by Ron C. Johnston
Have been working on another new web site, that has kept me busy for some time.
Regina Pats are freed from 'the trap'
Thanks to Greg for the story. Yes Regina Pat players are all back and as one team again. Not only that they have won four games in arrow.
By Greg Harder, Leader-Post January 4, 2013
If you're having a hard time recognizing the Regina Pats, it's only because they're starting to feel like themselves again.
The Pats looked like a different team on the weekend when they posted back-to-back wins following the return of several key veterans from the injured list, including No. 1 centre Chandler Stephenson, captain Colton Jobke, forward Dyson Stevenson and defenceman Luke Fenske.
Those additions - among others - gave the Pats a huge upgrade on paper and also allowed head coach Pat Conacher to make some significant on-ice adjustments. The biggest change was the structure of Regina's attack, giving his players the green light to revert to the up-tempo game Conacher has promoted since arriving in Regina last season.
"We got guys back and we're taking it to teams now," noted forward Morgan Klimchuk. "We changed our systems a little bit and those adjustments have been huge. Instead of sitting back, we're going at teams, we're outshooting teams. It's a great feeling."
Especially for Conacher, who considers "the trap" one of the dirtiest terms in his hockey vocabulary. That said, with his team decimated by injuries, Conacher felt he had little choice but to utilize a more conservative gameplan, even though it placed additional pressure on his already overworked goaltenders.
After sufficiently prepping his team in practice, Conacher flipped the switch during his team's West Coast road trip in November. He successfully launched it on the top-ranked Kamloops Blazers, who outshot Regina 41-13 but lost 2-1 in overtime.
Overall, the bend-but-don't break approach had mixed results for the Pats, who occasionally suffered losses but were also able to stay in games despite being outshot two to one.
"We had to adjust to what our lineup was," explained Conacher. "Were we perfect at it? No. But it kept us in the (playoff) race. It kept us competitive and we won some games. At the end of the day it's not the ideal hockey I want to be Pats hockey but at the time that's what we had to do. It was like the old Jacques Le-maire (approach). I worked with what I had. Now we can adjust and make some more changes. That's what we're going to do."
With a lineup that's healthier than it has been all season, Conacher finally has some depth at his disposal. He also has a more experienced group, thus allowing the team to play at a higher pace and - hopefully - create more havoc on the forecheck.
The strategy paid off with two wins in three outings since the Christmas break - losing 4-3 to the Moose Jaw Warriors, dumping Moose Jaw 5-1 and pounding the Saskatoon Blades 6-2.
The Pats outshot their opponent in each of those three contests after doing so just four times in their previous 37 games this season. It didn't hurt that both wins came against teams that were playing their third game in as many nights, but the timing fell nicely into Regina's game plan.
"I want to be aggressive (in that situation)," said Conacher. "I want to go after them. You have to. Saskatoon is a very experienced team. They'll be able to play those games (when they're tired) so you have to catch them when you can."
Playing an up-tempo game is taxing on the players, but it's also a style they have grown to prefer. Instead of playing on their heels, they have the opportunity to apply pressure and dictate the pace of the game.
"When we're looking up at the shot clock and seeing we're ahead of a team it's always a great feeling," said Klimchuk, who admitted his team had been leaning too heavily on goalies Matt Hewitt and Teagan Sacher.
"We were kind of hanging them out to dry in the first half and they were getting 50 shots a game. That's unacceptable. Now we're outshooting teams and it's really helpful for everyone."
The change doesn't guarantee sustained success, nor does it erase the team's pre-existing deficiencies, but the Pats believe it gives them the best chance to win.
"We're trying to stay level-headed and not get ahead of ourselves," added Klimchuk. "We know we have a lot of work to do. We're just looking forward to the challenge."