Over the years, a slow start by the Abbotsford Pilots has almost become a rite of fall.
The local junior B hockey club, under head coach Jim Cowden, has traditionally come moseying out of the gates. The Pilots tend to use the first couple months of the season to round into form and find chemistry, before inevitably rocketing back to their usual place near the top of the Pacific International Junior Hockey League standings during the second half.
That’s why it’s somewhat surprising, even in light of the Pilots’ status as defending Western Canadian champions, to see them in first place in the Harold Brittain Conference in the early going. After dropping their opening game of the 2012-13 campaign to the Delta Ice Hawks, Abbotsford has reeled off five straight wins.
“Every year, we seem to start off 2-4 or 1-5,” Cowden noted with a wry chuckle. “But this year, we’ve gotten out of the gate on a little bit of a roll.”
A big part of the hot start, Cowden believes, was the decision to schedule just two preseason games, down from eight last year.
“I just thought everybody gets too complacent – the regular season rolls around, and it’s just another game,” he said. “We had two or three extra practices instead.
“After our first game, when we lost to Delta 3-1, I thought maybe I’d made a mistake and should have played a couple more. But as it turned out, it sort of went according to plan.”
The Pilots have gotten outstanding play from goalie Aaron Oakley, and they boast an experienced forward corps, but it’s the youthful blueline brigade that’s been most pleasing to Cowden. Despite missing key contributors Brett Kolins and Austin Edwards to injury, the callow crew has performed beyond expectation.
“They’re the ones who are really stepping up,” Cowden said. “They’ve been a pleasant surprise.”
• The Pilots will look to extend their winning streak to six games tonight (Friday, Oct. 5) as they host the North Delta Devils at MSA Arena. Opening faceoff is at 7:30 p.m.