The Murdoch MacKay Clansmen are still finding their feet this season.
The defending Coca-Cola Division (since renamed the Price Division) champions have a valid reason — players made the decision in the off-season to take on tougher competition in the Winnipeg Free Press Division, the Winnipeg High School Hockey League’s second tier.
The Clansmen have struggled to an 0-2-1 record early in the season, being outscored 14-3 in the process. However, most of that damage came in a 9-0 loss to Garden City on Oct. 15, as the two other losses have been by just a goal.
In addition to losing five key players to graduation, the Clansmen are also looking to catch up with the rest of the league’s legs. However, fourth-year head coach Wally Stelmach sees a determination in his squad, especially after worrying players may have "heads so big they wouldn’t fit through the door".
"The speed is way faster in the B Division than it was in C," Stelmach said. "The kids are coming. I thought if we were losing, the kids would shut down. But they’re going right to the end, right to the buzzer.
"We’ve just got to work on a few small things, and we should be pretty good."
Stelmach said the team’s coaches and players have had to work harder this season, and even practices are becoming more intense as the team gets set to prepare. He said players have been a major factor in directing practices, figuring out areas of concern and asking coaches to create drills to improve those skills.
Assistant captain Roddy Spence, one of just three Grade 12 players on the team, said the team had a special bond in its championship season. It’s continued into this year, and once things start to click a little more, he feels the team will be fine.
"We went into it figuring it wasn’t going to be a cakewalk and we actually have to try a bit harder," the 17-year-old centre said. "We can put the effort into it, but it’s going to come. We just have some kinks to work out. We’re trying, and it’s going to turn out good."
Grade 11 defenceman Keenan Sabeski said the team was laden with goal scorers last year in its title year, and is working to figure out how to generate offence this year.
"We started off not great, but we’ve gotten a lot better," the 16-year-old Sabeski said. "We’ve been skating — finally — passing, and we’ve actually gotten shots on net.
The consensus among the two players and the coach is it can finish in the middle of the pack and challenge for one of the final eight playoff positions in the 15-team division.