By Kirk Jessome
In a season that did not get off to a strong start for the Tigers men’s hockey team, they’ve pushed out five wins in a row to secure a playoff berth.
After finishing the first half of the season with a record of 2-15-1, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for a team to give up on this season and start thinking about the next one, but not this team. The Tigers went into the break thinking about resting and regrouping to make a run in the second half of the season, and they have done just that.
Starting the second half picking up wins against teams in similar positions, the Tigers have generated momentum and continued to win, their last five games. Sitting on a record of 9-18-1, the Tigers have found their stride at the right time in the season, with three of the wins in the five-game streak coming against teams ranked in the top-10 in the country.
According to head coach Chris Donnelly, his team hasn’t been doing anything differently in the second half that they weren’t doing at the beginning of the season, they are just capitalizing on it at the right time.
“We have been playing well all year, however, in the second half we are starting to score goals that we’ve been capable of scoring,” says Donnelly. “We score a lot of our goals around the net, and the bounces are starting to happen for us on rebounds and deflections.”
With their win last Wednesday night, the Tigers were able to clinch a spot in the playoffs, and with two games to go they are able to set their eyes on the post-season for the first time since 2011.
“Winning those games against various opponents is a great boost to our overall team environment and is very motivating heading into the playoffs” continued Donnelly.
Though the matchups for the playoffs are not set at the moment, Donnelly knows that the same things need to happen for his team no matter who they are playing. For the Tigers, special teams will be key, as their penalty kill has greatly improved from 74% in the first-half of the season to 85% in the second half. On the other end, capitalizing on the man-advantage will be a huge boost, as they’ve had to learn to win without it, sitting at a 13% power play conversion rate.
“Winning in the playoffs is all about playing your best hockey of the year and staying hot in a short period of time. We’ve been able to do that in the second half, and it would certainly be a factor if we can continue winning into the playoffs.”
The Tigers will conclude their regular season on the road this weekend with matchups against UPEI on Friday, and UNB on Saturday. The playoff seeding has gone down to the wire and will be finalized once all games on Saturday have been completed.