“It’s a huge disappointment and a huge failure”
Billy Burke is ready to face the music.
The head coach of the Niagara IceDogs is well aware the buck stops with the man behind the bench when a team doesn’t live up to expectations.
The IceDogs had high hopes of contending for a Memorial Cup this season and went all in making several high-profile moves to attempt to win at the very least an Ontario Hockey League championship.
But the IceDogs fell considerably short of those goals when they were eliminated in the Eastern Conference semifinals by the Oshawa Generals, and now Burke realizes the fingers will be pointing directly at him.
“The players have to play, but whenever you fall short at the end of the day, it’s the head coach that has to take responsibility,” he said. “I take responsibility. We had great players and great roster.
“I feel for me personally it’s the biggest disappointment of my life.”
Making the early elimination even more difficult to swallow is the fact the IceDogs picked up Jack Studnicka and Matt Brassard from the Generals.
“There’s no sugar-coating it. We understand we made a big trade with Oshawa,” Burke said. “We gave them Lleyton Moore and all our picks and we did it because we felt that would put us over the top.
“We swung for the fences and flamed out. We’re not making excuses from our end. It’s a huge disappointment and a huge failure.”
The IceDogs took the first two games of the series, including a convincing 5-1 win in Game 2 that was perhaps their finest overall effort of the season.
The Generals, who finished with the same amount of wins at the IceDogs in the regular season and only three points behind overall, then took Game 3 4-1 before dominating the IceDogs 7-3 in Game 4.
“It just feels like we were up 2-0 and feeling good,” Burke said. “To come in with that effort we had in Game 4 was just unacceptable and we never got momentum back.”
The series will still tied at 2-2 at that point, but then the IceDogs suddenly couldn’t find the back of the net, partly due to the outstanding play of Oshawa goaltender Kyle Keyser.
“It’s tough. It’s hard to really put your finger on it,” Burke added. “They’ve got a great goaltender and we didn’t get any bounces and our scoring dried up on us.
“We had some bonehead penalties at bad times, we hit posts at bad times. When all that stuff happens unfortunately it’s got to fall on me. I did everything I could. I tried my best and it just wasn’t good enough.”
Burke said the IceDogs now must find a way to turn the page and move on.
“We’ll be the whipping boys and we’ll take our lumps. It comes with the territory,” he said. “You can either wilt and die and go away and feel sorry for yourself and suck your thumb and all that stuff, or you can regroup and come back stronger.
“You always learn from your defeats more so than your victories. I know that’s what we’re going to do here.”
The IceDogs conducted their exit interviews Tuesday afternoon and then went out for a final team dinner.
“As horrible as it is and as worse case as it is, I wouldn’t change a thing. We’re going to regroup and in a couple of years swing for the fences again.”
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