THUNDER BAY – Andrew Wilkins is pressing the panic button yet.
But even this early in the season, there’s not a lot of room for error.
Wilkins, in his second season behind the bench of the Lakehead Thunderwolves, is facing an all-too-familiar standings scenario.
Nine games into the 2019-20 campaign, the Wolves are ninth in the 10-team OUA West, a division in which only the top eight make the post-season.
His team has got to find ways to win hockey games before the season gets away.
With seven games left to go until the Christmas break, there’s still lots of time to right the ship, but the Thunderwolves enter weekend play at Fort William Gardens against the Concordia Stingers (5-4-1) on a four-game losing streak that’s dropped then to 3-5-1.
Wilkins’s team is coming off a bye week and put the time to good use, working on improving the game, but also holding team-building exercises to help get his players’ confidence levels back.
“We’re pleased with the progression over the two weeks. You learn a lot about your team, a lot about the results and how those results might have happened,” said Wilkins, referring in part to a pair of games against the Toronto Varsity Blues late last month in which the Thunderwolves took the lead – 3-0 in the opener – only to wind up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
Figuring out how to finish has been a key part of the past week or so.
“We look at it both ways,” Wilkins said. “What we’re doing well within our structure and then it’s almost like the undisciplined play, the selfish choices that individuals can make to bring our team down within the result.
It’s tough to pinpoint where the lack of discipline is stemming from.
There’s no one thing that leads to it, Wilkins said.
“It seemed like we had control against Windsor. We were up 3-1 and there was a penalty that was taken and then the scored and took momentum from there. We really had control of the game. Last weekend, being up 3-0 against a good team and you’re almost thinking it’s going to be easy,” Wilkins said.
“We just learned from it, move forward. As coaches, we just call it undisciplined play within our structure and it’s something that needs to be cleaned up.”
Wilkins also has the team working on the power play. The Wolves are just 1-for-36 this season, the worst in the OUA.
“I think over the last weekend we didn’t generate any offence from the power play. We didn’t generate any momentum. Before that we were happy with the looks that we got, other than the stats that we generated ... I think the two weeks off gives our guys a bit of a reset. We’ll come out with a bit of a different look.
“We feel like the personnel is there on our power play. We’ve created lots of opportunities up until the past weekend.”
One area he’s not concerned about is in nets.
Veteran Nic Renyard has struggled and the Wolves, 0-4 on home ice, have put up a 3.91 team goals against average, second last in the league.
Wilkins isn’t laying the blame on Renyard or back-up Brock Aiken.
“We look at that as a team stat. Last weekend we lost 3-1. You’re not going to win too many games when you’re scoring one goal. We feel like the second and third goals should have been eliminated in our play in our zone,” Wilkins said. “It should have been blocked at the very least. And then all we were doing was generating traffic for Nic to track the puck through.”
Puck drop Friday and Saturday night is 7 p.m.