AMHERST – While a little disappointed with how the first half went, Amherst CIBC Wood Gundy Ramblers coach and general manager Jeff LeBlanc knows his team will answer the bell once the second half of the Maritime Junior Hockey League season begins Friday.
The Ramblers, who had an 11-4-9 record during the pre-Christmas portion of their schedule, are in Berwick Friday to face the Valley Wildcats before coming home for a rare New Year’s Eve game at the Amherst Stadium against the Pictou County Weeks Crushers.
Game time is 2 p.m., followed by the Family First New Year’s Eve celebration at the stadium that will include rooftop fireworks.
Amherst is on the road New Year’s Day with a 2 p.m. game in Summerside against the Western Capitals.
“I wasn’t overly pleased with the first part of our season, I thought we under-achieved a bit,” LeBlanc said. “We have to tighten up in some areas, especially in the third period, but over all we’re not sitting in a bad position. We’re in third place with five games in hand on the fourth-place team and four games in hand on the second-place team.”
Looking back at the first part of the season, LeBlanc said his club gave up too many third period leads, but feels it’s something that will improve once the players arrive back from the Christmas break. He said the addition of goalie Cody Porter and forward Will Bower will improve the club. Porter has looked good since joining the team a couple of weeks ago while Bower is expected to play tonight in Berwick.
“I'm just worrying about getting better every day and going into the playoffs on a high,” LeBlanc said. “We have a team that’s dominated by 20-year-olds and usually those teams are better after Christmas.”
LeBlanc said he’s not about to press any panic buttons considering the club has only lost four regulation games.
One area he wants to improve is special teams with the club sitting seventh in power play opportunities and 10th on the penalty kill.
“I’m very confident in the group we have. We have among the top two goaltending tandems in the league and one of the best defensive corps in the league,” LeBlanc said. “Our forward group is very good and we’re adding Will Bower, who I feel could be one of the best forwards in this league.”
With the trading deadline coming up in just over a week, LeBlanc doesn’t anticipate making many changes. He said he will be looking to improve his club at the deadline if the right offer comes along, but he won’t make trades just to appear active.
LeBlanc won’t be trading 20-year-olds to build for next year’s Fred Page Cup team.
“I’m in this to win now. It’s been 27 years since the town has won a championship and our fans expect us to win now. We feel this is one of the best teams Amherst has had and adding Will was a big addition,” LeBlanc said.