© — Compass photo/Nick Mercer
Ray Dalton of the Eastlink CeeBee Stars carries the puck up the ice against the Gander Flyers on Dec. 1 in Harbour Grace.
ST. JOHN’S — Ray Dalton was lost for words when asked why the Eastlink CeeBee Stars are struggling to win hockey games, but he’s hoping things turn around sooner than later with the clock ticking on the hopes of a playoff berth.
Dalton, a former scoring star with the Deer Lake Red Wings in the defunct West Coast Senior Hockey League, is hoping the CeeBee Stars can put a win the board against the Western Royals in a Newfoundland Senior Hockey League two-game set — Saturday 7:30 p.m. and Sunday 2 p.m. — at the Hodder Memorial Recreation Complex.
“Anybody who looked at our team on paper it looks like a team that should be looking at the top of the league for sure, but we just can’t seem to get it going,” Dalton said from St. John’s Tuesday.
The CeeBee Stars, with three games in hand, trail the expansion Gander Flyers by a mere point in the battle for the fourth and final playoff berth with the regular season quickly winding down.
Dalton and company have lost six in a row with the team’s last victory — the only win in eight starts on home ice — coming back on Dec. 1 in a 5-2 triumph over the Flyers. Based in Harbour Grace, the CeeBee Stars have a 4-4 road record, but this will be the first and only trip to Deer Lake for this year and it actually marks the first time in provincial senior hockey history that the CeeBees organization played a game in the Hodder Memorial Recreation Complex.
Dalton is trying to keep faith during a tough time in the team’s history, but admits that the string of losses has shaken the confidence of the players wearing the jersey.
“I think once you lose so many games in a row it’s kind of hard to get that confidence to win a game and that’s what we need. We need a few wins to get our confidence back,” he said.
Most of the losses have been games where the CeeBee Stars have given a solid effort and never got a bounce go its way, according to Dalton, but he’s concerned that a team with a lot of experienced players haven’t been able to put some Ws on the board.
“We should be able to figure out why we’re not winning,” he said of the veteran leadership in the locker room.
The CeeBee Stars have felt the pressure from the fans for the past few weeks, but Dalton insists the team isn’t in panic mode, but realizes the importance of getting a couple of wins under their belt. He doesn’t give any thought to the fact the team will play the Flyers in a two-game set at the S. W. Moores Memorial Stadium in Harbour Grace on the final weekend of the regular season (Feb. 9-10).
“Everyone just wants to win a game again and have fun, “ he said. “When you start losing you keep going to the rink and there’s no fun. We’re just trying to win a game and we’re not worried about Gander right now.”
“When your confidence is gone it’s hard to get it turned around sometimes,” he added.
The Royals swept the CeeBee Stars last weekend with identical 4-3 wins in both games. Even though they failed to pick up a point, Dalton believes his team deserved a better fate in Sunday’s game after coming up with what he felt was the grittiest game of the year for his club.
He wants to see the same desperation this weekend in a rink he once ruled as a key cog in the Red Wings offence. He knows it will be a tough contest with the Royals taking advantage of the smaller confines of the Hodder, but has every reason to believe the team will be ready with a full roster when the puck drops Saturday night.
“We’re going to have to get gritty and get a bit dirty and hopefully we’ll score some goals,” he said. “They’re going to be tough there and we’re hoping to turn it around this weekend for sure,” he said.
Of course, coming back to a place where he has fond hockey memories is something that has given him some extra motivation.
“I can’t wait to play actually, it’s my first game back in Deer Lake,” he said.