Ah yes, December – a month seen by many as the best month of the year.
Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa. It’s a beautiful time of the year when families get together, people reflect on the year that was, and make new year’s resolutions that they will inevitably break. It really is the most wonderful time of the year.
For the Concordia Stingers’ men’s hockey team, December really could not have come fast enough. The 2019-20 season hasn’t been kind to them so far, to say the least. The Stingers currently hold a 6-7-3 record, sitting in sixth place in the OUA East division.
Looking at how they performed in the month of November, it would be easy to say, winning just two of their eight games, that it’s been a cruel month for the Stingers. But the reality is that the season as a whole, so far, has been one to forget.
The story of the season for Concordia has been the team’s lack of goal scoring, a direct causation of the multiple injuries that the team saw in the opening half of the season. Two of their best offensive players, Philippe Sanche and Alexander Katerinakis, have been out for the majority of the season with injuries, playing just five games each. Other regulars such as Jeff de Wit, Zachary Zorn, Colin Grannary, Ryan Vandervlis,have missed some time due to injuries as well.Sprinkle in a couple of suspensions to Carl Neill and Liam Murphy to that equation as well, and we have a Stingers team that haven’t iced a full, healthy, lineup all season.
You get the point. It’s been rough.
After Saturday’s game against Ottawa, you could sense the frustration in the room. Head coach Marc-André Élement reflected on the first half of the season and everything that’s gone wrong for the Stingers.
“I’m not a guy who makes excuses, but it’s been a hard first half,” said Élement. “It’s not just little injuries. It’s [big ones] to our top guys.”
Regardless of the injuries, Élement says that there are a lot of areas that his team will need to improve on in the new year if they want to make a long playoff run and qualify for nationals.
“We’re going to have to better defensively. We’re gonna need to play better as a [cohesive] unit,” Élement said. “Special teams needs to improve as well, [all around] we just need to be better.”
Let’s unpack that statement.
Regardless of the injuries they’ve dealt with, the Stingers still need to improve on a couple of areas, like Element said. One of the biggest issues the Stingers have been faced with this season is their lack of finishing. The Stingers are averaging just over 3 goals a game, which on the surface is a nice number to be at, but U Sports is a completely different ball (puck?) game than the NHL. To find sustained success, teams need to be hovering around 3.5 goals per game.
Special teams is a massive part of the U Sports game and right now the Stingers’ power play is running at 18.5 per cent efficiency. It’s not the worst number, but with the lack of talent there has been on the ice in recent games, it’s understandable how it dropped off from the 31.4 per cent it was working at, at one point in the season.
The penalty kill is the one there is no excuse for. It’s no secret that the Stingers take a lot of penalties. They rank fifth in the entire OUA conference in times short-handed. Their penalty kill is not far behind at 76.3 per cent, good for 17th in the conference. That is simply just not good enough, injuries or not. The Stingers get too flustered in their own end shorthanded and need to be more aggressive when it comes to their kill – and they have the speed to do so. The main issue with their penalty kill is that teams cycle for too long on them, tiring out the penalty kill unit which often results in a goal or another penalty.
Alright, enough negativity. Let’s end the year on some positives.
One of the things the Stingers could take a lot of pride in, despite their record, is that they’ve battled and had a chance in every game this season. Forward Chase Harwell says that when staring right in the face of adversity, the Stingers never back down.
“I’m pretty happy, the boys work,” said Harwell after losing against Ottawa. “It sucks that we didn’t get the win before the break, but the boys battled. I really like the attitude in the room.”
Another one of the bright spots of the Stingers’ season has been Tyler Hylland’s rookie season. The rookie forward’s arrival at Concordia was overshadowed by the news of the recruitment of Katerinakis and of Sanche being named captain. But Hylland has quickly made a name for himself among Stingers fans, collecting nine goals and nine assists in 16 games this season, all while having a revolving door of linemates.
Despite the first half of the season not going according to plan, Hylland is still very confident in his team’s ability to bounce back in the second half and make a strong push towards the playoffs.
“We need to work on the little details like finishing our checks and getting sticks on the pucks quicker,” said Hylland. “If we can work on those little details I think it’ll make a big difference for us because when our guys get back [from injury] and we have our full lineup, talent-wise, we’re right up there with anyone in the league.”
Photos by Alex Hutchins