(Originally published in the Kindersley Clarion, Nov. 26)
The Iron Horse Kindersley Klippers wanted to bring home more than two out of a possible eight points from their road trip last week. However, despite only winning one of the last four games, head coach Rockie Zinger said his team doesn’t feel deflated.
“It was probably the most positive you could feel only getting two points out of eight,” Zinger said after returning from the road trip that spanned from Nov. 18 – 22.
The Klippers toured Saskatchewan and Manitoba last week with road games in La Ronge, Flin Flon, Nipawin, and Melfort. The road trip started off rough against the La Ronge Ice Wolves in a 6-4 loss on Nov. 18. The six goals allowed was the most in a single game by the Klippers this season. Zinger did see some uncharacteristic mistakes from his team, and needed to recover the following day when the team took on the Flin Flon Bombers for the first time this season.
Zinger said Flin Flon’s Whitney Forum is a difficult building to play in, and that proved to be the case once again with the Bombers defeating the Klippers 4-0. However, momentum seemed to shift after the Klippers had a day off and played the Nipawin Hawks on Nov. 21.
“The first two games weren’t the greatest for us, but I felt like the third game against Nipawin and finding a way to win there was pretty positive,” Zinger said.
Owen LaClare and his three goals led the Klippers to a 5-3 victory over the Hawks. The Klippers led 2-1 heading into the third and LaClare’s second and third goals of the game propelled the Klippers to victory despite allowing two third period goals.
Zinger was content to see the Klippers lose a 2-1 game to the Melfort Mustangs on Nov. 22. All three goals came in the second period, with Derrick Morrell’s fifth of the season tying the game at 1-1. Adam Fauchoux of the Hawks responded 25 seconds later with the game winning goal.
Zinger believes the only game that got away from the Klippers was the one in Flin Flon. In the other games the Klippers had their opportunities to win, but couldn’t grasp them. It won’t be long until the Klippers will get a chance to rebound and play some of the teams from the road trip again. After a brief home stand, the Klippers are back in Flin Flon on Dec. 5 and La Ronge on Dec. 6.
“We just have to reset things here. Help our guys with a little bit of system stuff,” Zinger said. “We’d like to see our power play get a little bit better and have our guys understand the urgency that comes with a game in certain situations.”
The Klippers scored on two out of 14 power play attempts during the road trip and Zinger would like that number to improve. He doesn’t expect the Klippers to score on every power play, but he’d like to see the team get good chances which can translate into momentum after the power play is complete.
The Klippers are 18-6-1-2 this season and have accumulated a league-leading 39 points this season. Even after dropping three of the last four games, the Klippers still hold a three-point lead in the overall standings over the Melfort Mustangs (who have three games in hand). The Klippers lead the Kramer Division and the Battlefords North Stars are in second with 33 points and three games in hand.
The Klippers have played 27 games this season, the most of any team in the SJHL. When Zinger looked at the schedule before the season, he marked October and November as being the toughest months for the team with lots of games, and tough divisional competition. Zinger is happy to leave those months in the rear view window with some pretty good feelings.
“We knew October and November were going to be our hardest two months. There’s a ton of games and our record is still good,” Zinger said.
In fact, it’s quite encouraging for a team that Zinger believes has a lot more in them. The most recent rough patch on the road should only help the team in the long-run by giving them the opportunity to battle through adversity.
Statistically speaking, this season is the best start the Klippers have ever had under Zinger’s tenure as coach. But he doesn’t want to see the team sink into the mediocrity. Zinger said his players are not satisfied or okay with the level they’re playing at and want to play more effectively.
The Klippers have just over half a season left to address those improvements, and Zinger expects roadblocks along the way. Injuries and losing streaks contribute to a team’s lack of success and can be hard to prepare for. One thing that Zinger can potentially prepare for is the possibility of losing some players for the month of December.
The World Junior ‘A’ Challenge could give some members of the Klippers’ roster the opportunity to represent Canada West at the upcoming tournament in Kindersley from Dec. 14-20.
Last season LaClare was the only SJHL player to crack the Canada West roster. The 19-year-old, who leads the league in goals (21) and points (31), could have the potential crack the Canada West roster two years in a row.
Starting goaltender Evan Weninger is not only one of the best netminders in the province, but also across the country. Weninger has played in 23 games and earned 15 wins. So far this season Weninger has a 2.15 GAA and 0.939 save percentage with one shutout performance. Weninger is a big reason why the Klippers lead the SJHL, and it’s hard to imagine Hockey Canada not giving the 18-year-old an opportunity to prove himself.
LaClare and Weninger are just two of many Klippers players who could earn a shot at training camp held from Dec. 7-9. The training camp invitation list is expected to be released later this week.
The Klippers will battle that possible scenario by adding depth to the roster. Just before the road trip the Klippers acquired forward Darcy DeRoose from the Estevan Bruins for future considerations. DeRoose led the Bruins in points with nine goals and eight assists in 22 games this season. DeRoose joined the Klippers on the road trip and added two assists in four games.
“He’s a big body that has some skill and likes to compete. We think he can add to our depth and he’s going to use another option offensively that should cause problems for the opposition,” Zinger said.