By Anthony Coleman
The Times of Trenton
TRENTON, N.J. – Five points.
That is all that separated the Trenton Devils from a ECHL Kelly Cup Playoffs appearance. Head coach Rick Kowalsky had to go through the summer with that fact in mind.
“It’s tough,” Kowalsky said. “But you’ve got to look at it as a 72-game schedule, and our start had a big thing to do with that. I don’t recall our record exactly, but we got two points out of a possible six points that opening weekend.
“That first month was real tough. We had a stretch there where I think we had two points in 10 games. There’s your (five) points right there. Squeak out an overtime win or an overtime loss and that’s an extra point. The biggest thing is that we didn’t get off to a good start. We then came around and then we had that low in February where I think we had three points in a possible 10 or 12. That’s the difference right there. If we cut those in half, we are in the playoffs.”
As the T-Devils prepare for Friday night’s 7:30 season-opening face-off against the Johnstown Chiefs, everyone appeared to stress the importance of kicking off the campaign with a few wins.
Last season, Trenton was 7-13-1 through the first 21 games. The offense was a huge concern. The team, which was comprised mostly of first-year ECHLers, had a hideous 191-minute, 43-second scoreless drought. After beating Reading in the opener, the T-Devils lost eight of the next 10 and were behind the 8-ball all season.
“I think it is a benefit for us,” said center Jim Henkel, referring to starting the season with three straight home games — Reading at 7 p.m. on Saturday and Elmira at 4 p.m. Sunday.
“We are going to be out there in front of our fans and have them urging us on and keeping us going. It’s always tough to start the season. You are unsure what you are getting when you are playing other teams. You kind of find your footing a little bit, and you kind of see what teams are going to play and how they are going to play. It’s tough, but at the same time, we are at home.”
For all three games during the opening home stand, the team will hand out magnetic season schedules to fans in attendance. Sunday, fans get the chance for autographs and pictures with the players after the game.
“I am so ready to go,” right winger Eric Castonguay said. “I am tired of practice; I just want the season to start. I am real happy that we can start three games at home this weekend. We are ready to go.”
Nine players from last year’s team return. One of the new faces whom fans may want to keep an eye out for is Scott Bartlett. The forward joins the T-Devils after four years (24 goals and 29 assists) and two NCAA Division III National Championships at Middlebury College.
“Starting the first three at home can almost kind of be too much, because it’s the same,” Kowalsky said. “You kind of want to change it up a bit, sneak a road game in there. But we have to take advantage of it.
“We are building up to that point. We are looking to come out of the gates flying. Like I’ve said, it’s a good group. I know they are chomping at the bit as much as we are to play some games with some meaning. They want to get going.”