Published on November 21, 2013
Hockey Axemen head coach has been using defenseman Leo Jenner in front of the opposition net on Acadia power plays. The strategy paid off Wednesday when Jenner scored the second Axemen goal in an eventual 3-2 win over St. F.X. Though Jenner's goal was scored at even-strength, the Acadia power play had just ended.
As nice as it feels to get to spend the Christmas break in first, hockey Axemen head coach Darren Burns knows his team’s work isn’t nearly done yet.
The Axemen reached the mid-season break with 11 wins, one regulation loss and two overtime losses (one in a shootout), good for 24 points, one point ahead of the second-place UNB Varsity Reds.
Acadia entered the break on a positive note after defeating UNB 5-1 in their final action of the first half – their second win of the season over the V-Reds.
Acadia’s performance so far has been a team effort, both offensively and defensively, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been individual highlights, too.
Offensively, the Axemen have two of the conference’s too four scorers, overall scoring leader Liam Heelis (13-9-22) and linemate Mike Cazzola, fourth with 17 points including a conference-best 14 assists.
Defensively, Acadia allowed 31 goals in 14 games, tops in the AUHC. Individually, Evan Mosher led the conference in goals against average (1.82) and save percentage (.932).
Burns termed the win over UNB ”a nice way to end the first half,” but added that his team has “already turned the page.”
“We can’t be sitting around,” he said. “It’s a shorter season in the second half. We can’t lose our momentum. We have to be ready to go every night.”
Burns said he thought the Axemen played well as a team in the first half.
“We had a good team approach, and got contributions from everybody.”
Of Acadia’s three losses, one to UPEI Oct. 20 was in regulation time, while on Nov. 27, they lost in overtime at St. F.X. The final loss came in a shootout against Moncton Nov. 29. The Axemen earned at least one point from 13 of their first 14 games.
A lot of the games have been tightly contested, decided by one or two goals.
“That’s the kind of team we are. We’ve been pretty fortunate all our guys have been chipping in,” Burns said.
“There really wasn’t anything I was disappointed with” over the first 14 games, he said. “We worked on our team game, and our strengths have been what we thought they would be – teamwork and a strong work ethic.”
The second half will be shorter, with just 12 games as opposed to the 14 prior to the Christmas break.
“We’ll need to get off to a good start, keep up the momentum we’ve built.”
To Burns, the Axemen are “not a complicated team,” and their success depends a lot on keeping things simple.
“We stress a high attention to detail, concentrating on defense first and playing that way.”
An important part of the team effort has been the play of the first-year Axemen, he said.
“All the first-year players have contributed. They’ve come in and done exactly what we needed them to do, and then some.”
Acadia will play all the same teams in the second half.
“The conference being so strong, it really keeps you on your toes. There are so many good teams. The conference as a whole is as good as it’s ever been,” Burns said.
“We’ve had games where we’ve been really happy, and where one play was the difference between two points, one point or no points. We certainly got battle-tested.”
As for goals for the second half, “we have to stick with what’s made us successful so far. We have to scratch and claw for everything, and we have the team for that.”
The one thing Acadia can’t afford to do is relax, he said.
“Everyone in our conference is always prepared. The second half is a whole new season, and a lot more intense.”