Color Me Kisker: Keep Calm & Don’t Panic
Keep calm…don’t panic.
Look I’ve been in your shoes many times (trust me I’m from Buffalo). It’s very easy to panic that your team has lost its grip on their position in the standings and also losing three, four, five, or maybe even more games in a row. There have been many times in my life where I thought there’d be no coming back and that my team was destined for mediocrity or worse, however, one thing I’ve learned over the years is to keep a sense of reality and think about why things are happening, and what can and will change over the course of the season.
Below I’ve compiled a list of five reasons why I’d encourage Thunder fans to not panic and remain calm and level headed.
1. Tough Schedule Changes
This was already going to be a tough road trip prior to the Bulls closing their doors as the Thunder were scheduled to play in Ontario, and then in Alaska for three games before heading home after the four-game road trip and wait for San Francisco on Saturday.
All that changed in a blink of an eye as the Thunder ended up adding a tough matchup against the Condors and two additional games against Alaska for a season long seven-game road trip.
That means the guys are away from home for a week and basically four days and have a travel day to Bakersfield, then right after the game to Ontario, then a Thursday flight to Anchorage and awaiting them this Friday is yet another flight from Alaska back to California.
You certainly don’t want to make excuses, but no doubt that this trip that featured seven games in 10 days against three exceptional teams was going to be a difficult task for any team.
2. Bad and Unlucky Bounces
In my eyes this series against Alaska has seen a lot of positives from the Thunder, and certainly a few negatives. The team has created a lot of high quality chances and continually has put good shots on Alaska goaltender Gerald Coleman. Coleman has looked beatable and just a few unlucky bounces went against the Thunder in the series so far to help Alaska to victory.
Some will point to officiating as a cause for concern but my father always mentioned to me a simple principle which I’ve only recently applied to my life.
He told me that you’re going to have calls go against you, both deservedly so, and maybe not deservedly so, however you always have to keep focus on the task at hand and not worry about the officiating.
Normally, both teams end up with the same amount of calls at the end of the game. Power play chances should be just about even because nobody on the ice is a perfect angel. Both teams clutch, grab, rough it up, slash, etc…etc… While we may not have agreed with all of the calls this weekend, it was not the reason that the Thunder fell to the Aces. A team cannot allow one line to produce 26 points in four games. That is the source for why the Thunder have lost in Alaska.
Star players are star players for a reason and every team has them. They can take over games and when the game is on the line, coaches look to these guys to produce. Peter Sivak, Brendan Connolly, and Nick Mazzolini have been extraordinary in this series, to the point where you begin to realize that you can’t stop these guys completely, but you can contain them. Learning how to contain them is what makes our sport interesting.
3. Keep the Chemistry Together
I’ve heard from some fans about making moves and trading players to bring in some new faces. Making your team better is certainly a great challenge for every General Manager and Coach in every sport and on every team, however it’s also a big challenge knowing when to pull the trigger and make a move.
I believe that Coach Kromm is making the correct decision to not hit the panic button. Reason? Your big acquisition is already on your team.
Don’t forget that the Thunder will be getting back a guy who had 5 goals, 12 assists, and 17 points in 13 games played.
That’s right, Ryan Hayes is the team’s big late season acquisition as when he is back in the lineup, he should fit right back in with either the Garet Hunt – James Henry line, or perhaps even with the Greg Miller – Joey Martin line. At the time of Hayes’ injury, he was leading the team in points and scored a number of big goals for the team.
The possibilities are endless for Coach Kromm because remember at the beginning of the season all the talk was about the depth of this team. With injuries and call-ups, depth has been stretched thinner than the start of the year, but those players can be a part of the roster and help the team defend its Western Conference Championship.
While they may be up in the AHL right now, barring a long playoff run by either Portland or Bridgeport, both Corey Trivino and Andrew Clark could be back into the lineup come playoff time. At the time of his call-up, Clark was leading the team in scoring, and I’m sure Thunder fans and Coach Kromm are drooling at the possibility of linking up Hunt-Clark-Hayes for a second straight Kelly Cup Playoff run!
4. It’s a Long Season
One of my old hockey coaches always told me that we never want to lose two in a row. Well, no duh, that seems obvious, but it was the underlying message that said when things get tough and you are losing games in a row, you have to work even harder to turn things around and to do your best to not lose multiple games.
