The Springfield Jr. Blues managed to win against Fuck Motor City today in their last game of the season, providing a series sweep against the Metal Jackets and taking 5 of 6 games against the team. According to the State Journal-Register, the Jr. Blues did not qualify for the playoffs. Considering the rough year the team had, I can believe it. Read on, if you like long articles...
First off, the team started the season with a six-game losing streak. This included four games at the NAHL Showcase tournament, so not only did the team look bad, it looked bad on a national scale, not just a regional one. Unlike the NHL, most teams in the NAHL play only against others in their division in order to cut back on travel costs. With the exception of the Showcase tournament, the only out-of-division team Springfield played was Topeka. Losing streaks are what made this team fare poorly. When they lost repeatedly, the team had difficulty preventing losing streaks from stopping with one team. Streaks tended to carry over from series to series.
Scheduling had a lot to do with the losses as well. For those of you who don't follow the NAHL, most of the teams will have two- or three- game series with their opponents, usually two at home and two away. Springfield wound up with large breaks around Thanksgiving and Christmas, with a 20-day break from November 14 to December 2, followed by another 19-day break from December 19 to January 6. I'm not going to begrudge the teams their breaks during the holidays; these are junior players who are still mostly in high school. There's got to be a way to schedule the teams so they don't have enough down time to make them lose any momentum or conditioning. However not being part of a logistics or planning group, I'm not sure how to use standard scheduling plans to minimize those gaps.
The Jr. Blues also had problems with going up against specific teams repeatedly and other teams more sporadically. Out of 48 in-division games in an eight-team division, Springfield faced the St. Louis Bandits 11 times, had 8 games against Chicago, 7 games against Janesville, 6 games against Motor City and 6 against Port Huron, and finally 5 games against Traverse City and 5 against Michigan. St. Louis and Janesville were the toughest two in-division teams against Springfield. Springfield won 2-9 against St. Louis, and were 3-3-1 against Janesville. Playing 6 games against former division rival (and top points earner in the league) Topeka didn't help much, either, going 2-4 against the Roadrunners. Chicago was an easier team to beat with a 5-2-1 record, and the Jr. Blues managed to sweep Michigan 5 games to none. Motor City and Port Huron were "easy" teams for the Jr. Blues with 5-1 records against each. The "not quite as easy team" was Traverse City with a 3-1-1 record against the North Stars. Splitting up some of those games against St. Louis among Traverse City and Michigan may have given the Jr. Blues a chance to make the playoffs early.
I understand the need to play St. Louis, Janesville and Chicago more often than the four teams in Michigan, too. They're much closer than Michigan and thus the regional rivalries would be there. Honestly, I'd love to see the Michigan teams become their own five-team division next year when Kalamazoo joins the league, and make a real "central" division with Topeka, St. Louis, Springfield, Janesville, and Chicago. Instead, the divisions will likely stay the same, but the North Division will have 9 teams and the remaining Central, South and West divisions will have six teams each. I also find amusing the idea of having eight teams in the North Division exist south of all six teams in the Central Division, but I don't decide who's in what division. If I did I'd be living in Plano, Texas, as an NAHL executive. (Considering the league moved its headquarters from Michigan to Texas, I strongly wonder about the geographical education programs of both of those states.)
The team had a lot of scheduling errors go against it that killed momentum and had a spate of losing streaks coinciding with losses against a division powerhouse throughout the season. These two factors combined to relieve the team of its head coach. Andy Maher was fired and Joe Dibble took over in late January, seemingly reversing the team's fortunes with a 14-6 record. Next year Ryan Hardy, former assistant coach of the Division III Williams College Ephs, will take over the head coach duties from Coach Dibble, who will fortunately be staying on with the team. There are also 19 players eligible for re-signing, and with luck they'll stay to provide some much needed stability. I don't think there's a lousy one in the bunch, but as a Jr. Blues homer, I'm biased.
In conclusion, the Jr. Blues didn't have a spectacular year, but salvaged what could have been disastrous for anyone else. It's not too bad for being the longest-running franchise in the league. Next year, the Robertson Cup could be theirs once again. Thanks for reading.