In many ways, Saturday night’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Elmira Jackals could serve as a turning point to the Titans’ 2012-13 season.
All week long, the message from head coach Vince Williams was that his team looked the best it has all year in the previous weekend and that despite losing all three games down south, that the sense was that things were going to finally take a turn for the better.
On Friday, you’d buy it. They looked relatively strong in a 4-2 win over the Wheeling Nailers, and then seemed to use that momentum to get earn a late, two-goal lead against Elmira on Saturday. And then, for ten minutes, it was the same old Trenton hockey team. They sat back, blew the lead and eventually the game, and missed a chance to string together back-to-back wins for the first time since October 19.
It wasn’t just a loss — albeit one in which they did manage to earn a point — it was the kind of loss that could absolutely flatten the confidence of a team that had apparently built up quite a bit of it over the past week and a half. But the players would have none of that.
Immediately after Saturday night’s loss, the team held a players-only meeting in the locker room, with the emphasis being that getting two points and playing all 60 minutes in December is just as important as it would be during the stretch in March.
“We had a meeting after the game (Saturday) night as players, and talked about that we can’t get these games back,” said Titans defenseman Blake Kessel.
“If you give up points like that throughout the year, it’ll come back to bite you if you don’t watch it. We’ve done that a few times this year where we’ve given up a couple leads, and we’ve got to really focus from here on out that when we’ve got a team down, we’ve got to make sure we bury them.”
According to Kessel, it wasn’t any one particular moment that sparked the meeting.
“We already have the spark inside of us to hate losing games like that,” he said. “Each guy individually in this league, or in pro hockey or in pro sports is going to hate losing games, no matter what is and especially when you give up a two-goal lead like that. That’s something that the meeting didn’t need to address, we just needed to address that we needed to stay together here and really come up and focus for 60 minutes and not have those letdowns.”
Sunday was far from a letdown, if anything it was the kind of dominant performance that many expected would be the norm after the 4-0 start the team got off to. Instead, the 5-1 win over the Orlando Solar Bears gave the Titans their best weekend since then, pushing them to five out of a possible six points.
As happy as Williams was about the win and the weekend, he seemed to be just as pleased that his players were able to police themselves and, as he likes to say, “take ownership of the room.”
“I’ve been with some great leaders in that dressing room; myself and Scott Bertoli and Rick Kowalsky, and one thing that I always believed in from day one from a leadership circle is taking ownership,” he said.
“It doesn’t have to be coming from me. We as coaches have to police these guys, but that’s why we have a leadership circle. Those are the guys that we come down on behind closed doors if it’s not getting done out there. When they take ownership of that and they’re respecting each other and learning from each other, that’s a big step. That’s something that was missing.”
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com