The CanElson Drilling Estevan Bruins' showing in their home opener on Friday was much better than the night before, but in the end, the result was the same.
The Bruins lost both ends of a home-and-home series with the Melville Millionaires to kick off the SJHL season.
That included a 10-2 thrashing on Thursday in Melville and a much closer 4-2 loss at Spectra Place the next night.
Newly named captain Connor Milligan said lack of communication on the ice was an issue in the first two games, with players still adjusting to new teammates.
"Right now we're still getting used to each other. It's a long road. It's not how you start, it's how you finish," he said.
Bruins head coach and general manager Keith Cassidy said some players appeared to be out of sync on Friday, but he was happy with the overall effort.
"You can still tell that some of the timing's not there with some guys, but the hard work is what I was looking for. After the non-performance we came up with (on Thursday), having something to build on is good. I'm not concerned about our work ethic or anything like that. We build that solid foundation and start getting the timing down, and we're going to be all right," he said.
Friday's game was a sellout for the Bruins, their first in seven years.
The Mils opened the scoring three minutes in when Alex Elliott managed a weak goal on Bruins starter Curtis Martinu.
Martinu, 20, was acquired from the Trenton Golden Hawks (OJHL) last week as a temporary fill-in for starter Steven Glass, who is out with an aggravated knee injury.
"He'll be the first to tell you he wasn't happy with that first goal, but I thought he bounced back rather strong after that with some good saves for us," Cassidy said of the 6'4", 216-pound netminder.
Nick Weiss struck back for the Bruins, popping in a rebound off a scramble in the goalmouth at 8:21.
Melville had the only two goals of the second period to take a 3-1 lead.
Ian McNulty tipped a Russell Trudeau shot past Martinu at 6:55, and Colin Mospanchuk knocked in a rebound about six minutes later.
The Bruins got back in it when Weiss scored his second of the night nine minutes into the third period.
The play started with rookie winger Wyatt Garagan taking a pass fresh out of the penalty box and slipping it to Calder Neufeld, who then dished it across to Weiss for an easy goal.
"I thought as the game wore on, we certainly got better. I thought the third period was one of our stronger periods in terms of moving the puck between one another and having some tape-to-tape passes," said Cassidy.
Rhett Kehoe put the game away for Melville with an empty netter with 54 seconds left.
Cassidy said he was happy with the Bruins' performance against one of the most powerful teams in the SJHL.
"If they've got the best offence in the league, then I'm a happy guy. I think for the most part, we kept them in check. You look at the goals that did happen, two of them were incredibly stupid mistakes by guys that you wouldn't expect to make mistakes."
He added that defenceman David Robertson and centre Ben Williams were among the more impressive rookies Friday.
"I thought David Robertson played like a veteran out there. He hits like a truck. He makes smart, simple plays and that's what we brought him in for. The more guys who can identify and embrace the role that they're playing, like he does, the better off we're going to be."
On Thursday, the wheels came off for Estevan midway through the second period after Melville scored two quick goals to take a 4-0 lead.
"The fourth goal, I think, really took whatever wind was in the sails right out of it. It's tough to go through those situations. You can rah-rah-rah all you want, but it's not going to excite the guys," said Cassidy.
"I thought in fits and spurts we had some pressure in their zone, but obviously every time that happened, they'd come back down and score. The mindset of a hockey club, you can probably bounce back from two, maybe three of those in a game at worst, but if you do it six or seven times it's very disheartening. No excuses. We were bad. End of story," he added.
Sean Aschim led the Mils with a hat trick. Trudeau (2), T.J. Reeve (2), Mospanchuk, Kehoe and Landon Hall also chipped in.
Tanner Froese and Nick Sova had the Bruins' goals, both in the third period.
Martinu arrived in Estevan at 3 a.m. on Thursday and struggled in his first SJHL start.
"We put our goaltender in a bad situation and we didn't help him much with the effort," said Cassidy. "It's probably not fair to him to do what we did, but we did."
Martinu was yanked after six goals in favour of rookie backup Travis Pelletier.
Milligan said nerves were apparent in the season opener and that "a lot of guys were playing uncharacteristically."
The Bruins took on Melfort last night and will hit the road this weekend for games in Nipawin, La Ronge and Humboldt.