Majors hitting stride

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:20 AM ET

Patience has been a virtue for Bud Stefanski in his first season behind the bench of the St. Michael's Majors.

Stefanski figured his club eventually would come around and, after floundering in the Eastern Conference in the first half, the Majors have marched into playoff contention.

St. Mike's has eight wins in its past 10 games, but has been playing better hockey for the past two months. With 48 points, the Majors are three back of the Kingston Frontenacs for the last playoff berth and four behind the Belleville Bulls.

"You look at the people we added up front and it has given us depth," Stefanski, also the director of hockey operations, said. "There are a lot more options now. We're rolling four lines, and it comes down to confidence being spread around."

Five of the Majors' top seven scorers -- Tyler Donati, John Adams, Justin Donati, Jeff Larsh and Peter Franchin -- were acquired by Stefanski. They've all contributed offence to some extent. With 124 goals, the Majors no longer are in danger of breaking the record for fewest (145) in one season.

Stefanski likes his team's chances of participating in the post-season tournament. Of their remaining 17 games, 11 are at the boxy St. Michael's Arena.

"We're at the point now where everybody can smell the end of the season," Stefanski said. "But no team is going to lie down. We have to continue to push ourselves."

RICHARDS IS RELIEVED

Michael Richards dodged a major disappointment on a trip to Toronto last week when he received word that his role as a spectator wouldn't be as long as he originally feared.

Richards, the captain of both the Kitchener Rangers and Canada's gold-medal winning side at the world junior, pulled out of a recent game with a groin injury that has been bothering him throughout the season.

"(Doctors) thought it was a stress fracture in the pubis bone, but it's just a lot of inflammation," Richards, who is aiming to return on Feb. 25 in Sault Ste. Marie, said. "Once they told me that, I was happy. Had it been six weeks (or longer), I couldn't imagine trying to get back into hockey."

BIG SNAKE STILL OUT

Owen Sound Attack general manager Mike Futa said no timetable is in place for the return of overage winger Robin Big Snake, who was sent home to Alberta last week for violating curfew for the second time this season. A crowd favourite, Big Snake has 33 points and 120 penalty minutes in 37 games.


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