BERWICK, NS – Confidence: it's something that the Valley junior A Wildcats have a lot of as a string of solid results has put them back in the Maritime Hockey League playoff race.
On Dec. 29, the Wildcats dropped a close 6–5 decision against the Amherst Ramblers on home ice in Berwick before coming back with a 2–1 win over the South Shore Lumberjacks the following night, also at home. Valley has now won four of its last five games, all against divisional opponents, and sit five points out of a playoff spot.
Drew Packman was essential to the Wildcats efforts over the weekend, scoring both goals in the Dec. 30 game against South Shore – one a power play goal – and one the previous night against Amherst.
Other Wildcats who scored Dec. 29 against Amherst included Tristan Bowlby, Brett Tidman, Taylor Ewing and Matthew O’Leary on the power play.
Good effort: coach
Head coach Travis Young liked his team's effort, noting how tough games around the Christmas break can be.
“Leading up to the break, some guys heads are in vacation mode early. We really stressed to our guys how important that was, and we were able to run those three in a row at the end and get ourselves back in the hunt,” he said.
Young added he thought his team made some mistakes early in the game, leading to the loss against Amherst that saw the Valley fall behind 4–1 early, but battle back to tie the game twice.
“Obviously, they've got a lot of talent and were able to capitalize. We gave them opportunities and they took advantage of them. But I really like the way we competed and battled back,” said the coach.
Despite missing five regulars from the line up, Valley bounced back to defeat South Shore the next night. Young says he likes the team's direction.
“I think we've got a really good vibe going right now. The belief the guys have in the dressing room is huge. Guys are buying in, and getting the job done,” he said.
Breaking out of the pack
With the MHL trade deadline looming and the team in good form, Young says the Wildcats will be looking to set themselves up for a run at the post season.
“That group that we have in there right now... everybody's on the same page, everybody's pushing the right direction, and I think we owe it to that group to see what they can do over the second half,” he said.
Valley plays three games this weekend to start 2018.
On Jan. 5, the Wildcats visit the division-leading Yarmouth Mariners before playing a return match the following night at the Kings Mutual Century Centre in Berwick. Then, on a rare Sunday game, the team hosts the Eastlink North Division leading Edmundston Blizzard for a 2 p.m. game Jan. 7.
“We know it's not going to be an easy weekend by any stretch,” Young said of battling the two top clubs in the league.
“Yarmouth has handled us pretty well this year, we're 0–3 against them. Edmundston’s record speaks for itself. We'll have to be at our best, but I like the direction we're going,” he said.
Bedford's Matt Warner will return to the Wildcats line up this weekend after serving a three game suspension.
Go online: The Jan. 5 game in Yarmouth can be listened to online, for free, at www.mixlr.com/jra_wildcats