An Oct. 4 showdown with the high-flying Estevan Bruins proved to be a perfect object lesson for the 2017-18 Notre Dame Hounds Junior ‘A’.
Forty minutes of tremendous effort and attention to detail, two periods in which almost no shift was taken for granted, had yielded Notre Dame a 4-1 lead, and the Bruins’ attack mostly toothless.
But then it all turned on a dime. Estevan put in three goals to force overtime, and only a beautifully-worked winner between Hounds forwards Alec Zawatzky and Chaz Smedsrud saved the day, as the club headed into the Thanksgiving Break with a precariously earned two points.
The lesson: take nothing for granted, leave it all on the ice.
“Leaving it all out there means playing with no regrets,” said team captain Chance Longjohn.
“After the game when you look in the mirror, the worst thing for a player is to wish you had a shift or a moment back, so it’s all about knowing you did all you could every minute you’re out there. For me, it really is all about leading by example. This is a different level, this isn’t midget or wherever you came from, these are young men on both sides trying to make it somewhere in the game without any guarantees.”
An early October visit from Notre Dame’s National Championship-winning coach Barry MacKenzie, who guided the Hounds to the title in 1988, left the current club with the message of taking pride in the process of preparation; in finding consistency of effort and focus with each opportunity to represent the school and organization, both on and off the ice.
For veteran goaltender Jacob Standen, who only became a Hound this off-season, this pride has also become a necessity, as the temporary and fleeting nature of any hockey opportunity becomes an ever-increasing reality for a player in his last year of junior.
“The truth that every minute on the ice is precious is one that is so hard to make younger players understand,” said Standen.
“Every minute on the ice is something you have to take advantage of, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity; and even more so, it is a rare privilege to wear the jersey we all get to wear each night. Understanding that is part of growing up. Some young guys are better when it comes to urgency than others, but most young guys think that junior will last forever, and that they are guaranteed to go on and play school hockey somewhere. The truth is, you have to give your heart and soul every time you can, so the only way I know to explain that to them is to show them by example, and hope it rubs off on them.”
As mid-October rolled around in the 2017-18 campaign, the Hounds sat atop the Olympic Buildings Division, albeit with the nationally-ranked Battlefords North Stars, the Humboldt Broncos, and the Kindersley Klippers all tied, a mere one point behind Notre Dame.
Recent impressive wins over Flin Flon and La Ronge are encouraging for head coach Clint Mylymok, but he knows that the standings and a division lead are secondary in the extreme to a continuation of the process of growth he hopes he, and assistant coach Chris Robertson, are instilling in their men.
“We are definitely still in the learning process,” said Mylymok.
“We have lot of young guys still trying to figure out Junior ‘A’. It is just a matter of figuring out who can be consistent every time they are thrown out there, and who can handle a little more ice time in the different situations. I still think we’re evolving, we still have a way to go, but everything is always a work in progress, and there absolutely has been some growth. The truth is, every year is an opportunity to win as a group, and do something special; so one of the keys of being here at Notre Dame is taking advantage of every day that you’re here.”
One fact about this group of Hounds can be banked on: they will not take for granted the hallowed ‘ND’ emblazoned across their chest on a nightly basis.
“It is special wearing the jersey,” said Captain Longjohn.
“There is a lot of pride and tradition wearing this logo, so it’s up to us to make something of it whenever we have the honour of going out there to fight for Notre Dame.”