The days when the Calgary Canucks were the top junior hockey team in town appear to be coming back around, 17 years after their last championship.
Ever since the Canucks won the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) championship in 1999, they have fallen on hard times, going from the top of the conference to the bottom of the entire league.
This all seems to be distant memory as this year’s team have been on a roll.
As of the end of November, the ‘Nucks were second in the AJHL’s Vitera South division with a 20-8-1 record, putting the rest of the league on notice.
“We’re having fun proving people wrong,” James Poole, head coach and general manager of the Canucks said in an interview.
“We knew we were going to be a lot stronger this year.”
This season marks Poole’s first with the team as both coach and general manager, as he was previously coach of the Okotoks Oilers for six years.
Poole credited the on-ice leadership of the team for helping to turn the Canucks around, pointing out team captain Ben Assad and assistant captains Allan MacPherson and Brett Van Os.
In addition to the veterans of the team, Poole said the players and the coaching staff from the year before played key roles in the Canucks’ success.
“The players and coaching staff did a good job changing the culture and expectations,” said Poole.
“They’re just as much a part of the turnaround.”
Transitioning from coaching against the Canucks tobeing their head coach, Poole was quick to recognize how different this year’s team is.
“They didn’t have depth before,” Poole said.
“Now we have a quality lineup that can win games night after night.”
The team now views itself differently, Poole said. The mental aspect of the game ultimately influences how a team will perform.
“Before, they knew they were a bottom feeder. As a result, that was the team’s attitude,” Poole said.
“The mindset now is that we expect to win every night and the kids believe that.”
Despite sitting second in the division, there are areas Poole is still looking to improve on if they want to be considered an elite team in the AJHL.
“Sometimes we get a little too offensive minded, we cheat the game and look for shortcuts,” Poole said.
“You play the good teams like Brooks, Bonnyville, or Fort McMurray and they’ll make you pay for it.”
As the new year and second half of the season approaches, Poole still believes that other teams in the AJHL think they will go back to being the old Canucks and fall back down the conference standings.
“We’re a little bit of an afterthought still, teams expect us to come back down to earth and fail,” Poole said.
“We want to work to being a contender come playoff time.”
The mindset now is that we expect to win every night and the kids believe that. – James Poole
With the pace the Canucks have set so far, the possibility of a playoff appearance seems to be all but guaranteed, with the ultimate goal of bringing the league championship back to Calgary.
“We’re for real,” said Poole.
“Come playoff time, we’ll be one of the teams to be reckoned with.”