The Weyburn Red Wings will have a strong core of returning players for the 2014-15 season, but meantime are very disappointed that their season ended over the weekend, only one game out from being in the playoffs, a goal that head coach Bryce Thoma had set at the start of his first year at the helm of the Junior A hockey club.
The team gathered on Sunday evening at the Weyburn Legion Hall for the team awards, and Thoma, general manager Ron Rumball and team president Scott Sabados all made comments about the year.
“You’re dealing with kids who range in age from 17 to 20. It’s not an easy job, but it’s fun and rewarding in many ways,” said Thoma in an interview. “It’s disappointing not to make the playoffs. When you don’t reach that goal, it’s definitely disappointing for the players and for the coaches.”
On the positive side, said Thoma, “I like a lot of the things we’ve done this year with the players. With the team there are standards of work ethic for every game, and we had a lot of kids who cared and wanted to push themselves to be better.”
The coach said they set out from the start expecting to be in the playoffs.
“It came down to the final weekend, and we didn’t play our best hockey; we won seven in a row in January, but then we were 2-7 in the last nine games. There were a lot of would’ve could’ve should’ves, but when you playing 56 games, you don’t have a lot of time to fool around,” said Thoma.
For the coming year, the Red Wings are only losing four players; three are graduating due to their age, Shain Scheschuk, Tyler Borstmayer and Brian Farkas, plus goaltender Rylan Parenteau is moving on to the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL.
“We like the players we have coming back next year. It’s always a work-in-progress,” said Thoma.
Asked how he would characterize his first full year behind the bench, he said, “I think I learned a lot from Ron Rumball and Darcy Pindus.”
He added it’s very different from being the assistant coach, as all final decisions fall on his shoulders as the head coach.
“It’s not an easy job, but it is fulfilling and rewarding to see players grow and develop and learn, at the end of their junior careers as men,” said Thoma.
In his remarks as general manager, Rumball noted the Red Wings had over 22,000 fans pass through the gates to Crescent Point Place to watch their home games this year.
Speaking about the players, Rumball noted they came here from a wide-ranging area of Canada and the U.S.
“You guys didn’t know each other when you came to this small town in southeast Saskatchewan. I’m sure you’ve grown mentally through this year,” said Rumball.
“Hopefully what you’ll take from tonight is you’ve had good success this year. A lot of games we lost in a shootout, five or six, and there were lots by just one goal. We learned to compete. Success is where you start, but success disappears. Even though success is fleeting, failure is never fatal. Courage is what really counts. If you don’t take the time to do it right, will you have the time to do it again?” he asked as he spoke directly to the team.
“If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything, and doing nothing is the biggest mistake you’ll ever encounter,” he added, encouraging the players not to be afraid of adversity, as “it’ll make you a man.”
He pointed out a well-known personality of Saskatchewan’s history stopped by the Red Wings dressing room after a defeat and told the players these very words.
Of the season record, Rumball said the win-loss numbers are not the only determinant of success, saying, “It comes from knowing you’ve given the best that you have to give. … You each one have an important place in one of the most historical franchises in North American hockey, the Weyburn Red Wings.”
Team captain Josh Lees noted this season had a lot of ups and downs.
“Finally we got our chance in January; it’s heart-breaking for it to come down to miss the playoffs by one game,” said Lees, noting of his team-mates, “These are the most tightly-knit group of guys I’ve ever played with.”
Longtime supporter and board member Ron Fellner had some comments before handing out his annual Rock’Em-Sock’Em award (which went to Lees).
“This is not where I want to be on March 2. It’s been an interesting year As a rule, I’m not a person who likes change … a year ago we changed coaches. I believed the change was necessary and the change was the right one to make,” said Fellner.