To call the Olds Grizzlys 2018-19 AJHL season ‘tough’ would be an understatement.
The Grizzlys have stumbled to a record of 6-44-3 for just 15 points, averaging a league-worst 5.26 goals against per game and 1.98 goals for – both worst in the AJHL.
Joe Murphy, head coach of the Grizzlys talks about the reasons for the struggles.
“For our first 12-14 games, we had a little bit of a culture issue in the room and we just didn’t have the right mix. So we made the conscious choice to go brand new, everybody on this team (now) was not here last year.”
Murphy expanded on why the changes were made.
“When times get tough you fall back on the culture and the boys have got to have each other’s back, and we just didn’t have that. I’m proud to say we have that now, so the future is bright in Grizzly country.”
The Grizzlys started the season 0-14 before hitting the reset button. Murphy says he’s despite the record, he’s proud of how his players have performed since then.
“Considering where we’re at with the roster make-up, and a bit of a forced had with going younger, I’m really happy with the guys’ effort to play at the junior hockey level. We’ve been learning on the job and the guys have done a great job,” he said. “We have a high character room and we’re building a base and we’re excited for that.”
Murphy admits that a younger group presents its share of challenges.
“Experience in hockey and life in whatever you’re doing it matters. It’s a thing to draw from and we’re getting those in real time, and we’ll have that next year but this year we are learning on the job and learning how to deal with the emotional swings and the responsibilities of junior hockey so that’s been the biggest challenge for us, trying to get over that lack of experience.”
Despite the struggles for the Grizzlys they sit just four points out of a playoff spot with seven games remaining in the season. Murphy is confident his squad could be a playoff team.
“We believe in our effort every day. This group, despite the record and lack of experience, has shown up to practice every day, they work on the fundamental stuff that improves them in junior hockey. We’re having better results, we’re in games longer, we’re in games earlier, and we’re putting teams at risk more than we ever did before Christmas. So we’re giving ourselves a chance to play, we see ourselves as a playoff team.”
The biggest challenge coming up for Olds lies in the form of the 49-3-0 Brooks Bandits. The Bandits and Grizzlys play back-to-back games, and Murphy knows that his group is in for a David vs Goliath type scenario.
“We try to, as a coaching staff, impress upon the guys that this is one of the best measuring sticks you can have. If you want to truly excel at this game, you measure yourself against the best. So, we’ve never lacked energy against Brooks. They (Brooks) are an incredible hockey team, they have lots of players from across the country, and good ones…. we’re going to go in and compete.”
The Olds Grizzlys kick off their final push for the playoffs on Wednesday when they head to Brooks for game 1 of their back to back.
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