The thing is that it’s a long season. Teams will go through a roller coaster of emotions and as fans, we get caught up in it.
When the team is playing well and when the Thunder won four-straight from November 20-24, I’m sure we were all thinking that things couldn’t get better. The team was clicking, scoring, and getting good goaltending.
Now think about how you feel today. The team has lost four in a row. The team isn’t scoring like we know they can and are allowing more goals then they were at the beginning of the year.
As fans, we have to bring back perspective, and I’ll admit sometimes that’s really hard to do. The perspective says that it’s a long 72-game season. Your team is going to go through the highest of highs…and the lowest of lows. It’s important to not get wrapped up in emotion, but rather enjoy the good while it lasts, and hope that when you hit rough patches, the end quickly.
The thing that you should judge, that you should hang your hat on, is how the team responds to such adversity. If your team looks like…well…my hometown Buffalo Sabres, then maybe criticism is warranted, but if your team looks like the Stockton Thunder have looked, reserve your judgment for a later date because the team has responded and if a few bounces and/or calls went their way, maybe they break out of this funk they’ve been in while playing regular season games in Alaska since 2011.
The team is battling on the boards hard, they played very physical and tough hockey, they’ve limited the quality scoring chances that Alaska has received, and goaltending has responded to some difficult challenges. They look like a team on the verge of turning the corner to me as they’ve shown me that they aren’t giving up.
5. Using this as a Learning Experience
The final reason to not panic is that this seven-game road trip is that you can view this as a learning experience.
Nick Larson, Mitch Bruijsten, Mathieu Gagnon, James Henry, J.P. Burkemper, Greg Miller, Ben Rosen, Sean Escobedo, Mike Dalhuisen, Michal Spacek, Alex MacLeod, Landon Oslanski, Andrey Pedan, and Parker Milner.
Those are the names of the players who are rookies on the active roster. These are guys who have played highly competitive junior or college hockey but are experiencing the rigors of being a pro for the first time in their lives. They’re on what will probably be one of the longest road trips of their career which features a five-game series against a very good team.
The young guys can use this as experience going forward as to how the playoffs will treat them. Fortunately, this league is a great league with tons of talent. The West is really good and teams are all very close with each having more strengths than weaknesses. Our young rookies on the Thunder are learning what a playoff series at the pro level will feel like, and also, what it feels like to lose heartbreaking games.
There are so many parallels to the Bulls and Aces five-game series that the Thunder have already played, to the actual playoffs except for one major difference. The playoffs are in April. I’ve always said that I’d much rather lose these games in February than in April and beyond. The young guys will learn from this experience and they will respond come playoff time.
The hardest part about being a fan is seeing your team in a rough patch and staying patient and level headed. Think hard about why the losses are happening and what sorts of things have impacted the team during that stretch. Think about how each decision impacts the entire team in the long term.
If the Thunder play good defense, get solid goaltending from Brian Foster and Parker Milner, and get a few key cogs back into the lineup, they will be competitive and a team that the Western Conference will fear. So keep calm and don’t panic. Watch the team and how they respond. Don’t just watch the puck, watch what guys are doing off the puck. Look at them on the bench and how their body language is and how they are communicating with their teammates.
Look at the veterans and how they are helping the younger guys develop. Be patient that a guy like Ryan Hayes will make more of a difference to this team when he returns than any trade could (and it doesn’t cost us a quality player)!
Hockey is a tough sport, and seasons are long. There is still a lot of hockey to be played, especially at home in March. After all, it’s you fans in March who will help push the guys into the playoffs. It will be your cheers that put the fear of god in the opposition. It will be your passion, which fuels the guys to defend their title and search for more.
Don’t rid yourself of that fuel…not yet.
In honor of the Rough & Ready Islanders jerseys (which by the way I thought looked amazing…can’t wait to see them in person on March 22), I decided to feature one of my all time favorite jerseys and one of the least popular jersey in the history of the NHL.
That’s because they were used for one season before ditching the main crest for the old crest. I’m talking about the famed Gorton’s Fisherman jersey that the New York Islanders used in 1995-96. What a beauty.