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February 19/08 - Firebirds in Battle for Patrick - the Midseason Report
At the All-Star Break in Season Nine, the Pontiac Firebirds find themselves in a heated fight for first place in the MLD's Patrick Division. The allegory brings a smile to Coach damag's face, as he knows he's the one bringing a popgun into the fray. Once again, the Firebirds have found a way to remain competitive in the airtight Prince of Wales Conference while sporting one of the league's most ineffective offenses. We sat down with the coach over lattes.
damag: Well, it gives me a little more faith in the system. Coach K has done a great job getting the fellas to buy into it. We take care of our own end, we take care of our goalies, and we get the results.
firebirdshockey.ca: And you've done it with three new defencemen in the lineup.
damag: Five, actually. With the injuries to Pohjo and Ante, we've been shuffling a little bit. But Ante has been a monster when he's in there, and Ilya has done everything for us, as usual. I'm very satisfied that he received the All-Star Game nod.
firebirdshockey.ca: I guess we start with the rookie class, coach. What a bunch of kids to build around!
damag: The fans love Max and Leo. Nice to have a couple of Quebec kids in the lineup, and the girls go nuts for them. Andreas has done a great job, too. We gave him a ton of responsibility. Sure, the goals aren't there yet, but he's one of our best defensive forwards already and I'm looking forward to putting his name in the lineup for many seasons. And Ante's meshed with Ilya perfectly.
firebirdshockey.ca: Leo is leading the Calder voting for goalies. You mentioned taking care of the goalies, and that helps them take care of their end of the business.
damag: Leo and Bo are both saving right around 95 percent. They know the pressure's on them, but we give them the freedom to be aggressive in the net. Maybe the wins aren't always there, but it's not their fault. Leo's been one of the game's three stars in most of the losses he's taken. We just remind him not to let it get him down, and take things as they come. The wins will come.
firebirdshockey.ca: Honestly, the scoring is not where it should be yet.
damag: Well, if there's one big disappointment, it's in the season Jimmy Rockford's having. We're getting him his shots, he's playing with his favorite center, B.D., but they're just not going in for him. And Lonny Smith's playing on his off wing, having a poor season too. These guys have played on the top line before, I just don't know why the puck's not going in for them this season.
firebirdshockey.ca: You guys are fighting for the division lead. Did you expect to be in this position?
damag: I expected nothing. You see the season Gotham's having? You put the lineup you want to out there, and sometimes you realize early on that things may not go your way at all. Man, that could have been us. It's really unusual to see Gotham where they are. But at the same time, if we want this division, we've got to find a way to beat Maricopa, and they've had our number all season. A great job those guys are doing over there. All the same... we drop a couple of games and we've got Encinitas and Indianapolis waiting to kick us under the line. You can't have two off games in a row. We're in the more competitive conference this season, I think.
firebirdshockey.ca: What can we expect to see in the second half?
damag: I like where we're at. The bottom line is, this team is producing, and continuing to improve. I'm even looking ahead to draft day next season, when I can put even more of the pieces I want to in place.
Of course, if you ask me again ten games from now, I might say blow it up and start all over again.