Within the hallowed halls of St. Michael’s Arena, under the smell of sweaty hockey jerseys and the blaring sound of pop music, Leaside Flames are preparing for a game against West Hill Golden Hawks.
Tension is in the air.
The Flames, last year’s GTHL champions in minor bantam hockey, are off to a rough start this season, and coming off bad losses
to North York, Hillcrest and Markham ahead of this Oct. 8 tilt. A 3–3 start is a far cry from the numbers the club put up last season, in which they scored 200 goals and finished 32–1–3 en route to capturing the Kraft Cup and GTHL trophy.
The pre-game talk is intense. They turn the music off as coach Rob Stanley scrawls four numbers in chalk on the locker room
door: last year’s and this year’s averages in goals per game and goals allowed.
Goals per game have gone down, from 5.5 to 4, in the first seven games, while goals against have increased from 1.8 to 2.8. A 7-0 trouncing of the Golden Hawks on this night would put the brakes on the unflattering trend.
“Guess which numbers I’m pissed off about,” Stanley uttered in his pre-game speech.
He spoke about defense.
“We have to be better in our defensive zone,” he said. “We have to be. We are not there yet.”
The Flames still have aspirations for a provincial title at the Ontario Hockey Federation championships in the spring. But Stanley
believes they have a ways to go.
A defensive-minded coach, Stanley was not happy with his team’s play even after a 7-0 win over East Ender Ticats the previous
“We just kind of coasted through, guys were staying on too long,” he commented. “They thought they could all skate through this team.”
They listen intently to their coach’s demands on this night against West Hill. Evidence that the players respect Stanley is seen in
their nodding in agreement about their play, and hanging onto the coach’s encouraging words as he paces back and forth in the locker room.
Big defenseman Meyer Jacobs, an assistant captain, has seen much of Stanley’s emphasis on defense as the losing streak hit the team hard.
“He doesn’t try to deviate from the truth,” Jacobs says. “He tries to talk to us straight and tell us what’s happening, being very frank with us.”
Captain Scott Munn believes the Flames have much more pressure on them to succeed this year, with a GTHL title under their belts and four new players having joined the squad.
“We want to do well, and all the teams want to be beat us,” Munn says, prior to the game. “Every team’s the underdog against us, but seeing how they’ve played this year, it’s changed.”
Munn isn’t all that worried about the slow start.
Entering his second season as team captain and coming off a spectacular season in which he broke the 50-goal plateau, Munn speaks with confidence about turning the ship around.
“I think our team has improved this year, even though we haven’t showed it in our play,” he said, “I feel like our team is a lot better getting our new players, because they’re all incredible.”
Stephen Brade, a skilled 5-foot-10 defenceman who chose the single-A Flames over a higher-level AA team, is one of those players.
He says is getting more comfortable in his role as he sorts out his first year of high school.
“High school is going on, certain stuff like that,” said Brade, who spent last season with Willowdale Blackhawks. “I’m enjoying this year, and that’s what really matters to me at this point.”
The chemistry between Brade and his teammates is seen off the ice as well as on the ice, whether in the gamesmanship while passing the puck around in the hallways before the game or just laughing about how Toronto Maple Leafs played in their last game.
On the ice, Stanley’s message perseveres. Soon after the puck drops against West Hill the Flames are called upon to break up a breakaway chance. They close ranks to keep the Golden Hawks from scoring, and to give themselves a chance to get their offense going.
The 7–0 victory was their second win in a row.
“It wasn’t a masterpiece,” Stanley would acknowledge later, “but we’re getting there.”
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