St. Stephen – To use horse racing terminology, this has become a neck-and-neck race.
“We’re battling with the team we lost yesterday to,” Aces Associate Coach Bill Rotheisler shakes his head with a chuckle.
“We like to keep it really tight with them for some reason.”
The “them” Rotheisler is referring to are the Miramichi Timberwolves, with whom the Aces are maintaining an almost point for point battle for the final playoff spot in the North division. Right now, to clinch that spot, each game – for each team – matters.
“We’ve had an opportunity to secure our spot, but for a variety of reasons – we haven’t played well, the bounces, or whatever the case may be, we just haven’t. Miramichi outplayed us – they’re the team that wanted it more yesterday, and that’s the result,” he added, referencing the Saturday evening tilt in Miramichi where the Aces fell 6-3.
“At the end of the day, the team that deserves to be in, is in. We just hope it’s us,” Rotheisler laughs again.
Aces no. 21, Captain Mike Waugh, who scored two goals in the teams Sunday afternoon tilt against the Valley Wildcats, where the Aces won 8-4, is no stranger to the playoff race. Waugh was part of the 2016/17 team that made their way there. But he isn’t changing how he approaches each game.
“I think for the most part, we’re trying to work it down to shift by shift, game by game –win all your battles and take it a step at a time,” said Waugh.
“We will take a game at a time and focus on that. There’s still lots of points on the board for us.”
“It’s urging them to believe in what we do,” said Aces Head Coach and GM, Emery Olauson, about this end of season battle.
“Forty-three times now we’ve run out a game plan, and so often when we execute on a game plan we come back in there and they crank the music on and it’s a win. Games like today are more fun than going in and executing perfectly and not being on the right side. But today the first two periods were fairly well played.”
And all three men agree. When the team hits the ice and take control of the game from the first minute, they tend to come out on the right side of the play. The Sunday game against the Valley Wildcats is the example.
I think for the most part, we’re trying to work it down to shift by shift, game by game –win all your battles and take it a step at a time.
– Aces Captain, no. 21 Mike Waugh.
The Aces hit the ice and used their speed and skill out of the gate. The result was 47 shots on goal, to some 11 by Valley. In fact, there were so many shots against their opponent, both Olauson and Rotheisler handed some credit to the Valley goaltender.
“Their goaltender made a lot of big, big stops,” said Rotheisler. “I think we could have got more goals, but their goaltender really faced a lot.”
“He had a busy night,” added Olauson.
Sunday’s win didn’t just put the playoff spot in the Aces grasp, it was their seventeenth win of the season – a franchise record. And at this juncture, there are no more party tricks to learn. This far into the season, this team should know their jobs, and how to execute them.
“Offensively tonight it really showed what we can do and how we can move the puck well and how our speed kills,” said Waugh.
“It’s good for the fans to see us have a good home game. It was a good crowd tonight. One thing I tell the younger guys is my first year for playoffs, there wasn’t a better building to play in – it was unbelievable. GCC sold out is unbelievable.
“The fans here are great. I really want them to see that, so we’re just taking it a game at a time, controlling what we can control.”
“At this point, we prepare the guys. We aren’t introducing anything new,” said Rotheisler.
“The players gotta drive the bus now. Training wheels come off and we let’em go. They know where they’re supposed to be, and what they’re supposed to do each game, and it’s just whether they execute or not.
“And that’s one thing that’s been pretty consistent, regardless of when the goals happen and what the score is in the first,” he added.
“If we play our tempo in the first, we usually end up winning the game. If we don’t, like our last game in Miramichi, we end up playing catch-up hockey. We had a great third, but it’s too little too late.”
“We’re a team of two tales – Bill hit it on the head,” added Olauson.
“When we start well, so often we win, because we do play an up tempo game, and we’re used to that tempo, and so that third period becomes (usually) when we run away with the game.
“But if we don’t start that clock ticking – that sixty minute clock – and our opponent only has to play our tempo for 30 or 40 minutes, well, then who knows what’s gonna happen.
“You’d like to know your team by now, but tonight and last night we were two very different teams.
“We’ve four left at home, two left on the road. It’s a good schedule.”
“It was a great home win – the franchise record win – 17- the most games we’ve ever won, and there’s still games left,” said Waugh. “We’re taking it a game at a time.”
And Sunday’s game wasn’t special just because it was the franchise record win for the team. The game saw the Aces support for the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), with the team donning specially procured green jersey’s for the day. The same jersery’s will now be auctioned off, with proceeds going to the CMHA. Bidding on each jersey starts at $100, and must be done on the original post on the Aces Facebook page.
It’s a cause close to the Aces hearts.
“I’m really happy that the organization has gone out and recognized how important that is,” said Rotheisler.
“With all the different causes there are, I think this one hits a lot of people at home, especially the hockey community. It’s something we wanted. Even as a staff, we mentioned it in one of our first meetings that it was important to us.
“Personally, I’ve had a former player and an NHL executive – two friends of mine – who unfortunately came on the wrong side of that, and it never should get to that point.
“The reality is you never know – it’s not often the obvious cases. It sucks when something negative happens to that point, but it just sucks even if it doesn’t get to that point, and a lot of people deal with a lot of stuff.
“It’s good to raise awareness, but it’s even better to put your money where your mouth is, and do everything you can to help, and I think it’s awesome for the community to support that sort of thing.”
Bidding on the jerseys is happening now, and the auction closes at midnight on Saturday, March 2.
The Aces play in Campbellton on Saturday, Feb. 23, and then hit the home ice again on Sunday, Feb. 24 against Edmundston. Puck-drop is 3 p.m.