CANMORE – The COVID hangover effect is being felt by the Canmore Eagles following a sluggish start to the season.
On a four-game skid after the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) Showcase Weekend (Oct. 1-3), the Eagles (2-4-0) have been facing challenges early on with scoring and special teams, with head coach and general manager Andrew Milne saying the team's work ethic is nowhere near where it needs to be.
"When you look at it, our guys missed a full year," said Milne. "The patience is going to be what’s tested early here with our group and just making sure we get the group where it needs to be with time. I'm not using that as an excuse, but at the end of the day, it’s an excuse. It’s a fact, we didn't play and that hurt."
Last season, the Eagles played just two regular season games due to COVID-19, a team outbreak and the league pausing the season. When the AJHL restarted last March, the Eagles chose not to opt-in.
"It was hard to tell where we’d be at with last year and COVID," said Milne. "I think the idea with the COVID situation and us not partaking in the season, that hurt us in the recruiting world and I look at it this way and it is what it is. We are where we are and we just have to keep improving and get better."
The Eagles lost 4-0 to the Drayton Valley Thunder and 6-3 to the Whitecourt Wolverines last Saturday and Sunday in Brooks.
The Eagles' special teams are in the lower to mid-tier of the league currently, but its penalty kill, sitting at 60 per cent, improved in the past three games at an 85 per cent efficiency.
Offensively, however, the team is struggling to find the back of the net on the man advantage and at full strength.
As of Wednesday (Oct. 6), before playing against the Brooks Bandits, the Eagles were second lowest in goals with 16 and their power play sitting at 20 per cent.
Milne isn’t concerned with the scoring slump this early and said the athleticism just isn’t where it needs to be.
“We’re going to try to get guys on the same page, getting guys trying to score goals the right way,” he said. “We can’t just rely on purely skill to score goals, we’re going to have to get work ethic involved and some structure involved and make sure we’re scoring and playing the right way."
New goalie Matthew Malin, who's backing up Andreai Proctor-Ramirez, made his Eagles debut against the Wolverines. He made 24 saves in the loss.
The Eagles start a three-game home stand starting Saturday (Oct. 9) against the Blackfalds Bulldogs at 7 p.m. Then on Oct. 14 and 15, the Eagles take on the Bandits in back-to-back games. Puck drop for both is 7 p.m.