Lloydminster Bandits "get it going"

By Gordon Anderson

February 14, 2017 12:00 AM

FIRST ROUND Danton Brooks of the Lloydminster Bandits tracks the puck during a recent North East Alberta Jr. B Hockey League game against the Frog Lake T-Birds. The Bandits finished the regular season at 18-16-2 and will play the T-Birds in the first round of the playoffs. The best-of-seven series begins Friday night in Frog Lake. Game 3 is Monday afternoon at the Civic Centre. Puck drop is set for 2 p.m. GORDON ANDERSON LLS PHOTO

In some cases, 40 minutes of work, especially when you’re the better team, can lead to positive results.
The Lloydminster Bandits closed out the North East Alberta Jr. B Hockey League regular season with a 5-2 win over the Onion Lake Border Chiefs at the Civic Centre on Saturday night.
“I thought we struggled in the first period because we were flat,” Bandits head coach Brad Cruikshank said about the win.
“We were unorganized, kind of the way we’ve played over the last three weeks. We talked about it in between the first (and second period) and recognized what we needed to do to get it going.”
And ‘get it going’ they did, outscoring the Border Chiefs 5-0 the rest of the way.
“I think the biggest part was our forecheck,” Cruikshank said.
“We came out and it was firing perfectly. It was awesome. It changed the momentum of everything. We had an aggressive forecheck. At this level, if you can take away time and space, I find that to be a real key.”
The club trailed 2-0 after one period but the special teams helped get the ball rolling downhill for the remainder of the game.
As of late the powerplay has been powerless, but that wasn’t the case on Saturday.
Cruikshank tinkered with the mix, somewhat, including using fourth-liners to get the work rate up to an acceptable level.
Previous to this the Bandits had one goal in their last 15 chances.
“We changed up the units,” Cruikshank said.
“We’ve tinkered with our powerplay for a while. We just keyed in on shooting the puck.
“The guys had to get traffic (in front of the net) it was the only way we we’re going to snap this cold spell on the power play. Both units did it well.”
With the win the Bandits finish the regular season in sixth place in the league at 18-16-2.
The club started out the season with one win in its first six games before getting it together and playing at a level more commensurate to their ability.
The club will play the Frog Lake T-Birds in the first round of the playoffs.
The Bandits went 2-2 against the T-Birds this season.
“You place where you place for a reason,” Cruikshank said.
“You’re as good as your record, but not to me. Our team is better than our record, and I really believe that.”
But, prior to the back-to-back wins over the weekend, the club had been trending the wrong way with four wins in its last 10 games, including an unattractive 1-6 streak where the club took tired and disinterested at times.
The coach attributes that streak of poor play to the 11-game stretch in January where they were playing back-to-back games, or three games in three nights on two occasions.
It was in that stretch where they didn’t look the like the hard-charging team that could beat you with the fists just as soon as three goals in three minutes. They looked vanilla on a lot of nights.
At first the coach thought the busy month was a good situation to be in because the team plays well when its got things to do.
But real life gets in the way with work, children and bills to pay.
“I looked at (our 11 games in January as a blessing) but now I’m sitting back and thinking that it crippled us,” Cruikshank said.
“To have 11 games, at this level, with suspensions and guys working, the conditioning part of it, we weren’t built for that. It took a toll on us in the last seven-game stretch.”
Since he has a pretty good read on his team, Cruikshank can usually tell how the club is going to perform based on its twice a week practices.
If they are fast and intense it shapes up to be a great weekend.
If not, it’s usually the other way.
And that’s what happened in that 1-6 skid in late January and early February.
“I could see it coming,” Cruikshank said.
“We were a dominating hockey club, for a while, and slowly our intensity and practices complete changed from November and December because we couldn’t practice the same way. These guys would have died out.”
But as February reared its ugly head the club found the month to be real attractive, culminating in wins over the Vegreville Rangers and the Border Chiefs to end the regular season.
“We got back to hard practices this past week and I felt we came in Friday and we played really well, and for the most part on Saturday, we played really good, especially in the second and third,” Cruikshank said.
And after a 36-game regular-season the coach has a handle on what he has when he barks out orders and commands behind the bench.
“I think we learned a lot (this season) and we definitely learned what our identity is, and that’s important,” Cruikshank said.
“You have to know what your strength and weaknesses are. The last weekend really showed us that. When we’re aggressive and working hard good things happen for us.”

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