SHERIDAN — In between the second and third periods at the M&M’s Center Saturday, the Sheridan Hawks entered the locker room like they always do. Except this time, instead of the coaching staff addressing the team, the players met alone to discuss, critique and motivate one another.
The players-only meeting had a positive ripple effect on the game. The Hawks kicked it into another gear, and even though it didn’t result in a win — Sheridan fell to Casper 5-3 Saturday — the effect should benefit the team moving forward.
“The coaches can come talk to us, but it’s not really up to them on how we play. We have to pump each other up and get into each other’s heads to try and get every one to try their hardest,” Sheridan’s Ben Lavigne said. “I think it really showed in the third period.”
The Hawks trailed the Oilers 4-1 midway through the third period. Dating back to Friday night’s game, Sheridan had only mustered one goal in a combined four straight periods against Casper.
The offense failed to produce, the defense had more lapses than usual and the Hawks were simply playing uninspired.
“Everything comes from having that work ethic,” Sheridan head coach Kirk Viren said. “You can know what you need to do and where to be, but if you’re not hustling your butt off to get there, if you’re not putting everything you can into each and every shot, it’s for nothing. The assignments are one thing, but if there’s no heart behind it, it shows.”
The Hawks found the heart necessary to have its execution pay off. Blake Billings cut Casper’s lead to 4-2 with an unassisted score with just under five minutes left in the third period. Lavigne followed suit and took one in himself and with 2:06 to play in the game, Sheridan had a chance.
The Hawks continued to force the issue, creating scoring opportunities, but were broken in the process. Casper’s Tristan Freel beat the defense and Sheridan goaltender Josh Eaton to give the game its final tally.
While the result — which dropped the Hawks to 12-3-1 (25 points) on the season — isn’t what they wanted, it provided proof of what needs to happen for Sheridan to reach its potential.
“I was really proud to see us battle back, and the message was we have to have that desire earlier in the game. We have to turn it on quicker,” Viren said. “There’s a lot of momentum in hockey, and we just got to swing that in our favor earlier.”
Beau Donelan hurt Sheridan again Saturday. After a two-goal performance Friday, Casper’s standout boasted a hat trick by the middle of the second period Saturday.
The Hawks didn’t defend him properly for the first two periods, merely swiping at the puck instead of bodying him off the puck or physically taking him away from the play. Sheridan did a better job of that in the third period, and that’s coincidentally when the Hawks made their run.
Billings logged Sheridan’s first score, which made it 2-1 early in the second period. Eaton finished the game with 21 saves for the Hawks, while Casper goalie Ryan Means turned away 31 shot attempts.
Sheridan returns to the ice in a couple weeks when they play host to Gillette, which stands at 13-0-2 (28 points) and three points ahead of the Hawks for second place in the Wyoming Amateur Hockey League standings.