There was the loss of my one and only sports hero, Jean Beliveau, but that was eventually to be expected.
More depressing was the Smoke Eaters three-loss record, the last two of which came as the result of the worst weekend of play by the team at Cominco Arena this season.
Those two games showcased the worst, and least entertaining, hockey from the team I have seen. There was ineptitude throughout the roster – such that it must have been difficult to select a home first star – starting in goal and moving through the defense corps at both ends of the ice and not particularly good forward play, along with poor power play execution and penalty kill.
Just bad, depressing, and unentertaining.
It is still fair to say that this team is much better than last year’s and a playoff spot is not nearly a long shot – yet. It is also fair to say the team has regressed in recent weeks and if things do not improve quickly it will get late very early for that playoff push.
A fact of note: Early on there were a few top-20 scorers, some top-40 contributors and more in the top 60. Right now there are two Smokies in the top 10 and 80 spots between them and the next top point getters in the squad.
There have been changes, and the new players seem to be just that, players, but the coaching staff needs to integrate them quickly, starting tonight, and find solutions for the overall porous play that found the Smokies facing a team without four of its top five offensive players and still looking barely competitive last Sunday.
Improvement has to start tonight and continue into tomorrow. With three games left after this weekend and a small hill to climb, accumulating standings points before the holiday break is going to be crucial to allow anyone involved, including the fans, to have a truly Merry Christmas season.
• Meanwhile, the Nitehawks are well within striking distance of first place – and also play at home tonight. Here’s hoping the snowless roads bring crowds to both arenas. Hockey souvenirs make excellent gifts.