Despite last Saturday’s inclement weather, the Gander Flyers made the trip over the TCH bound for Deer Lake and what was supposed to be a two-night engagement with the Western Royals.
But with power outages plaguing the better part of the island portion of the province Saturday, the town shut down the Hodder Memorial Recreation Complex, forcing Saturday’s game to be postponed.
In hindsight, that wasn’t such a bad thing as far as head coach Dennis Laing and his charges are concerned.
“We sat around and watched hockey and football games together and I think that helped,” Laing told the Telegram. “We don’t get to do that very often as a team.”
The unplanned team bonding must have had a positive affect on the Flyers, as they trounced the Royals 6-2 when the lights came back on at the Hodder on Sunday afternoon. What’s more, they did it without the services of captain and second leading scorer Peter Campbell, fellow import Rob Mignardi, rookie Darrin Wilkins and forward Steve Pearson.
“Going into Western and picking up a win like that was very fortunate,” Laing says. “That was a good start for us (after Christmas) and hopefully we can take it into Harbour Grace this weekend.”
The Flyers visit the C.B.N. Eastlink CeeBee Stars 7:30 tonight and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at S.W. Moores Memorial Stadium. Even though all six teams in the league will earn a playoff berth at season’s end, there is still plenty on the line for the Flyers this weekend.
“We’ve got nine games left and in those nine games, we’ve got three against Western and we’re chasing them,” Laing says of the Royals, who are tied with the Mount Pearl H.J. Bartlett Electric Blades with 16 points to the Flyers’ 11.
“From a standings point of view, home ice is very important to us. If we’re fortunate enough to go in there and get some points, I think it would be very positive for our team down the road.”
More than that, Laing says it’s an opportunity for his young team to further grasp what it takes to compete with the circuits’ other well-established, and more seasoned teams.
“As a young team, and one that’s not been together a lot, we’ve got to learn to play a 60 minute game.
“To be competitive with the rest of the teams, we have to be more responsible for the defensive side and I think that’s what we’re learning.”
The Flyers started the year without the services of their top two defencemen from 2012-13 in Tyler Gale and import Spencer Corcoran. Gale’s rights reverted to Mount Pearl and Corcoran chose to stay at home in P.E.I. this winter.
After dropping 10 of the first 14 games prior to Christmas, the Flyers’ blueline got some help with the acquisition of St. John’s native Tim Sullivan by way of the league’s draft and Jeremy Van Hoof, who scooped up the import card left vacant when sniper Tyler Whitehead’s work schedule forced him to withdraw from the league.
“He’s a stay-at-home defenceman, and he’s a bit older, so he kind of helps out our younger defencemen,” Laing says of the 32-year-old from Lindsay, Ont., with 340 ECHL games on his hockey resume.
“He’s been a very positive influence.”
Both are expected to be in the lineup this weekend in front of goalies Patrick O’Brien on Saturday and Devon O’Brien on Sunday.
In other NLSHL games this weekend, the Royals host the first place Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts in a two-game set Saturday (7:30 p.m.) and Sunday (2 p.m.) at the Hodder, while the Blades visit the Clarenville Caribous for a pair of games at the Clarenville Events Centre. Game times are 7:30 Saturday night and 1:30 p.m. on Sunday.