What in the He-double-hockey-sticks?
Winger Connor Gay was at least a mild scoring sensation with the Regina Pats before being dealt to the Red Deer Rebels in early January. The Saskatoon native sniped 20 goals and collected 44 points in 39 games with the Pats this season and was supposed to repeat that productivity with his new club.
Since relocating to Red Deer, Gay has appeared in 30 games with the Rebels and has contributed two goals and 16 points. Clearly, something has gone amiss, although the 19-year-old hasn’t been able to figure it out.
“In a sense it’s been a little frustrating not putting up points, it gets on you a little bit,” Gay said Thursday. “But the team’s been playing pretty well lately so that’s all you can ask, to do well these last two (regular-season) games, go into playoffs and hopefully start a new history.”
The Rebels close out their regular season with a home-and-home set versus the Edmonton Oil Kings — today in the provincial capital and Saturday at the Centrium. Gay would like nothing better than to contribute offensively though the two contests and create some momentum that he can carry into the playoffs.
“These are two pretty big games going into the playoffs,” he said. “It’s time to step up and play the game you know you can and that’s what I’m going to try and do — just be the player I know I can be and chip in offensively and hopefully we can win a lot of games in the playoffs.”
Gay can’t get his finger on whatever problem(s) he might have encountered since switching sweaters in mid-season.
He started fast with the Rebels, picking up an assist in his first game and tallied twice and added a helper in his second game, a 6-1 win over visiting Brandon on Jan. 10. He hasn’t scored since.
Was his success in Regina due to a copybook chemistry with linemates Dryden Hunt and Patrick D’Amico? Do the systems employed by the Pats and Rebels really differ that much?
“I don’t know, I guess it was pretty easy playing with those guys there (Regina),” said Gay. “There’s a lot of good hockey players here but it’s just a little different. I don’t know, it just hasn’t clicked the way I had hoped. But we are winning hockey games, which is good, and that’s all you can ask for.
“For these next two games, we just have to focus on what we can do and play well, and good things will come.”
While Gay is struggling to find an answer to his scoring woes, Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter knows the solution.
“It’s simple and I’ve talked to him about it,” said the Rebels boss.
“When goal scorers go into slumps they have to find other ways to get out of that instead of just thinking they can score a goal. You have to be a bigger competitor, you have to get to nets and find ways for a puck to go off your behind or off your body into the net to give you some confidence again.”
Sutter, who was a big-time offensive player as a junior and possessed a scoring touch through the vast majority of his long and successful NHL career, speaks from experience.
“I learned that a long time ago as a player, that when goal scorers have a tougher time with things they’re not exactly sure how to get out of it because they’ve relied on their talent, thinking that scoring a goal will get them out of it instead of just getting back to the basics of hockey, the fundamentals and details.
“Be the hardest working player on the ice, be the guy who blocks the shot, be the guy who’s first on the forecheck, be the guy who’s going to win the one-on-one battles, be the guy who’s going to go to the net with a purpose. Eventually, your game starts coming back. Take defensive responsibility, make sure you’re not getting scored against . . . . then the rest of your game starts to come back.
“Sometimes when guys base their play strictly on goals . . . it happens to guys. You see it at all levels, guys who are goal scorers . . . it can take a long time to get out of slumps because they just don’t know the other ingredients. When they do understand what is required, they can get on a hell of a run and help their team, and that’s been Connor’s thing here — that he is going through something like this.
“Is it something we expected? No, but he has to learn and understand that there are other fundamentals and details in the game that are just as important as scoring goals. And he has to dig in.”
Like the subject himself, Sutter is hopeful of Gay closing out the regular season on a strong note and then carrying that swagger into the post-season.
“He has to look at finishing this regular season the right way and look at having a big playoff,” said Sutter. “And yet he has to earn his stripes to get into the lineup for playoffs.
“I really think over the last two weeks his play been better, but if we weren’t in a situation with injuries like we were there might have been nights where he found himself out of the lineup.
“He has to work to get himself out of this. He’s a 19-year-old player, he’s not 16 or 17, and he has to understand those aspects I was talking about to get him through it.”