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Thursday, 09 February 2012 10:21

Swift Current Legionnaires’ coach soldiered on despite adversity

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By Brad Brown — This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Swift Current Legionnaires have long been considered a spectacle by many observers.




With five games left in their 2011-12 Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League schedule, the organization is proving it can be a spectacle for the right reasons too.

Never mind the current five-game losing streak - the team has played hot and cold all season. More importantly, the odds-defying Legionnaires (19-18-2-0) are seventh in the 12-team league with 40 points and on the verge of their first playoff berth since 2004.

“I’m proud of the boys. They’ve worked hard and they’ve overcome a lot of adversity to get where they are,” said first-year head coach Jason Johns. “I think it will be great for Swift Current to have this team back in the playoffs and it’s been great to see how the board has supported the team all year. We’re seeing more fans out at our games so the community is getting behind us too.”

Adversity is the nice way of saying the Legionnaires have had an uphill climb – both ways – to the rink and back since before the season even started.

Johns was hired last February after another drama-filled Legionnaires season, and received some chilly reviews before he’d coached his first game. Then there was the 2-5 start to the season, Johns’ 30-day suspension for a player carding violation, the subsequent resignations of assistant coach Todd Hornung and scouting director Sheldon Reinhart, and the calls for Johns himself to follow them out the door.

All before the season was two months old.

Johns stayed put and brought Brad Woods and Johnny Calkins onboard as assistant coaches.

The result so far? Only a pair of six-game win streaks and the Legionnaires’ best regular season in almost a decade.

“I think our chaplain program really had a huge impact on that,” said Johns. “Rob (Winslow) talked to the boys a lot during that time and helped them through things. And as a coaching staff, it’s huge that we’re all on the same page. We believe in each other and we trust each other.”

Maybe most encouraging of all, for the future of the program, Johns has also earned the trust of his superiors.

“When we hired Jason, what we wanted was someone who would make the players accountable not just on the ice but off the ice,” said Swift Current Minor Hockey Association president Rich Bissonnette. “He’s put a strong focus on setting a good example in the community and I really want to commend him for that.”

Bissonnette added that, before the season, he was “hopeful” the Legionnaires could make the playoffs this year. Johns never doubted it for a second.

“At the very start of the year, I told the guys that we’d make the playoffs, which we haven’t done in eight years, and that we’d make the Mac’s Tournament, which we also hadn’t made in eight years,” said Johns. “Well, we missed the Mac’s tournament by one win and now here we are on the verge of making the playoffs.”

The Legionnaires have been getting it done by committee, with 10 players currently sporting at least 15 points. They’re also battle-tested, having recently completed a stretch of four games in four nights with a 2-2 record.

That experience should come in handy this weekend when they play three road games in three nights. Swift Current will then return home Feb. 18-19 to close out the regular season with a pair of home dates against the Saskatoon Blazers.


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