shot at the last remaining playoff spot. And win they did, 4-3 during the 3-on-3 play of the O/T, with a stunner of a goal by no. 6, Evan White.
“It was a beautiful goal by a very skilled player,” said Rotheisler, after the Saturday night tilt.
“I don’t really know where it came from,” laughed White after the game of his stellar goal.
“It’s pretty much one that you dream about – I just tried to wait them out, and kind of forced myself into having to make a play like that. It felt awesome for sure.”
And if you’re wondering if the team hears the fans cheering them on, and if it makes a difference, White is emphatic it absolutely does.
“The biggest crowd of the year…it was awesome. When we have big crowds, we just feed off the energy. It helps us just keep pushing.
“Everyone who plays here says the same thing – the fans – it’s second to none.
“It was fun to play.”
But the win – however glorious the goal, and however loud and ardent the crowd – wasn’t enough to clinch the spot. The team then had to wait an agonizing give or take 20 hours to watch Miramichi lose 5-1 to Edmundston on Sunday afternoon – a loss the Timberwolves had to have for the Aces to move forward.
“We all had this pit in our stomachs, and it was weird watching our team be nervous for the Edmundston Blizzard,” Olauson leaned back in his chair and chuckled.
“Such an exceptional set of circumstances.”
Exceptional indeed. The Aces needed several moving parts to fall into place over the last stretch of the regular season, not just for themselves, but for the Timberwolves with whom they have been battling for the last playoff spot for weeks.
“At the start of the year I would have predicted 20 wins would get us in. The last time the Aces got in it was 16,” said Olauson, referencing the 2016/17 season, when the Aces last tasted playoff action. Sixteen wins was the previous franchise record – so the 20 the team put up this year is an accomplishment in and of itself.
And frankly, the timing couldn’t be better. The team, plagued by injuries since early in the season, and some suspensions at the tail end, find themselves finally, and ironically, having their full roster available to play.
“All of a sudden we’re in this really weird position because of all these suspensions and injuries that are coming to an end, and we’re gonna be pretty much a full compliment this weekend,” said Olauson.
“There would have been no set of circumstances that we would have been resting guys coming down the stretch, but we were forced to, so now all of a sudden we have a full roster and some guys that are fresh. We anticipate having almost all of our guys in.
“Everyone is practicing right now. It might be the first time since game three we’ve had everyone.”
And what are they practicing for? The Aces now head into a best of seven series with the number one team in the division, the Summerside Western Capitals.
This is first year for the seven game series. Previously, the MHL kept the playoffs at a best of three, and weighing the pros and cons, Olauson thinks the additional time can do nothing but benefit the team.
“If you asked both sets of coaches, I’d guess they’d rather have a best of seven. It’s not go for a weekend and your series is over,” said Olauson. The move means if nothing else, fans will see the Aces in a minimum of two games on home ice at the Garcelon Civic Center.
And on the face of it, playing a team they’ve played many times, and a team they’ve not only had close games with, but beaten, we’d all be forgiven for thinking it potentially takes some of the pressure off. This team isn’t an unknown entity. Their games have been dissected. The Aces know how they play, and what to expect.
But in reality, it’s not quite so straightforward.
“To beat Summerside will take four excellent played games, a stroke of luck and everyone pulling on the rope and never letting go,” said Olauson, looking at Rotheisler, who was clearly already running stats, plays and analytics through his brain.
“We work twice as hard during these times,” said Rotheisler. “There’s way less sleep for us coaches. Previously, adjustments may be self-focused, now we’re evolving our game to play one team.”
“All season you’re basically a generic ‘this is the way our team should play’ against whoever,” added Olauson. “Now we get in there and try and find their (Summerside’s) weak spot.”
And despite appearances, the MHL flagship team isn’t perfect on the ice. As Olauson points out, every team has some weakness in their game. Even against an NHL team, the Aces, putting themselves in the right positions, could come out ahead. Summerside is no different.
“The pressure is on Summerside to win. We’re the team that wasn’t supposed to make it,” said Rotheisler.
“It’s going to be a really tough challenge,” said Olauson.
“But we didn’t come here with anything other than the intention of winning it all. And that dream is still alive,” he added.
“We’ve earned the right to play a very good team in the playoffs, and we shouldn’t feel afraid of them. We’ve beat’em. We’ve played them tight.”
“We were talking today about the 2012 LA Kings, who not only got in as the eighth seed to win the Stanley Cup, but ended up building a dynasty from it,” said Rotheisler.
“So it wasn’t that they got lucky, they were the better team.”
“Young teams eventually dethrone the old guys,” said Olauson, referencing the age and experience Summerside will bring to the ice. “Underdogs win. There’s a few sports movies out there with that as the core storyline,” he said, laughing.
“The playoffs is about controlling as many moving parts as you can, and enjoying it,” he added.
“Throughout the season you motivate them and develop them, and at this point it’s up to them,” said Rotheisler.
“It’s poetic. For this season, and the ups and downs, the adversity. It’s poetic.”
“Bill said it the best,” said Olauson, looking across the room at his compatriot. In fact, the comraderie between the two men is a large part of why this team has found the success it has. They set the example of the strength found in teamwork.
“He said ‘I’ll take the guy who is about to do something special over the guy who has already done it’, and he’s right.
“There’s gonna be a brand new household name in St. Stephen in two-weeks time,” added Olauson.
“I know this town is ready for playoff hockey.
“It’s gonna be a fun ride.”
The playoff series started for the Aces in Summerside this Saturday, March 16, where the boys fell 3-1, and endured some questionable calls during the game. The real fun starts tonight, Tuesday, March 19 as the Aces hit the home ice of the Garcelon Civic Center. Puck drop is 7 p.m. Let’s fill the GCC and cheer on the boys.
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