New coaching staff brought in to right the ship
Once the Pats were eliminated from playoff contention for the third season in a row (first time in franchise history) changes were needed. Many fans were clamouring for change; many doubted that change would occur. Then on June 16th when the Pats parted ways with Curtis Hunt and Todd Ripplinger it sent a wave through the many Pats fans around the city that changes were happening. Fast forward to July 26 and the Pats had their new man behind the bench in Pat Conacher. Although he’s fairly new at the WHL coaching ranks he has been around the WHL for a few seasons. If he gets his players to play his style of game this should be a fun season. I’m not expecting a huge turnaround standings-wise but the play of the team as a whole should be vastly increased. Conacher talks that he wants a hard-working, aggressive, up-tempo team that will be full of character. The addition of Malcolm Cameron and Josh Nixon round out the assistant coaches and from reading about them I’m confident that they did alright with their choices by thinking “outside the box” so to speak. Also recently picking up Rob Muntain as the teams’ goalie coach will help out the core of youngsters that are due to tend goal for the red, white and blue.
OFFENCE Incredibly Jordan Weal led the Pats in all offensive categories with 43-53-96 playing with interchangeable parts on his wings. Game by game and sometimes shift by shift he had different line mates. If he would have had some consistency with his wings he would have easily topped 100 points. To be totally honest the number that really stuck out was his +13 which was a feat in itself. Depending on how the Pats season starts out he may not be a Pat by the deadline, totally due to the rebuilding process. Garrett Mitchell had a breakout season potting 18 goals and adding 34 assists, but will most likely be playing pro in the Capitals organization. The Pats will look to newcomer Dominik Volek (import draft) to help out offensively. From all accounts he’s a good pickup and hopefully he adjusts to the WHL game quick. Look for Lane Scheidl and Tanner Olstad to quietly put up solid numbers and give the Pats some much needed depth. Big things await Chandler Stephenson, if he’s given time to develop. Nils Moser and Lyndon Martell showed signs of brilliance during the season and look for them to be the power forward type of player the Pats need up front.
DEFENCE This could get really interesting. Both Brandon Davidson and Art Bidlevskii are overages and both have chances to play pro. Both are totally capable of playing pro. In order for the Pats to be decently successful defensively one or both will be welcomed back with open arms to help out the youth on the Pats blueline. Ricard Blidstrand.... man he had an up and down season but overall he improved immensely (a new d partner would do wonders for him).Newly acquired Brandon Underwood will help stabilize the defence and give it a bit of a bite.... and some size. Hopefully Tyler Pavkovich has recovered from his injury (injuries) and is able to play his game; he was turning out to be pretty good shut down d-man until he got hurt. This is the year for Tyler Borstmayer to put up or shut up and maybe with different coaches he might make strides. Look for Landon Peel, Kyle Burroughs, Colby Williams, et al to push for the final positions.
GOALTENDING It appears as though Matt Hewitt is the next go-to guy in the Pats net. He played spectacular during many games last season but looked like a raw rookie at other times. He really gave the Pats a chance to win on many of his starts and actually posted a decent record of 12-14-0-1 with a 4.03 and .890. His numbers will improve as the team gels and gets together. The Pats rarely carry an overage goalie so that doesn’t bode well for Damien Ketlo. He didn’t have a very stellar season by any stretch of the imagination with a 10-24-6-2 record and a 4.05 GAA with an .885 SV% those numbers just don’t cut it. The battle for backup seems to be a 3 horse race with Adam Beukeboom, Tanner Burgardt and Teegan Sacher.... I don’t think there is a clear favourite. Then again.... new coaches, new philosophy, maybe new starter between the pipes? I’m just going with what I feel.
SPECIAL TEAMS With the 18th ranked powerplay operating at a 16.0% clip and the uncertainty of many of the teams top end talent Coach Conacher will have his work cut out for him. Speaking of a poor powerplay the teams’ penalty killing was dead last operating at a 74.7% clip. The only way to go is to go up and get better. Jordan Weal led the Pats with 12 powerplay goals, while Mikael Jung potted 2 short handed. If the Pats special teams were to improve the team would improve dramatically.
INTANGIBLES With Pats Captain Garrett Mitchell likely graduating to the pro ranks the team will be looking in a new direction for leadership. The question is where will the leadership be? Art Bidlevskii and Brandon Davidson will be trying to get pro contracts so both of them might be gone. The team will need to have a few of the younger players step up and take on a bigger leadership role to give Jordan Weal a hand. I’m looking at the veterans Andrew Rieder, Tanner Olstad, and Brandon Underwood just to name a couple. With Conacher at the helm I’m thinking more leaders will come out of the woodwork. Well here’s hoping.
ROOKIES This is where it’s going to be interesting. I’ve been asked a few times who I thought the new Pats would be and I honestly don’t have an answer for this one. How many 16 year olds can one team carry and actually give ice time to? The Pats could potentially have five 16 year olds in their lineup this season: Morgan Klimchuk, Kyle Burroughs, Colby Williams, Ty McLean and Tanner Burgardt. Not to mention the addition of Dominik Volek. We also have to factor in Landon Peel and Adam Beukeboom amongst others. This could be a real change for the 2011/12 Pats team.
THE BRASS Chad Lang enters his second season as GM of the Pats and has made his presence known with numerous trades (I think I counted 11 trades last season) and overhaul of the lineup. He has done a tremendous job rebuilding the Pats and bringing in some quality kids. The future is bright. Pat Conacher enters his first season behind the bench. He’s had some time coaching at many levels of hockey and seems to have a really good grasp on the WHL. I look forward to his coaching style. He talks about character, having a hard working team and wants to play an up tempo style. We could be in for a real treat.
X-FACTOR This has to be the new coaching staff. Hopefully what Pat Conacher, Malcolm Cameron and Josh Dixon bring to the mix; make the Pats worthy opponents throughout the league. Hey they may even surprise us. Either way I’m willing to give them a chance.
GO PATS GO Like I said Go! Pats! Go! I can’t wait for training camp.