For most of the season, the Power Dodge Estevan Bruins have been playing against teams far away from the Viterra Division that they’ve won the last two seasons.
That changes for the second half of the season, as the divisional battles increase in frequency and importance. That started with a 3-2 overtime loss in Yorkton to the Terriers last week and will continue this week with road games Wednesday in Melville and Friday in Weyburn.
The Bruins will be without head coach and general manager Chris Lewgood, who is an assistant coach with Team Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge in Bonnyville, Alta. Associate coach Jeff Smith has stepped up and been running practices this week.
“When Chris left he gave basic guidelines, not anything specific,” said Smith. “He trusts me, Millsy (assistant coach Aren Miller) and (director of player personnel) Cole Zahn to put together a plan that would work. So far, so good. I think the boys are working hard and they’re doing things right.”
The intense game schedule in the early going didn’t leave a lot of time for practices where systems were being learned but they’re being caught up now. There was an eight-day stretch without games for the Bruins, and that game schedule has been replaced with up-tempo practices with plenty of skating. The coaching staff has been in contact with Lewgood a few times each day to make sure the plan is sticking together.
“We have to start doing things right in practice again,” Smith said. “We’re going to right that ship and start doing things right in practice so it carries over to games.”
It’s hoped that will help in their games in Melville and Weyburn this week.
“It’s not pressure, but they’re big games,” said Smith. “They’re within our division and so every game within our division will be huge from here on out…
“We’re either third place (in the league) or we’re in the survivor series. It’s a big swing. You’re going to either be at home or you’re fighting for your lives. The game against Melville Wednesday is going to be a huge test.”
The Bruins are also trying to get new player Devon Harrison into the mix. The 6’2”, 183-pound defenceman was released to junior A last week by his Western Hockey League team in Kamloops, B.C. Harrison, 18, is a 2015 Bruins draft pick who played with Tanner Manz and Tyson Manz on the Moose Jaw Generals in midget AAA and has been at Bruins spring camp before.
“He’s obviously a good player and will help our team out a lot,” said Smith, who added that Harrison was familiar with about half of the dressing room when he came to town.
“He hadn’t skated in a week so he’s just trying to chip the rust off and we’ll put him in the lineup where Chris sees fit.”