Lewiston Maineiacs’ coach J.F. Houle looked down as his computer screen in the coaches’ room at the Gilbert Dionne Centre in Drummondville.
After two periods, Quebec led Baie-Comeau 7-0 at home. Houle leaned back, took a breath and went into his team’s locker room.
“I told them at that point, ‘OK, boys, this is the team we’re going to play in the playoffs, let’s show them something, let’s get them thinking,'” Houle said.
Lewiston was already down 5-0, and was being outshot 22-5. The Maineiacs opened things up in the third. They took 10 shots on goal and played with more of an edge.
They still allowed two more goals and lost the game 7-0.
“That’s a good, strong veteran team,” Houle said. “They’ve been here before. They know how to win.”
Despite four consecutive losses to end the season, due to Baie-Comeau’s own struggles, the Maineiacs backed their way into the playoffs.
The players felt relief. The coaching staff wasn’t so excited.
“The players may have been happy, but we weren’t,” Houle said. “It’s not OK to lose when you don’t put forward the effort. I think that’s the message; that’s the culture we have to build here. Losing is not acceptable. You should always be giving everything you have to win the games.”
So, with a best-of-seven opening-round series looming against that same Drummondville Voltigeurs team, a squad that has an 18-1-1 record against Lewiston in the past two seasons, Houle and his staff are back to the drawing board — literally.
On a white dry-erase board inside the Maineiacs’ locker room, Houle wrote, “Thinking that we can’t has never accomplished anything! The courage to think that “we will” and 100 (percent) effort from all of us can accomplish anything! It’s time to go back to battle!”
Off to the side, in all uppercase letters, was scrawled, “WHY NOT?”
“The players need to believe in themselves,” Houle said. “This is a good experience for a young team, to make the playoffs. They have to make the most of it.”
Doing so is going to take a lot of work. In addition to winning 18 of the last 20 games, the Voltigeurs have scored 135 goals to the Maineiacs’ 48, and have scored 14 in the teams’ last two games this season.
“We’re going right back to looking at all of the video,” Houle said. “(Assistant coach) Jeff (Guay) and I have to break it down and try to come up with something new. We need to figure out a new defensive plan against Drummondville. And then if that doesn’t work, we’ll try something else. But the key is, we’re going in there and we’re not just going in expecting to lose. It’s the playoffs, and strange things can happen. We have to be ready to go in there and fight for it.”
Lewiston begins its seventh consecutive playoff run Friday and Saturday in Drummondville. Games 3 and 4 are back in Lewiston on Tuesday and Wednesday, March 23 and 24. All games are at 7 p.m., save for Game 1, which is slated to begin at 7:30 p.m.