'Hounds must win or begin reloading

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 5:17 PM ET

Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds coach Craig Hartsburg says his team is trying to find its way.

It sounds like it has a few weeks to do it. If it can't . . .

"That's a little bit of our problem, we're not young," said Hartsburg. "We have quite a few 19-year-olds. We're trying to make a push right now to see if we can get in a position to make the playoffs over the next few weeks. If we can't, we have to make a decision and that's not fun in this league."

If they can't, that means looking at moving some of those older players to teams who need to fill a hole or two to make a run at a championship.

"No matter, we aren't going to add any 19-year-olds," said Hartsburg.

His Greyhounds come into the John Labatt Centre tonight to play the London Knights in an Ontario Hockey League game. The Greyhounds have been the epitome of inconsistency this season, losing to the lowly Oshawa Generals several weeks ago but then winning two games against two of the better teams in the league, the Plymouth Whalers and Guelph Storm.

The Greyhounds played the Spitfires in Windsor last night.

"We're hoping it was a step forward," said Hartsburg of the two wins. "But it's been a real tough year.

"We've lost some pretty good players and we're trying to find our way. We've struggled offensively this year, that's our challenge."

The challenge is replacing Londoner Jeff Carter who graduated to the Philadelphia Flyers and had 34 goals and 74 points.

"The Knights lost Corey Perry and they still have three or four guys who can score," said Hartsburg. "When we needed a goal last year, we knew where it was going to come from. We don't have that this year."

The Greyhounds have scored the third fewest goals in the league, behind only Mississauga IceDogs and the Belleville Bulls. In a year when rule changes have made it easier to score, their lack of goal scoring puts pressure on defence and goaltending.

"It's not from a lack of effort or trying. We just can't score," said Hartsburg.

"I don't care if the rules are old or new rules, you have to score some goals to win," Hartsburg said. "No matter what the rules are, if your team struggles to score, it isn't good."

The 'Hounds have lost 10 one-goal games.

That's why Londoner Kyle Gajewski is integral to whatever success the Greyhounds will have. Gajewski has played in 24 games and carries an impressive 3.06 goals-against average. The 18-year-old played 34 games last year as a rookie and had a 2.55 goals-against average, the lowest among rookies.

"As a team we've improved defensively," said Hartsburg. "Kyle last year as a 17-year-old he proved he was a pretty good goalie. As an 18-year-old he's had a pretty solid year. If we scored a few more goals, it would take some heat off him a little bit. He's certainly capable of keeping us in the game."

Gajewski credits his good statistics to his defence and the fact he played so many games last year as a rookie.

"A lot of that is our defence, they're pretty solid," he said. "It helps me out a lot. I have to give them half the credit. Last year helped me out. I played 34 games and I felt pretty confident. It made it easier for me this year to step in."

One thing Gajewski would like is to win a game at the JLC. The last time the Greyhounds won here was in February 2003, a 5-4 victory.

"It's special playing at home," said Gajewski. "But I've got to treat it like every other game."

It will be like a homecoming for several 'Hounds. Gajewski is from London, Cody Thornton from Embro, Tyson Aitcheson and Hartsburg from Stratford and Alex Penner from Simcoe. Former London Knight Scott Restoule is also with the Greyhounds.


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