IceDogs working on chemistry
Billy Burke of the Niagara IceDogs. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.
The Niagara IceDogs are in search of an identity.
The IceDogs have added several significant pieces in the last few weeks in an attempt to win an Ontario Hockey League championship, but have been hampered in their attempt to create any chemistry.
In addition to losing several key players to the World Junior Championships over Christmas and into the first week of January, the IceDogs had to deal with an inordinate amount of injuries, so many they were forced to dress less than the maximum 18 skaters on a few occasions.
All that has added up to a mediocre 5-3-2 record in their last 10 games.
“I think obviously you want it to be clicking right away from Day 1. You hope everyone gels and you have that chemistry, but obviously that’s not the case,” IceDogs head coach Billy Burke said. “It takes time to work and build your identity back. You go your last two or three weeks with a shortened lineup and everyone is playing their butts off and now you get everyone back and everyone thinks it’s time to take a breath.
“We have a great team on paper that we can just show up and it’s almost going to be easy and we can just do what we want.”
With that in mind, the IceDogs are prepared to go to work in practice this week in preparation for Thursday’s showdown at home versus Hamilton.
“It’s a very good league, a very tough league,” Burke said. “We have to make sure we have a good week here and get back to our identity.
“We haven’t had a practice yet as a whole team. It’s important we work hard — it’s going to be a tough day today (Tuesday)— and get our identity back.”
Burke said it’s imperative the team get back to basics.
“Good structure, high energy and high compete (level),” Burke said when asked what he would like to see from the club. “That’s when we will become a very good team. If we are a team that doesn’t want to go through the wall for each other, then on any given night you can lose.”
The IceDogs added some major firepower and skill up front with the addition of Jason Robertson and Jack Studnicka, as well as two top-tier defenceman in Jacob Paquette and Matt Brassard.
Regardless, Burke feels hard work is still the key to success.
“I think we need to get back to how it was. Just because we bring in more skilled guys, we still need to play a good structure with strong defence and strong through the neutral zone,” he said. “Just because we made a couple of changes we don’t want to change how we play. We think the guys we brought in and fit into our system perfectly.”
The IceDogs are finally close to being 100 per cent healthy with the exception of forwards Ivan Lodnia and Andrew Bruder, who are both expected to be on the shelf for another two weeks.
Burke said he plans to shift things around up front in an attempt to find some chemistry.
“We’re going to change the lines from how they were on the weekend and build in pairs and go three lines (deep) instead of going with two big lines,” he said. “We’re going to split it up and go with three little bit more balanced lines.”
With the influx of veteran talent, Burke admits it’s crucial the players buy in to the team concept.
“There is only so much ice time to go around,” he said. “When you have an older team that has the opportunity to do something special, guys need to buy in and realize there will be some sacrifices.
“For the betterment of the team and for the sake of winning, every guy from the top down has to make sure they are looking in the mirror and reminding themselves it’s all about team success and winning a championship.”
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