The Transcona Railer Express hope they’re in the express lane to big-time improvement.
The Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League club, in its second year of operation after the original Transcona Junior Railers ceased operations in September 2011, posted just a single win in 45 games in 2012-13. The Railer Express downed the Stonewall Jets, the MMJHL’s other non-playoff team, by a 3-1 score on Dec. 1.
But co-coach and general manager Mike Gordichuk has reason for optimism. The squad added former Kelvin Clippers coach Bruce Sirrell as a co-coach this season, while Gordichuk noted there was a stark increase in the number of players trying out for this year’s edition in addition to returnees who are a year older, stronger, and wiser.
"We saw some of our returning 17-year-olds from last year come in bigger and stronger and ready to play. It’s certainly promising from the first couple weeks," Gordichuk said, noting the team had 50 players in camp, up from 35 last year. "We’ve developed a pretty good core to build off of this year."
Sirrell will primarily work with the team’s forwards while Gordichuk will focus on the blue-liners. He hopes to ignite an attack that tallied just 74 goals last season.
"One of the challenges the team had was scoring goals, so we need to be more organized," said Sirrell, who brought former Kelvin player and assistant coach Carson Shields with him as an assistant this season.
Gordichuk said the trying inaugural season is just the first step of what the club wants to accomplish, and it helped that team members bought into the coaching staff’s message.
"Our guys never quit right to the end. We had a full turnout," he said, adding the team handed out $4,000 in scholarships at the end of the season. "We knew it was a rebuilding year, and from a development perspective, I think we accomplished 100% what we wanted to."
Captain Greg Myall, 20, said he’ll have plenty of help throughout the roster after last season.
"We have leadership throughout the room now because of the experiences from last year," he said. "It was a learning year. We had to figure it all out."
Fellow returnee Mason Gibson, 18, noted several of the players last year were MMJHL rookies, so those players should have a better handle on what the opposition brings night in and night out.
The Railer Express wrapped up its exhibition schedule on Sept. 18, and will open the regular season on Sept. 20 at 7:30 p.m. against the perennial favourite Charleswood Hawks at Eric Coy Arena. The team’s home opener will take place in the form of a Sunday afternoon matinee against the St. Boniface Riels at Ed Golding Arena at 2 p.m. on Sept. 22.