Crocker: Were not going to sell the farm
AMHERST - So just how important are the Ramblers' last two games prior to the Maritime Junior A Hockey League's Christmas break?
Depends who you ask.
"These are huge for our fans, our team and the town," captain Adam Chipman said of today's 7:30 p.m., contest with the Pictou County Weeks Crushers and tomorrow's 7 p.m., encounter with the Halifax Lions.
"It could make the difference between trades and no trades."
Amherst has lost its last six games and has just one point this month, a 5-4 overtime setback to the rebuilding Dieppe Commandos in which the Ramblers blew a 4-1 third-period lead. A loss to Halifax would ensure the Ramblers will enter the two-week Christmas layoff in last place in the Bent Division.
Head coach and general manager Corey Crocker maintains his club has the talent to get the job done.
"It's very important for our kids to gain confidence and to believe they are a good team, which is what we've tried to stress through this stretch," Crocker said. "If we play to our ability and take care of our strengths as a team, we can compete with anybody.
"We're not going to go out and sell the farm based on a couple of games. The goal, whether it's in May or June or December or January, is to continue to improve as a team."
Cases can be made on both sides. The argument for change is based on the team's performance since a brilliant September, when the Ramblers earned 11 of a possible 12 points and were ranked No. 12 in the Canadian Junior Hockey League.
Though naive to think that trend would continue on a club with an average age of barely 18 years and with only two 20-year-olds prior to acquiring Peter Baldwin from Yarmouth, the Ramblers have only displayed such quality efforts in all-too-sporadic bursts.
Amherst went 3-6 in October, 3-7 in November, and is 0-4-1 this month. Of the six wins since the hot start, three have come against sub-.500 teams,
The argument to maintain the status quo is twofold. Amherst has held its own against the Truro Bearcats (a 4-3 win, a 3-2 loss and a 3-1 loss with an empty-net goal), through which the road to a spot in the league championship surely runs, and the Ramblers have beaten every team in the league at least once save for the Woodstock Slammers, who nobody has touched, and the Lions - the latter admittedly more of an argument for change.
The other reason is the same the Ramblers cry seemingly every year, that the resources simply aren't there for a major makeover. The philosophy during Crocker's tenure is to build through the draft and develop players who will remain Ramblers for several seasons. But the business model for this organization, which is based almost entirely on gate receipts and fundraising, requires this team to be in the postseason for a couple of rounds in order to ensure the bills are paid.
Chipman, whose brother was a former captain of this team, also thinks his club is capable of much more and that the status quo is unacceptable. And as a 20-year-old, he's well aware he is one of the club's most marketable assets should change be deemed necessary.
"I can see there being moves over the break if we don't pick it up," he said. "I love Amherst and want to see this team be better, but if they were to come to me and ask (about a trade), I guess I'd have to have an open mind about it.
"But if we can get back to the way we played the first five games of the season, we'll be all right. People are getting away from their roles and it's a big reason why we're struggling. Guys are trying to do too much and we just need to stick to doing our jobs."
AROUND THE LEAGUE - Seven players have been suspended following a penalty-filled game last Saturday between the Slammers and Miramichi Timberwolves. Woodstock's Branden Kosolofsky got six games, Miramichi's John Mejia and Graham Dyck got five and three games, respectively, while Brogan Bailey of Woodstock and Sterling Bear and Tyson Donovan of the Timberwolves were handed two-game bans ... Woodstock, playing with 16 skaters, beat Halifax 5-3 last night to run its winning streak to 23 games. Elsewhere, Pictou County got by Bridgewater 4-3.