After three straight 40-win seasons, the Bakersfield Condors were expected to take another step toward an elusive ECHL championship in their just completed 10th anniversary season.
Instead, the team turned out to be one of the worst in franchise history at 26-37-9. Only a remarkable stretch run of 7-3-0 (which propelled the team into the playoffs) kept the 10th Anniversary edition of the team from posting the worst won-loss record in a 72-game season.
The Condors’ Marty Raymond, who will be back for his fifth season as head coach this fall, sat down with Californian staff writer Mike Griffith to answer questions Friday before heading to Quebec City on a recruiting trip to the Hockey World Championships.
What went right and what went wrong this season?
What went right was the last six weeks of the season. We finished hard and made the playoffs. We were able to bring in young (college) guys so the recruiting trip was a success and I think we’ll be doing that year after year.
Bringing in good, young players that want to be playing may be a lesson in itself. Some guys maybe get comfortable after being here for a while and guys that really want to go to the next level will play as hard as they can every night. They’ll make mistakes but we have to go that direction.
Again, playoffs were great, as good as it can be for what we had. If you put Dale Reinhardt (who played the final nine regular-season games for Bakersfield before returning to college to finish up school) in the mix and I think we have a chance to win that series.
The first part of the season, obviously, is a forgetful one. I think we played well the first month and a half but we just didn’t find a way to win. I think it’s been said a millions times, our goaltenders giving up goals with one second, 12 seconds, 40 seconds left demoralized our guys. Then we started losing guy after guys (to injuries). Then the character of the guys that were skilful but not of great character came to the forefront and after that we had to start dealing with people who, when you start losing you have to deal with other issues, and that took us back month after month.
We felt we took enough steps backward and started eliminating some of these guys then season-ending injuries started to occur. We lost (Mike) Hofstrand, (Scott) Balan and (Sean) Venedam so you lose your leadership group. After that it was who was going to step up and maybe there was a bit of division at that time. That’s in a nutshell what happened, which is why I started with the positive.
There was a point where this organization, with the season in turmoil, could have said ‘let’s play this out and go on to next year.’ Instead you went out and worked harder, recruited some players and brought them in. Was that a collaboration between you and the front office to get that done?
The front office has been good and they always want to win. My own opinion is you never give up and I’ve been talking about not giving up for two years and suddenly we’re in a situation where we possible can give up. I could not do that so at all cost we had to go and do something
Obviously (team President Matt Riley) was OK with us sending guys to go and recruit and that’s certainly commendable. There was no way in the world we were going to finish this year not making playoffs. It was addressed with our players, a lot of guys want to stay here, and at one point I had a speech with those guys in Fresno when we were starting our big run and I said ‘don’t think we’ll be keeping anybody here that did not make playoffs for us.’
Will you be doing things differently as head coach next season?
I call this the no-option clause. This year I haven’t been comfortable with some of the leadership group. Right from the beginning we had guys coming up saying well, we really don’t want to do this for this reason or that. They would have a guy from the leadership group come and see me in my office and we, as a coaching staff, left an option open and it turned out not to be a good thing.
The warning is out: there will be zero option next season. It will be my way. We will do certain things a certain way. I feel I kind of went side to side trying to be a team player and you want to be a team player. But my vision has to be be what’s important so I can kick myself in the butt if it doesn’t work.
The fact that some guys didn’t want to do certain things to build team chemistry early on should have been a sign of what was to come and the red flag didn’t really come out for us.
How important is it that a team have a sense of togetherness, or as it is often called, team chemistry?
There’s a reason we won three years in a row without having the best team and it’s because we were together.
Maybe there’s a reason for a season like this. You can win 40-45 games and not win a championship because you can not pin point what’s missing. I think that togetherness has to be there.
If we have that, and just a little more skill from those three previous years, I think we can win. Obviously, you need luck. You can win 50 games Like Texas did and lose (in the second round of the playoffs). That’s hockey. People have to understand that.
