By Mike Griffith
Californian Staff Writer
Copyright (c) The Bakersfield Californian
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – When many of the Condors skate onto the ice Saturday at Rabobank Arena, they will be in the spotlight before the largest and probably loudest crowd in their playing career.
That can have a positive effect, as players often feed off the noise and atmosphere created by big crowds.
The trick is not to get gluttonous.
“You don’t want to get too worked up,” warns veteran center Kevin St. Jacques, who says Rabobank Arena is one of the loudest barns he’s ever played in. “The crowd is going to be loud and you have to play with energy and emotion, but you have to be smart about it. You can’t go 100 miles per hour in every direction. That’s when you get into trouble.”
The Condors take to the ice tonight with five rookies in the lineup and eight players with under two years of pro experience. The record for an opening-night crowd in Bakersfield is 7,295 and that could be eclipsed Saturday.
“(The crowd) is a big plus,” veteran winger Dennis Shiryaev said. “With everybody yelling and banging, it’s awesome. It will be a new experience for some of the young guys to play in front of that.”
Condors coach Marty Raymond is leaning heavily on returning Condors such as St. Jacques, Mike Hofstrand and Shiryaev to keep everyone focused on the big picture — playing within the systems and winning a hockey game.
Still, the first step is to prepare the team for a Saturday night Bakersfield hockey crowd.
“I’ve been telling the guys how loud the crowd gets here,” said Hofstrand, who landed in Bakersfield last season after a year in Germany and two in the United Hockey League. “It’s exciting.”
Given his druthers, St. Jacques said he’d prefer to open the season with a road game just to get first-game jitters taken care of before playing in front of the hometown fans.
“What we need to do is play hard and smart,” St. Jacques said. “You want a steady energy level, to keep an even keel — not get too high or get too low. Just play.”
That’s the same song Raymond has been signing the past couple of days.
“I want intensity with controlled emotion,” he said. “We need to play as a unit. A lot of stuff has been thrown at the guys the past few days but they’re ready to play.”