I thought I would use another post to discuss something that Andrew raised in his View From the Press Box below. And that involves Jon DiSalvatore talking about some of the veterans preparing to call a team meeting to discuss the team.
“Right now is a great time for us to learn,” he said of the team’s winning streak. “We are winning. It’s a great time to educate yourself. There’s a lot of things we feel we can do a lot better. There’s a group of us that’s going to address the team and get this thing going. We think we can play better. That [Hamilton] was a great team tonight. It was a great win, but we think we can do better.”
Peter Zingoni said much the same thing last week when he said that he and his fellow veterans had to start playing up to their potential.
Colton Gillies, one of the youngsters, noted this also when he talked about how great the team’s penalty kill was last night. In praising the penalty kill, he noted that there were a lot of guys who were well rested after the second period because they didn’t play much, so it was up to those guys to step up in the third period and help out those who had gotten the job done in the second period.
I know many of you are really fond of last year’s team. I am, too. There were some really great guys on that team that I hate not seeing in the locker room every night. But I like what I’m hearing in this locker room after the games. The character and the attitude reminds me of the team two years ago. Erik Reitz was the veteran on that team, and he had the respect of his teammates, and he wasn’t afraid to take the lead.
It wasn’t that he was overly vocal. It was just that he knew there was a job that needed doing, and he was the guy to do it. He said several times that season that Kevin Constantine's system was a proven one that worked, and that if the players just trusted in that system, then they would win. I don’t really recall anyone assuming that role last year. It wasn’t that last year’s team was a team of factions, it was just that, for the most part, I don’t really remember them being an unified force until around the playoffs and the arrival of Tony Hrkac.
But what I’m hearing from Zingoni and DiSalvatore reminds me of what Reitz was like in the locker room. The individuals on this team might not be as gifted as several of last year’s players, but as a group, they can win. That’s the feeling that I’m getting from Zingoni and DiSalvatore and Gillies and Irmen.
DiSalvatore’s been in the middle of the action most of the season, but until last night, he’s had trouble getting the puck into the net. But he understands the team, the talent, and Constantine’s system. And he understands that he keeps doing what he’s got to do, then things are going to work out.
“The type of team that we have -- we’re a four line team right now -- and it’s no time to get frustrated,” he said. “Yeah, I want to participate, I want to produce, but I’ve got to stick with it and just believe in the system of the team and do my thing and just plug away and they’re going to come. And it came tonight. Which is great. If it doesn’t come tomorrow night, or whatever it is, I just stick with the plan.”
And if I can go off on a tangent, I’d like to point out that this reminds me a lot of what I’m hearing from Houston Cougars head coach Kevin Sumlin and his players. I cover the Cougars for the Press, so I’m at the games, and I talk to the coach and the players. And what Sumlin and the players stress every week is that it’s nice to win the game. And they win the games by staying in the system and trusting each other. Cougar QB Case Keenum has had his name mentioned when discussing the Heisman Trophy, but last week, against SMU, Keenum cut back on the number of passes he throws in a game because SMU had set its defense to stop the pass, so Keenum started handing the ball off to his running backs because he trusted them to do what was needed for the win. And Sumlin stresses time and time again that the guys have yet to play their best game.
That’s what I’m hearing from this locker room. The players are learning to trust each other, and they’re learning to work within the system. They’ve won games, but they’re not happy about the wins because they haven’t played their best game.
I talked to Danny Irmen for a bit after the game for a piece I’m doing for the mothership next week. And Irmen likes this team.
“I think the sky’s the limit,” he said. “There’s a lot of character on this team. A lot of talent. A lot of hard work. And that’s what you need. And great goaltending. We’re just going to take it one game at a time here, and hopefully we make a little run here throughout the year and into the playoffs.”
I’m not sure about the sky’s the limit thing. And I would feel a whole lot better with a healthy Barry Brust and Nolan Schaefer back in the net. But I think this is a good team that is on it’s way to becoming better. Now Andrew might disagree with me, and he might think I’ve totally misunderstood what DiSalvatore was getting out -- and Zingoni -- and he’s probably right. But I think the right attitude is there. I can tell that they care, and care deeply. I think the talent, while not great, is good. They’re probably going to be a frustrating team to watch throughout the year, just like last season’s team, and the team before that.
But give this team a chance. I think that, if you do, you’ll find that you actually like them.