Ice Dogs Looking For Big Year

By Dave Werstine
Long Beach Press Telegram
Staff Writer

LONG BEACH, Calif. – Pick a saying, any saying.

Try this one: “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” Or how about: “One weekend doesn’t make a season.”

Cliches or not, that is the mindset of the Ice Dogs as they prepare for Friday’s home opener against the Fresno Falcons at the Long Beach Arena after dropping their first three games of the 2005-06 season in Idaho last weekend.

“We know we have a good club,” said second-year Ice Dogs coach Malcolm Cameron, staying positive despite the first 0-3 start in franchise history. “We know we have the talent level good size, good speed and good experience. Sometimes it takes a team a while to develop chemistry and a level of confidence with each other.

“I am starting to find some chemistry with the lines and things like that. I’m getting fairly excited with what I’m seeing out there.”

Cameron isn’t the only one who thinks his team is a quality contender. Idaho coach Derek Laxdal gave the Ice Dogs props after the series, and The Hockey News predicted in its ECHL preview that Long Beach would finish the season with the second-best record and meet Florida in the Kelly Cup Finals.

It might be a little early to think about the Cup finals, but Cameron feels the quest for the title is certainly still on. He blames the opening-weekend woes on a few mental mistakes and the lack of goal scoring.

The Ice Dogs were outscored, 12-5, but were only outshot, 85-83, by Idaho over the series. And it wasn’t that the Ice Dogs played way worse than the Steelheads, Idaho was just able to capitalize on its scoring chances.

Cameron feels that along with the mental mistakes that got the team in trouble will be worked out, even as soon as tonight, as long as the Ice Dogs continue to work as hard as they did last weekend.

“There are going to be some games you win that you have no business winning, and there are going to be some games you lose that you have no business losing. It evens itself out over the course of a season,” he said. “Hard-working teams deserve to win, and we will get what we deserve.

“We’ve got a good team, but we’re not going to be Kelly Cup champs overnight. It’s about building, improving every day. Whether we win six, 10, 12 in a row, it’s just about getting better and building momentum.”

The Ice Dogs didn’t get off to a great start a year ago, going 9-7-1 over the first 17 games. But they did finish at 43-20-9, the third-best record in the ECHL. So Cameron is preaching patience, especially with a fairly new and young team.

“Sometimes getting upset over something not under your control doesn’t make sense,” Cameron said. “We didn’t get the weekend we wanted to, but we worked hard, never cheated.

“They probably made twice as many mistakes as we did, but we didn’t score. We missed the net 20 times in one game 20 times. With those 20 shots, we might not have scored, but if we hit the net maybe there are 10 rebounds and now there are 30 shots and you create momentum.”

Anders Strome, who scored 35 goals a year ago, had a team-high 12 shots over the first weekend and nothing to show for it. Max Birbraer had nine shots and one goal, and Christian Larrivee had seven shots and one goal.

But now back at home, those numbers have a good chance of going up.

The Ice Dogs have won seven consecutive home openers, including back-to-back 3-0 victories. They are 8-2 all-time, and a crowd of nearly 5,000 will greet the team tonight and even more are expected Saturday night, when the Ice Dogs face the expansion Stockton Thunder.

“I’m happy to be home, back on the blue ice,” said Cameron, whose team hasn’t even worked out at the L.B. Arena this year. “It’s nice to get into a home routine.”