The playoffs are not yet out of reach for the Thompson Blazers, says head coach Mark Chase.
The Blazers entered the Christmas break Sunday at 2-16-6 (the six being ties), and are tied for 10th in the B.C. Major Midget Hockey League. Thompson's next game is scheduled for Jan. 11, against the South Island Royals in Victoria.
Despite what Chase called "a roller-coaster" of a season for the Blazers, the team is only nine points back of the BCMML's eighth and final playoff spot. With 16 games remaining on the schedule after the holiday break, the squad hasn't dismissed the possibility of seeing postseason play this season, for the first time in recent memory.
"Our goal is to slowly break down the barriers ahead of us and take that last playoff spot," Chase said Sunday. "By no means is it impossible, but it's going to take a lot of work."
The Blazers have been playing better of late, Chase said. Prior to a pair of weekend losses to the Okanagan Rockets (22-3-1) the team was undefeated in its previous four games (three ties and a victory). The Rockets ended that streak Saturday with 9-2 victory, and beat the Blazers 4-1 on Sunday.
Chase said his team bounced back Sunday, improving in a lot of the areas that hurt it in the first game of the home-and-home series. He also gave his players credit for overcoming adversity throughout the season - there have been a number of growing pains, especially with Thompson's attempt to move back to Kamloops from Chase full-time, but players have, for the most part, taken everything in stride.
"I feel that we've done a good job of taking care of all the off-ice stuff," Chase said, referring to the establishment of a permanent dressing room at Memorial Arena and the transition of all the team's practices to Kamloops.
"Our emphasis, especially over the last two weeks, has been skill development. We're not going to change anything that we're doing on the ice, it's just more of the same, with repetition, and making sure these guys emphasize having good habits and have a good work ethic; that's very important for us."
The Blazers only have two home games in the season's second half and will be on the road for five consecutive weekends (10 games) from Jan. 11 until Feb. 9. While a road trip that long might worry some coaches, Chase is looking at it as a possible turning point for Thompson.
"In order to get that playoff spot, plain and simple we have to start winning some hockey games," he said. "I know last season, the team, I was told, when they went on their five-weekend-in-a-row road trip I think that's when they started to have some success. You may see the same thing here."
And while it can be difficult to keep morale up when the team is struggling and the results haven't been as hoped, Chase said the Blazers are a resilient bunch and he and his staff have been emphasizing to the boys that success is not just about what's on the scoreboard.
"What we do as a staff is we make sure they know their success doesn't have to lie within the standings," Chase said. "Success comes from A, are you developing them as individual players, B, are we coming closer together as a team, are we becoming unified. Those intangibles . . . that's where we try and maintain our focus."