By Sarah Mackey
Rebuilding the Dalhousie men’s hockey team is proving to be more than a one-year job for the team’s head coach.
After another losing season, and the upcoming loss of several veterans, the team is in a rut and Chris Donnelly knows it.
His cross country search for players is back on with seven of the 31 players graduating at the end of the season.
“I’m looking to find the best quality guys,” says Donnelly. “The most skilled players aren’t always the best fit for our team. Character can make a big difference in a hockey game.”
Donnelly says this is a good chance to get some new players on the team and more positive energy surrounding the organization.
“Every team goes through this. Losing those guys is challenging, but that’s part of the rebuilding process – it’s kind of fun. You never know what’s going to happen in September.”
Donnelly has been driving coast-to-coast to find Junior A players to join the Tigers.
He’s also trying to change the way the current players think about the game.
“We’ve been giving the guys more responsibility and clearly defined roles on the ice. They know if they’re on a goal scoring line or an offensive line or an energy line. That direction has translated into better hockey.”
Two years ago, the the team made it to the playoffs for the first time in ten years. Players and fans alike were hoping that this signalled an improvement for the Tigers squad.
Unfortunately, there were multiple injuries in the first half of this season. The Tigers were left to scramble for a spot in the playoffs.
On January 26, the Tigers were a point behind the Université de Moncton – the team they had been chasing for the final playoff spot. Although the game ended with an overtime victory for Dalhousie, it also signified the second year in a row that the Tigers fell short of a playoff spot.
“It was a tough (game) because we have improved a lot over the last couple of years as a program,” graduating player Jacob Johnston told the Dalhousie Gazette.
The dismal performance of the team means that fewer fans are heading out to the Forum to cheer them on.
Donnelly says this is something he and the players are working to change.
“Students can get in for free. I don’t see any reason for them not to come, especially if we start winning games. It’s part of the whole (university) experience.”
The team is organizing a food drive that will be led by the players as well as a competition to win season tickets for next year. Donnelly wants to make the team more involved in campus life.
He’s trying to make the hockey team something that contributes positively to Dalhousie. He recognizes that this starts with the team winning games.
“The goal is to leave the program in better shape than when I arrived.”