SHERIDAN — Andy Scheib keeps reminding his Sheridan Hawks veterans of the same thing.
“Every day,” Scheib, the Hawks’ head coach, said. “We have young kids who make mistakes at the wrong times. But what the returners don’t understand is that they were a new guy, too. They made the same mistakes.”
Last season, a veteran-loaded Sheridan team went 39-1 in the regular season and won the North American 3 Hockey League’s Frontier Division. But the Hawks had to replace about two-thirds of their roster in the offseason, and the younger team has struggled to a 1-7 record through four weeks.
Now, the last-place Hawks play their antithesis this weekend. They take on the undefeated Gillette Wild, who sit in first place and feature a program full of returners.
“They don’t really take a shift off,” goaltender Thomas Kuriscak said. “We have to make sure we’re there the whole game. We can’t really make any huge mistakes, but at the same time, we can’t let the pressure get to us. They’re 8-0, and that can kind of cause something in your head to go wrong. You don’t want to mess up.”
But mistakes are bound to happen. Scheib continues to preach it. The goal is to limit mishaps, not to aim for impossible perfection.
Sheridan dropped its first two games of the season 10-0 last month. The next week, it suffered back-to-back 7-5 defeats in Rapid City, South Dakota. Then came the first win and a 5-3 loss against Butte. Last weekend, the Hawks fell 4-2 in both contests against Great Falls.
Translation: They have improved. They’ve watched it, especially in the last week.
Schieb first saw glimpses last Wednesday and Thursday. For the first time all season, he felt good about how his team practiced.
“That’s the first time all year I thought we competed and cared,” Scheib said. “The practice was louder. The feeling. The energy. Everything about it was good … From there, we played really well this weekend. We definitely had some hopes and some glimmers of what we could be.”
Kuriscak noticed the fight the Hawks displayed while holding Great Falls scoreless on a five-on-three penalty kill for six minutes.
“It was just really big for our penalty kill and momentum and kind of made me think we can do this,” Kuriscak said. “We have the guys here. We have the buy-in … Chemistry is built in those moments.”
And for a team that hasn’t been together long, chemistry makes or breaks it. Kuriscak, Aaron Hicks and the other veterans are trying to step up into the leadership roles vacated by offseason departures.
“Obviously, the first few weeks, you don’t really know anyone,” Hicks said. “Now, guys are starting to get to know each other better, which builds chemistry on the ice. We’re getting to know each other and getting better … From that first weekend, we’ve definitely come a long way. We just have to keep at it.”
This weekend’s series is split between Sheridan and Gillette. The Hawks host the first game at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Whitney Rink in the M&M’s Center. Saturday, the two teams travel 90 minutes to the southeast for game two — a 7:05 pm. tilt in Gillette.