By Pat Payton
Coach Trent McClement says a New Year’s goal for the St. Marys Lincolns is to try and finish in second place in the Western Conference standings.
But even more important, McClement wants his team to “peak” and be playing its best hockey when playoffs start in late February. Going into the New Year, the third-place Lincs had 17 regular-season games remaining — including 11 on home ice.
McClement admits that he’d like to get second place, and have home-ice advantage, if Lincolns can get past the opening round of playoffs.
“We know how Leamington plays in their own barn, getting second place would give us home-ice advantage against them and that would be huge,” he said. “That could be the difference in that second-round series. You obviously have to get to that second round, but you have to situate yourself as best you can for the playoffs. Getting second is definitely where we’d like to be.”
Having Lincs going in the right direction heading into the post-season is a top priority as well, McClement points out.
“You want to hit that top of the mountain going into the playoffs,” he said. “You don’t want to peak too early, kind of like the way the Tampa Bay Lightning did last year. They peaked too early (and went out four straight in the first round of playoffs).
“We want to peak at the right time and go into the playoffs hot and confident. But there’s still a lot of games left and a lot of hockey to play before playoffs.”
McClement feels that his players believe “100 per cent” that they can win the Western Conference playoff title. That last time St. Marys hoisted the league trophy was in the spring of 1994 in Petrolia.
“The way we’ve played against London and Leamington, there’s no reason why we can’t win this league,” he said. “It should give us the confidence to believe we can win this league. But we have to make sure we beat the teams below us so we can get second place. We have to have the mindset, every night, to play our game against all teams, it doesn’t matter who it is.
“For instance, teams like Strathroy and St. Thomas have taken a lot of key points from us. We might already be in second if we didn’t lose those points against those teams. We just have to take care of our home ice going down the stretch, and I think we’ll be in the fight for second place.”