While first-year players have made significant contributions to the Bakersfield Condors' success this season, head coach Jay Woodcroft cautioned to not overlook veteran teammates who've enabled their younger brethren to shine.
“Our vets log heavy minutes,” Woodcroft said. “A lot of them do things that are subtle and unnoticed except by their teammates and their coaches.”
Team captain Keegan Lowe, leading goal scorer Joe Gambardella, current NHLers Brad Malone and Josh Currie, and established players Ryan Stanton and Patrick Russell have all taken on various duties throughout the season. Their play might get overlooked periodically by fans and followers of the team but it's been critical to the Condors' success, Woodcroft said.
“I think our younger players have fit right in to the identity we are trying to build down here as an organization. They’re fast, they’re prepared, they work at their craft on a daily basis, they have skill. They make us a better team,” Woodcroft said.
He would then add, “They get to do what they do — have huge impacts on our wins and losses — because of the veteran leadership that we have here. Our veterans set the table with the way they behave, the way they conduct themselves on a daily basis, they’re level of work ethic, their professionalism, the mindset to get better. Our veterans lead the way with that.”
Woodcroft, a first-year head coach in the American Hockey League in his own right, said it’s not just the off-ice contributions the team's leaders make, but the on-ice ones as well that make a sizeable difference.
“Our vets log heavy minutes against some of the best players in the American Hockey League,” he said. “That allows Cooper (Marody) and Tyler (Benson) and Logan (Day) and Kyler (Yamamoto) to go see different types of minutes in different types of situations. Everything works in conjunction.”
The point is that the Condors have one of their more talented teams in recent memory, and it shows in the standings — first place in the Pacific Division with 76 points (36-17-3-1 record) entering tonight's home game against Ontario. There's young talent, there's skilled veterans and there's depth on the roster.
“Great mix of people,” Woodcroft said.