Habs look to positives as season comes to a close
The St. Paul Canadiens' turnaround season came to an end on Friday night, and while it ended in a sweep at the hands of the Wainwright Bisons, no one was hanging their head in the Habs locker room.
"I'm so proud of these guys. Especially with the crowd we had tonight, that was awesome. I haven't seen that in a long time here. We've got a lot of character in that room," said Canadiens Head Coach Joe Young. "Guys don't quit, and they're not going to quit. We just battled injuries so much this series and coming off the three games at the end of the regular season, we had so many guys hurt that probably wouldn't have been playing if it was the regular season. That shows a lot of character and a lot of care for the organization."
After falling to 2-0 in the best of seven series with 9-1 and 10-2 losses in Wainwright, the Habs returned home to a packed Clancy Richard Arena, where the Bisons completed the sweep. The Habs put forth a much stronger game in their own barn, however, tightening the gap to 4-1 in Game 3 on Tuesday and 3-1 in Friday's series-ending Game 4.
"I think what we did tonight, is we kind of showed the community and people around here that we're a team that's not going to quit. We're going to work hard throughout the whole game,” said Young. “The future is nothing but bright here. I think what you've seen in the stands tonight, they wouldn't come watch a bad product, they wouldn't come here to see a team that's not going to work hard."
St. Paul Canadiens Captain Jordyn Wozniak said that while it is always disappointing to fall in the opening round of the post season, the Habs have a lot to be proud of, and a bright future to look forward to.
"It's always disappointing. You work all year to get into the playoffs, and when you come up short like that it's always tough, but we put a good effort out tonight. It's just a little preview for next year, I guess," he said, adding he will likely return to the Habs next season. "I've got a lot of thinking to do over the summer, but I don't think I could abandon these guys here."
The Canadiens are currently in a healthy stage of a rebuild, as only two players - goaltender Evan Joly and defenceman Dylan Loughran - will be completing their Junior B careers and parting ways with the team this offseason.
"Right now, it's kind of sad I guess, but I had a hell of a season with these guys and I'm really happy we brought hockey back to St. Paul because it was really dead there for a bit," said Joly. "We really wanted to turn this season around. We feel good sitting next to each other in that room, we're really supportive of each other and it's really nice to have a team of guys that will not quit."
Loughran, who will be completing his Junior B career after three seasons in St. Paul, said that the biggest change in the locker room has been the desire to compete.
"It's a thousand times better than two or three years ago. We have guys here that want to play hockey, that's all it comes down to is we want to win and we want to be here. Two years ago guys wouldn't come to practice, guys would show up to half the games, now there are a lot more dedicated people in there," said Loughran, adding it was truly special to end the season with a packed Clancy Richard Arena. "We went from having four people in the stands to almost having a full house. It's come a long way, and we feed off the fans too. When they're cheering, we're playing better."
Young said while he is very proud of his team's current accomplishments, there is still plenty of room to grow, and that he took on his role as head coach to complete a rebuild in St. Paul, not just start one.
"I think you always have to look to improve. I didn't come here just to get the rebuild going, I'm here to win the championship, and if we can add players that are going to help us in that pursuit, by all means we're going to be looking," said Young. "I think now we have a bit of credibility too, where we actually can talk to guys and sell them on our product."
Joly added he feels the Canadiens will be a real contender next season with a strong corps returning to the lineup and Young behind the bench.
"I see success, I see them climbing the standings. I know they'll do better than seventh place next year, they've got a whole bunch of guys coming back next year, almost the whole team and I know I'll be coming back to watch. It's going to be exciting."
Fellow goaltender Jared Lafond, who quickly became a fan favourite when he threw down the gloves and went toe to toe with Bisons net-minder Ronald Paulson in Game 3, made a bold prediction about the future of his team.
"We're going to win it next year, that's all I have to say," he said. "We're going to win this league."