Following a game against the Rochester Americans on Saturday night, Eyes On The Prize had a chance to speak with rookie Jake Evans and head coach Joël Bouchard about the start to the year, and overcoming roadblocks with a young team.
EOTP: What’s this year been like so far, coming out of the NCAA and then having to recover from the injury in the Rookie Tournament?
Evans: It’s been a slow process I think. I came in really excited for that Rookie Tournament, and then obviously that scary incident happened and put me a step back. Afterwards, I didn’t want to rush things obviously, I just wanted to get my first few games in and get my confidence back up in those games. It’s a new league at a higher level, there’s a lot more skilled guys, so getting my confidence was key.
It’s going okay. Some games could be better, but I think I’ve had games that have gone really well, too.
What’s been the biggest adjustment going from Notre Dame (NCAA) to the AHL?
It’s obviously speed, and strength is a big one. There’s a lot of skilled guys I’ve noticed in the first few games and you can’t be turning pucks over because they’ll make you pay. You’re always playing with better players, but you have to be aware of who is on the ice all the time, and you can’t always make a high-risk play like you did in lower leagues.
The team here and in Montreal is really young, do you think you can push into a bigger role in that movement this year?
I’d love to be a part of that, but my focus right now is on learning this league, and growing my confidence, just trying to play well for this team. A lot of guys you can learn from here, too. I don’t want to rush things or get frustrated, just stay positive and trust the process.
Is there someone on the team who has served as mentor for you this year so far?
It hasn’t really been just one guy since I got here. I’ve been roommates with [Alexandre] Grenier on the road and through training camp, so I’ve gotten really close with him. Playing with someone like Byron Froese is always good; he’s great at communicating and he has a lot of skill. It’s fun learning from guys like that who have been here a little while.
You had a pair of assists tonight. Do you feel like your playmaking ability is your best asset in the AHL right now?
I think so, yeah, but also you just try to be a smart player. Like I said: knowing when to make those riskier plays and when to make the safe play. I’m trying to do that right now. One of the assists today just hit off my glove, so I guess ‘right place right time’ helps, too.
EOTP: What was the gameplan coming into tonight against such a high-powered offence like Rochester’s?
Bouchard: I feel like we’re coming out to play every game, but every game seems to be the same scenario. We come out to play, we don’t score enough, and they put some pressure on us and we ended up being in a tight game with them.
Our power play is not really getting the job done right now, so it’s a lot of pressure on the guys to not make one mistake, and I feel it’s cracking through it a little bit. [The Americans] are a really good team, but I don’t think they’ve got much, to be honest with you.
You came out and had a ton of pressure on them early. Is that something in practice that can be worked on, to apply that to the full game?
I think we paid very heavily for our mistakes, and it’s been like that since the beginning of the year. Our record is 3-5, and we could easily be 6-2, we just don’t score. That’s the bottom line. It’s not the defending or the checking, it’s really the offence, and they’re getting the looks and the chances. We just aren’t putting it in, and that puts a lot of pressure on the guys and they make one little mistake, then we pay that price.
Is it something with the team being younger, that if these young guys score the floodgates could open up to relieve that pressure?
Yeah, I think we need to stick with it. We’re playing hard and guys are invested, dedicated. Our defending is really high, we just need to get a couple of plays offensively.
What’s the mantra after this game. You played well to start and almost had the comeback. What’s the message going into practice this week?
I think it’s been happening too much, so we just need to get over the hump here and get the monkey off our back. Then we can get rolling a little bit I think,. It’s paralyzing us a little bit right now, the record is paralyzing us a little bit, and it’s affecting the effort the guys put on.
So you think one of those games where the goals flow a bit will help this pressure on the team?
Yeah, exactly. You stick with it long enough — it’s a long season — and things will turn around.