Andrew Degroot isn’t pressing the panic button yet.
With only nine games remaining, the new Delhi Travellers coach realizes his Midwestern Ontario Junior C Hockey League team is knocking on the playoff door despite an eight-game slide.
You can’t blame the coach’s optimism after his team’s 3-1 loss to the New Hamburg Firebirds.
“It’s frustrating because you’re so close,” Degroot said. “You see what they’ve improved on and there is a real excitement about that and the direction we’re going in. I know nobody likes losing, but it will happen when you’re building like we are. But we can feel it. We’re getting close. We had the win with three minutes to go last week as well.”
On Sunday against the MHL’s second-best team, the Travellers were right where they wanted to be in the third period, tied 1-1 with six minutes to go.
But 39 seconds after a retaliation penalty, Tyler Randerson made the Travellers pay, while Tyler Hoffman added another two minutes later to add some insurance.
Tyler Kleine scored the game’s first goal in the second period, while Brandon Szymesko tied things up for the Travellers early in the third period.
“Right now we’re finding ways to lose,” Degroot said. “I think we could’ve won it. We took a stupid penalty and a team like that makes you pay for something like that. And they did. If we don’t take that penalty, I really think we could have won that game,” he said. “Even if we got to overtime, we were doing a lot of things right. It was anyone’s game.
“But we’re getting there,” he said. “I still think we can make the playoffs. I think once we get a win, it will catapult us to more. It really is about confidence. And when we have a lead or are tied in the third period, we squeeze the sticks.”
Rhett Roney agrees.
“It’s hard to lose a game like that,” Roney said. “We’ve been close to winning a couple of games in the third period. And then one little mistakes loses it for us. The bounces just aren’t going our way.”
Roney said he and his teammates have to make those bounces go their way.
Part of making those breaks is by buying in to what the new coach is trying to teach the Travellers.
“We’ve come along way in a short period of time,” Degroot said. “I give a lot of credit to the guys that are buying in to the system. I have in the room a saying, ‘All In’. They’re really good characters. It’s a matter of keep working hard and keep learning.
“We’re doing a lot of video and work in practice on different things,” he said. “I think we’ve improved immensely. I really believe if we can get one win, we’ll be able to string a bunch to get into the playoffs.”
With a 4-26-1 record, the travellers are now five points behind the eighth-place Burford Bulldogs. Saturday they take on the Paris Mounties on the road, before hosting the Woodstock Navy Vets Sunday at 7:30 p.m.