Sports

Pembroke Lumber Kings' coach Sean Crozier looks back on his first season as head coach and ahead to next year

By Tina Peplinskie, OBSERVER MULTIMEDIA JOURNALIST

Lumber Kings' head coach Sean Crozier

Lumber Kings' head coach Sean Crozier

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If this past season has taught Sean Crozier anything, it is how to deal with adversity and come out the other side stronger.

His first season as head coach behind the bench for the Pembroke Lumber Kings didn't go according to plan, in fact he calls the team's last place finish a huge disappointment.

“It's really disappointing and frustrating,” Crozier said during an interview earlier this week. “We never expected to have a year like this. We had a lot of adversity come our way.”

To be specific, the season saw the Kings finish last in the Central Canada Hockey League with a record of 22 wins, 38 losses and two overtime losses for 46 points in 62 games. This marks the first time since 2004 that Pembroke has not made it to the playoffs.

“It is inexcusable to finish last,” he said. “I take responsibility for the year we had. It is my job to find ways to score, win games and when you fail at that it's tough. I'm still confident that what we're doing here is going to work, but it just didn't pan out this year.”

He stressed that he doesn't take what happened this season lightly, despite what his critics might way. He is well aware of the storied history of the franchise as he grew up in the area hoping to become a member of the Lumber Kings and he and assistant coach Ben Reinhardt both eventually went on to captain the Kings to championships.

“I take this extremely seriously. This is my full-time job,” Crozier said. “I've had a lot of sleepless nights for sure. Because of the history and the history I have here it was a tough year. We want to have a good team for the fans. It is a standard we want to be held to. I do take responsibility. It's my job and we have to get better.”

Among the challenges faced by the Kings – losing Jared Steege to the Ontario Hockey League just 10 games into the season and the December departure of captain Alex Gilmour who couldn't pass up the opportunity to play NCAA Division I hockey at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York.

“When you take our two best forwards out of the mix that's tough to replace and we didn't get anything in return for them,” Crozier added. “Part of this level is helping players move on (with scholarships) so for him (Gilmour) it's great but for us it was unexpected.”

With the departures, it had a trickle-down effect throughout the entire lineup as third and fourth line players were called on to step into bigger roles.

“Your depth really takes a hit and guys had to do things that weren't their original role,” he said.

He acknowledges that offensive production was an issue all season, with a lot of one- and two-goal games. While the Kings has the fourth best power play in the league, five-on-five scoring proved to be a challenge. Pembroke scored just 165 goals this season, or less than three per game.

He did credit Matthew Barnaby, Salim Mahi-Beaudry and Brendan Browne for stepping up to become the top three scorers on the team. The Kings then took a hit late in the season when Mahi-Beaudry suffered a broken leg.

“That happened right at the trade deadline so we couldn't replace him,” Crozier said. “This is just how the season went.”

Because of the injuries and departures, it meant the Kings had to call up six different players from the U18 Lumber Kings, in fact many maxed out the number of games they could play, in addition to two Junior B players. In total the eight guys suited up for 54 games. While this wasn't ideal, it did allow Crozier and assistants Reinhardt and Keith Roach to evaluate the players at the junior level to see how well they could adjust to the higher level.

“The U18 guys played really well for us,” Crozier said. “Moving forward it is good experience for them to have. Three of them played more than 10 games so we got a good sample of their ability at this level. Now we know what our affiliates can do at this level so it is good for them and good for us in evaluating.”

The toughest stretch of the season was the 10-game losing streak late in the year. Crozier felt up until the Kings' 7-1 loss at home to Ottawa on Feb. 12 the players had continued to battle each game and give themselves chances to win.

“If we could have found a way to win three out of those 10 games,” he said. “We lost Patrick Kyte for nine of those 10 games...Three more wins or four, we would have been in. It would have been totally different.”

With the season over, there is no point on dwelling on what could have been. The organization now shifts its focus to next season. The key will be using the experiences to grow and move forward through the long off season.

“We have to figure out our recruiting to fix the problems we have, create a culture here for the type of player and team we want and recruit to that,” Crozier said.

With only Justin Felhaber and D'Andre John receiving their game jerseys during the award presentations as players who are not eligible to return, the team should have a good core of returning players next season.

“We have to evaluate the players and see if they fit into the roster and fill the holes with recruiting,” he said. “We have to add offence and find five-on-five scoring. That is the big thing. We also want the character kids who would go through the wall for the team.”

This past season, there were 13 first-year players so it is hard to create a culture with that sort of turnover, according to the coach.

“We can't just expect kids to come in here and be proud if they don't know the history,” Crozier said. “We need character kids, to get leadership from guys in the room and we have to establish that pride to be playing here.”

“The bottom line is this season isn't good enough and it's not going to be a fun off season,” he added. “The main thing will be using the bad stuff we went through to learn from the experiences and move forward.”

The Kings will hold a camp in Detroit in the coming months, along with camps in April and June to select next year's team. The Central Canada Hockey League draft takes place April 11.

TPeplinskie@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/TPeplinskie