OLDS — The mood surrounding the Olds Grizzlys these days?
Ho, ho, ho.
The Grizzlys have dialed up some serious Christmas cheer in recent weeks with 13 wins and a tie in their last 16 Alberta Junior Hockey League games.
The run of success is in stark contrast to the club’s struggles out of the gate and through the first 10 weeks of the season.
So, what’s with the major turnaround?
“They (players) started to like each other,” said head coach/director of hockey operations Kevin Hasselberg, whose club closes out the 2009 portion of its schedule with tonight’s 7:30 p.m. meeting with the Drayton Valley Thunder at the Sportsplex.
“The key is the respect in the dressing room improved and at the end of the day they started to know each other, started to accept personalities and we started to find that chemistry.
“But I think there’s a word of caution out there — it’s not what you do before Christmas that counts. The big season is in front of us and I think these guys realize that.
“It’s going to be important that we finish on a high here (tonight versus the Thunder) and get ready for the after-Christmas stretch.”
Some of the Grizzlys’ early-season woes were due to an inexperienced defensive corps and injuries.
But a shortage of manpower didn’t hold the Grizzlys back in Sunday’s 3-0 win over the Lloydminster Bobcats, just two days after posting an impressive 5-0 victory over the red-hot Grande Prairie Storm.
Olds was minus seven regulars versus the Bobcats and still outshot the visitors 33-23.
“We’ve been missing some key guys but our affiliate players have done a tremendous job of filling in and stepping up to make big plays for us,” said Hasselberg.
“And our goaltending has obviously been top notch the last few weeks.”
Grizzlys No. 1 stopper Marc Boulanger, who will attend the University of Massachusetts on a hockey scholarship next year, possesses a 2.70 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage with three shutouts.
Veteran forwards Jordan Kwas (11-28-39) and Corey Campbell (20-13-33) are the club’s top scorers, while 19-year-old Frank Carbonaro anchors a blueline that features promising rookies Matthew McAleenan and Luke Madill.
Most importantly, the Grizzlys have climbed out of the depths of the South Division and into fourth place with an 18-16-2-3 record.
“It’s confidence. If you’re winning and having success and doing the little things well, you can take risks,” said Hasselberg. “And when you take risks the puck seems to go the right way for you, as opposed to a team that is lacking confidence.
“We’ve experienced both ends of the spectrum before Christmas. It’s been a roller coaster ride and something we didn’t expect, but we’re riding a good thing now and we just want to keep it going.”
Campbell, the Grizzlys captain, said the team turned it around when everyone decided to cooperate.
“Maybe we just got sick of losing, but we’ve all kind of bought in and come up with the same concepts and have really come together as a team,” he said.
“We’ve had a lot of key guys out of our lineup lately, but everyone is just kind of digging deep and playing for each other and we’ve been coming out on top.”