As the MHL playoffs are currently in full swing, it is no doubt a difficult time for Rapids’ fans who had high hopes of seeing playoff hockey for the very first time since the team’s arrival in Grand Falls five seasons ago.
As we reflect on the overall performance of the team during the past season, and as we pointed out in last week’s report, we cannot underestimate team effort. Thanks to a devoted and experienced coaching staff, players were well prepared to face adversity and face-off against tough competition on a regular basis. The parity among the teams of the Eastlink North division was at its very best as only two teams out of six did not complete the campaign with a record over the .500 mark. Despite finishing in 5th position in the standings, the Rapids did however reach the 20-victory plateau for the first time in five seasons while finishing the campaign with 44 points, another team best since their move to Grand Falls.
For head coach Greg Leland, missing the playoffs is disappointing as it was the team’s goal since day one of training camp.
“There are many reasons why we didn’t reach the playoffs, several of them that were out of our control, but that goes with the territory”, mentions Leland who is a former coach and general manager of the Campbellton Tigers as well as a former coach and assistant in the QMJHL with Saint John and Acadie-Bathurst.
He sees however a bright future for the team that has learned to stick and grow together through difficult times.
“Despite that, the encouraging signs for next season are the seeds that we planted in terms of our expectations towards work ethic, standard of play, positive culture both within the confines of the arena and in the community”.
Looking ahead to next season, the Rapids will be losing seven players from the 2022-2023 edition, which includes four forwards, one defenseman and two goaltenders. The next few months will be an important building process for the organization as finding the right pieces to fill out those spots, while bringing up young players to perform at the junior A level, will be the key to a promising season. There is however a core of great players that will be returning to the team and for coach Greg Leland, this is an important factor for the long term.
“We will attempt to build our program through maintaining a core group of players and then adding the necessary pieces around them. It’s important to building a successful program where there’s consistency and not a revolving door scenario. That requires work, energy, planning and some luck in terms of acquiring players and personnel.
We will miss the seven graduating players because not only did they contribute on the ice, but they were quality people and positive ambassadors for our organization and the surrounding community”, adds the Rapids’ head coach.
The next step for the organization will be selecting the right players at the upcoming draft. It’s not as easy as it appears, especially since it is hard to predict how certain picks will develop in order to make an immediate impact on the team. General manager Danny Braun explains very well the process and the decisions that need to be considered when drafting young and unproven players.
“Generally, we will pick the best player available with each pick in the draft”, mentions Danny Braun. “That being said, we are always cognizant of ensuring depth at all positions. Most picks are at least a year or two away from playing Junior hockey so it is tough to actually fill holes right away with the draft although there are always a few that will make the jump”.
Braun also mentions the hard work that needs to be accomplished before the actual draft day.
“A number of factors come into play when making selections. We speak with many of the eligible players and their coaches before the draft, which pertains to each players’ education plans, goals within hockey, and their respective potential to report which has an impact on our selection process. The draft is always an exciting time of year for teams and the players”.
It will be a very busy off-season for the Rapids’ organization as putting a competitive team on the ice remains the main objective. It is still too early of course to look beyond that and to what the expectations could be for the upcoming season, but there is a winning culture that has been built around the returning core of players, to a degree where it could be contagious once starts the 2023-2024 campaign.
Following is the team’s overall performance since their arrival in Grand Falls five seasons ago:
*Regular season record: 76 victories; 117 losses; 12 overtime losses; 11 shootout losses in 216 games played
2018-2019 season: 13-30-7 for 33 points (6th position)
2019-2020 season: 16-30-6 for 38 points (5th position)
2020-2021 season: 12-5-6 for 30 points (1st position)
2021-2022 season: 14-23-2 for 30 points (5th position)
2022-2023: 21-29-2 for 44 points (5th position)