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Feb. 8, 2011

by Karen Patterson -

The Griffins have hovered just above or below the .500-mark since mid-November, sometimes clinching a close game, other times coming up short. With just one-third of the season remaining, the team now has one focus; win games to move up in the standings and earn a postseason berth. However, standing in the team’s way are tough conference opponents and an injury bug that won’t seem to quit.

Head coach Curt Fraser recently took a few minutes to share his thoughts on the team’s progress and what they must do to secure a playoff spot in the North Division.

The Griffins suffered tough losses to the Hamilton Bulldogs on Friday and the Milwaukee Admirals on Saturday. Now that you’ve had a few days to process, what are you taking away from those games?

They’re the two top teams in our conference and the games are usually pretty heated. I thought Friday night was a real good game; we’ve just had this problem all year where we’ve had a tough time scoring, especially in a tight game. (Hamilton’s Curtis) Sanford is the best goaltender in the league and he wasn’t going to give up a lot. But a 2-1 game? We’re not happy with that against arguably the best team in our conference. The next night I thought we had an opportunity to be better. Milwaukee came out of the gate fast, and they’re trying to be in that number one spot overall for our conference. They’re a good team: big, fast, tough and excellent in goal as well. We knew we had our hands full.

How did Friday night injuries to Sergei Kolosov and Greg Amadio impact the game against Milwaukee?

They’re two veteran defensemen that have been around and that we rely on a lot. It just seemed that when we lost those two guys on defense, we relied too much on Pearce. He’s been riding the high wave and playing very well for us but you knew that one of these nights a couple might get by him. However, we’ve got to score goals. That game (against Milwaukee) we had trouble scoring, we gave up too many opportunities. We really missed those guys out of the line up and that put us in a tough spot.

Injuries seem to be the name of the game this season. Is there any easy way to handle that?

It’s been a funny year for injuries. Knees, ankles, shoulders—it’s not like you can pinpoint any one thing. Detroit got beat up first and they drew players from us, which is fantastic but then we started to get hurt and we just can’t seem to get away from it. Just when we get everybody back and ready, we step on a banana peel again and something else happens. We’ve got to deal with this as quickly as possible and hopefully the kids that we’re calling up can do a good job while our others guys are hurt.

A variety of players have been recalled from various teams, but Adam Keefe has stuck around for a month now. What have you thought about his contributions to the team?

Terrific. This kid is working his tail off on the ice, he’s playing tough and doing whatever it takes to help us win. That’s what we need: players like Keefe. He’s tough as nails and he’s a good player. He’s been scoring for us, battling hard and he’s been terrific for us.

Are all games must- wins at this point if you want to finish in third place in the division?

Yeah, actually for the last three weeks they’ve been must wins. I thought that when we were missing eight players, our guys were doing a great job. They competed hard in Texas, just killing themselves. Then we come back to home ice and it lets us down. There’s no excuse for that, we’ve got to find a way to be better. We’ve got to work around these injuries and call-ups. Hopefully this week we’ll get Smith back, which would be huge and have Amadio back, which would be great. All these little pieces are very valuable pieces for us and we can’t afford to have them out too long.

After the three-game road trip this week, there are less than 30 games left in the season. With the added pressure to win, how do you help keep the players mentally fresh?

The season is a marathon to start with but when you get down the 30 game mark, for a lot of teams it starts to turn into a sprint. There’s just no getting around it. All the players have been in this situation, they’re all familiar with this and they know how important every game is. For us, it’s more just tweaking things very little. Each team we play is going to present a different problem. We just have to be careful about how much change we make because we want to be sure that guys can just go and play hockey. If you overload them with too much information or try to change things in practice too much, that takes away from their game. Practices are hard right now—well, they’re hard all the time— because we just got make sure that we’re at the top of our game all the time.

Do you also look for ways to help them mentally relax away from the ice?

Yes, because if your mind is fresh, your legs seem to move a lot better. We had a Super Bowl party the other day as a treat. Hopefully down the stretch we’ll be able to do two or three more things as a team to get the guys together away from the rink and have some fun. Although it’s a sprint and we have to win every game, it still has to be fun. There’s a lot of pressure on these guys, they put a lot of pressure on themselves, and it’s up to (assistant coach) Jim Paek and myself to kind of take some days along the way to take that pressure off and give them a little bit of a break to keep them mentally sharp, fresh and feeling good when they hit the ice.

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