Sometime you have team that when you go to a restaurant everybody can sit together and enjoy each others company. This year it was much more fractured.
Training camp is the most important time of they year and for some reason some of our older guys came in unexcited. We have to have excitement so maybe our coaching staff has to do a better job of exciting those guys. We have all sorts of ideas of things we want to do better and it starts from the beginning.
What could an affiliation with a National Hockey League team do for the team?
People have to understand it could be fantastic for us. But it could also be traumatic at times, such as if you have two assigned goaltenders and both are called up (which happened in San Diego a few years ago). You have to learn to play with 13 or 14 players sometimes because of call ups. It can be that the guys they send you are unbelievable. It can be that the guy they send you is so unbelievable that he’s not there long (called up).
That is why it’s even more important to really recruit the 12, 13 guys that you want for A, skill but especially for character, knowing that during the course of the year we’re going to be short.
At the end of the day, if things go well in the playoffs you get those guys back from American League teams. That’s what we’ve seen over the past two or three years with teams that are successful in the playoffs.
Do you need to have an affiliation if you want to have a chance of being in the top echelon of the ECHL?
You know, I’d say it helps. I can tell you honestly that without one it’s certainly more of a struggle and a lot more work on and off the ice. With an affiliation it’s certainly easier recruiting.
I’ve been working pretty hard recruiting (with Bob Bartlett, director of hockey operations, and Mark Pederson, assistant coach) every year and sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad.
If you don’t have an affiliation, it’s not to say you can’t win a championship. It’s been done before but all the stars have to line up. (Securing an affiliation) should be a priority for everybody in our organization and it is right now.
Do you think the Condors will have an affiliation for the 2008-09 season?
This is just my opinion, but I, as the coach, feel confident we’re going to have one.
You’ve always been a coach willing to bring on a project player or two. This year you said you had far too many projects. Have you changed you mind on project players?
I’m done with that. I’ve always been a believer that you can make an impact on people’s lives. Sometimes I think we can. There are things that happen in life that are not hockey related.
But business-wise it doesn’t make any sense any more. I’m not a social worker, nor do I claim to be. The odds are against us if we have four or five projects. You’re going to have one or two. You can’t judge people by calling people. But our new philosophy is if there’s a doubt, there’s no doubt.
If you’re a police officer at night and you have a doubt about going into an alley there’s no doubt, you’re not going in there. That has to be our philosophy. If we talk to people and there’s three good recommendations and two bad ones there have to be a doubt.
You’ve just concluded you exit interviews with all of the players, do they know where they stand?
You owe the player to give him you thoughts and find out their thoughts.
This year we did not want to indicate whether we did or did not want them back. We’re going to take time to make that decision, especially with the veterans because we have a lot of players who are now vets and only four spots available. We have to A, get new blood and B, assess which guys deserve to be back here. These are tough decisions that need to be made.
If there is an affiliation that also reduces the number of players we bring back. We have to bring the right guys back. If people are expecting a signing tomorrow morning they’re going to be a little disappointed. In the past we released names left and right to get some excitement. This year it’s time to assess, prepare for the year properly and make sure we put guys into an environment where they can succeed.
The past two seasons you brought back 10-12 players. How many might be back next season?
We’re not brining 12 guys back. I can tell you that.
The conditions are different, because we have some young guys we’d love to have back … again, we can’t do anything until we know if we have an affiliation or not. That’s why we have to be more patient.
Then the thought pattern is to proceed as if there will be an affiliation?
I think we have to proceed that way right now. We’ll certainly be disappointed if it doesn’t happen. By saying that, i’m saying moe we’re going to be patient.
We’ve already talked to some great players about coming here, but right now our No. 1 priority is to see what happens with an affiliation and then build around that as opposed to going crazy and signing guys left and right. We have some guys in mind, but there’s no rush to go out and get things done right now.