OLDS — Olds Grizzlys head coach and GM Scott Atkinson is confident the junior hockey team will do better next season.
During an interview with the Albertan, Atkinson noted the team compiled nearly twice as many wins this past season, compared to 2021-22. The team ended the season with a 16-39-4-1 record.
“We won 16 games this year and we won nine last year, so those are good signs,” Atkinson said.
Back last fall, the team charged out of the gate strongly, posting a winning record for a couple of weeks.
Then the wheels fell off and they ended up back in the basement of the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s eight-team South division.
Atkinson attributes the strong start to the veterans who were on the club at that time, but he said those veterans were also the primary reason for the tumble down the standings.
"Obviously when you’re struggling to move forward, you’d like to have some stability, so we thought we were going to be a lot better this year.
“And one of the reasons we weren’t is our veteran players basically didn’t lead us in the direction that we needed to be led early in the year,” Atkinson said.
“We had a lot of guys that we thought were going to be good players for us and for one reason or another, they didn’t seem to follow through on that.
“And we had a little bit of an issue in the dressing room and we had to kind of make sure that we had a good environment for our young players to learn and we just moved some guys along.”
As a result, he said, the Grizzlys are once again a very young team with “a lot of potential.”
Only three guys aged out this season.
"We’re extremely young, by far the youngest in the league, and we’ve almost twice as many games,” Atkinson said.
“We feel like we have a good nucleus of guys to build on.”
The team made some great finds during the season. One was former B.C. junior B goaltender Marcus Cumberworth, who became their number 1 goaltender.
“We were basically struggling from net. That was the biggest weakness of our team early on and we decided we had to make a change,” Atkinson said.
“We have Noah Nelson who’s very young (17) and we think he’s going to be a good goalie in the future. But the veteran guy we were counting on basically just couldn’t get us to where we needed to be so we had to go searching for another goalie.
“I used my contacts in the Western League, was able to locate Marcus and convince him to come here and he’s been a real good find for us.
“I think he’s a very good goaltender and I feel like he’d be a Division 1 scholarship candidate if he’d come here earlier.”
In a speech to the Grizzlys faithful, team president Josh Erdman, a former Grizzlys player, told the players that there’s more to junior hockey than “the number of W’s.”
“Junior hockey’s about way more than that,” Erdman said. “It's about you guys putting a practice together, leading in battle and hopefully making lifelong friends.
“It's about developing as a player on the ice and developing as a person off the ice. It’s about the feeling of being a part of something bigger than yourself."
Erdman said less than one per cent of Canadian hockey players make it to the junior level.
“You should be proud of your achievement,” he said.
“Take in every moment, it’s an unbelievable time in your life. There’s more to life than hockey, but there’s nothing like playing junior hockey.”