BY AARON PATTERSON
There might be few feelings better in team sports than knowing your season will be extended. A fitting reward for battling through a long and tough season is an opportunity to play in the postseason with the hopes of winning a championship.
But that knowledge might have been the downfall of the Danville Dashers during the final stretch of the regular season.
Things were going well, and the Dashers won 12 of 17 games from December 14 through January 19. Then, key pieces to the success were rewarded for great play, and a list of players highlighted by then points leader Darick Ste Marie, were called up to affiliates at higher levels.
The remaining players, according to first-year head coach Rob Schweyer, became complacent, and at times, inconsistent in their play leading to a slide that saw the Dashers lose 11 of their last 15 games. That number grew to 12 on Saturday when they surrendered five unanswered goals to lose 5-2 to the visiting Danbury Whalers.
“We’re taking nights off,” Schweyer said. “Now we expect to win easily. When a team comes into our barn and outworks us, it proves that luck comes from hard work. Their goaltender stood on his head. He made some good saves, and some lucky saves. That’s because luck follows hard work. We had no luck, and we had no hard work. That’s all tonight was. We didn’t play poorly systems-wise, we didn’t play poorly defensively, we just lost every one-on-one battle.”
The Dashers did, however, win battles early on when forward Kevin McCready netted two goals early in the first quarter, putting his team up 2-0. The positive momentum might have come from Friday night’s 6-5 shootout loss to the playoffs’ top seed, and first-round opponent, Dayton.
Danville fought its way back from a 5-2 deficit to force overtime, and eventually a shootout.
“Last night we played a tremendous game,” Schweyer said. “We came from behind, come back, lose it in a shootout. I’m proud of the boys. Tonight was just lack of mental preparation, and just taking the night off. They took the night off, and it’s bad to see in front of the hometown crowd.”
Danville led Danbury 2-1 after the first period, and when scoring first, the Dashers are at their best. Prior to Saturday’s loss, they had won 15 of 23 games this season when lighting the lamp before their opponents.
Dashers defender Joe Pace had little explanation, though, for the team giving up the lead.
“I think it’s just lazy,” Pace said. “Just being lazy. There are times when you might have a little bit of a brain fart when you’re not thinking, there are times when you’re not moving your feet.
“Losing to a team that only was dressing 11 skaters, that goes right into the lazy category. You’ve got to outwork those teams, and you’ve got to wear them down.”
Instead, the Dashers wore down both physically and mentally. Allowing five unanswered goals in the loss, in addition to their most recent slide, has them curious as to how they will respond today in their regular season finale at 2:35 p.m. against 1000 Islands. The Dashers and Privateers have split the season series winning five each.
“I hope we can flip that switch on tomorrow and get momentum going in instead of finding that equilibrium, find that middle ground so that we can swing into the playoffs,” McCready said. “I’d rather just get it tomorrow so we know how we’re doing going in and we’re playing strong.”
Following today’s regular season finale, the Dashers will begin preparing for the playoffs which begin Friday. Danville will visit Dayton both Friday and Saturday, but is scheduled to return home to Palmer Arena to host the Demonz on March 8 in a best-of-five series.