To say that the Calgary Mustangs are a tough team to play against night in and night out may be an understatement.
The Mustangs found themselves with an 8-42-2 record as of Feb. 16, sitting at the bottom of the south division standings in the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL).
But in the opinion of their coach, there has been improvement each game.
“We’ve been working better as a unit,” Tyler Drader, the head coach and general manager of the Mustangs, said in an interview.
“We just need to understand that we need to play as a five-man unit all the time.”
Although the team has been on the wrong end of the scoreboard most nights, Drader said he has been impressed with how much the players have improved compared to the start of the season.
One area that he has been pleased with, is the team’s ability to continue to play hard despite the score, which was evident during their 4-2 loss to the Okotoks Oilers on Jan. 31.
“We could’ve easily gone into cruise control,” Drader said.
“The guys battled hard and created chances in the third period.”
The Mustangs found themselves down 3-0 heading into the final frame, but they responded with two goals in the period from Sine Chadi and Ethan Kopyczyn to make the game interesting to the end.
Drader said he believes they could have come away with the win, but a few mental lapses allowed the puck to end up in their own net.
“We feel asleep in a couple situations that led to goals,” Drader said.
“It really took the wind out of us.”
The situations that Drader referred to were during key moments when they couldn’t afford to allow a goal to keep things tight score-wise.
Late in the second, Oilers forward Trey Degraaf scored with just seven seconds left to play in the period, giving the Oilers a three-goal lead.
Then, after the Mustangs pulled within two goals, Degraaf scored his second of the night just 12 seconds after Chadi inched the Mustangs closer to mounting a comeback.
“Those are two things that we can’t let happen,” Drader said.
“Just a case of falling asleep at the wheel.”
With eight games left in the regular season, Drader is looking into what they can build on headed into next year, to ensure they end up higher in the standings.
“We need to look to support the puck and communicate at all times,” Drader said.
“Looking to improve every game that’s left.”
And although as a coach it is part of the job to look beyond the present, Drader said he isn’t losing focus on the remaining games.
The team and him know that they can build their confidence each game and use it as motivation.
“We want to take it one day at a time, not going too far ahead ourselves.”