As the Lethbridge Hurricanes scored their sixth goal Saturday night, fans began streaming for the exits.
And the movement of the fans was noticed even on the ice.
“That’s the first time in three and a half years that I’ve noticed people leave and that’s really upsetting,” said head coach John Paddock after the game.
But it’s not the fans Paddock is upset with, it’s his players.
“We’re not doing anything to make it better, the players aren’t. They just aren’t. So that’s why the fans leave early because they can sense what we know: there’s not enough will, there’s not enough try.”
After Saturday’s loss, the Pats sit at an even 16-16 with one more game before the Christmas break. Last year’s number one team in the WHL is now holding on to a wild-card spot by two points with Prince Albert and Saskatoon nipping at their heels.
Paddock has some theories about what’s happening with his team, though none he cared to share after the game.
He does feel there is some pressure on the players as Memorial Cup hosts, he said he’s seen that happen before and talked to coaches in the league who have referenced it too, but now he considers that more of an excuse.
“My thoughts on it have to say private, so I can’t tell you what I think is causing it or what I believe or know is causing it,” he said.
“To me, it’s just inner stuff, that’s all.”
But perhaps it’s that “inner stuff” that is the hardest thing to unravel and fix.
“We’ve had, as any team does when things aren’t going well, you have meetings and you have meetings and you have more meetings and we’ve met more times this year then we did the last two years put together,” Paddock said.
“One thing we’ve emphasized and Todd (Lumbard) and Anthony (Marquart), the whole groups of owners … is the care and the pride and the work and whatever happens, happens and they’ll be sometimes down years and different things but it’s really concerning. It’s embarrassing to everyone that’s involved.”
The Pats lost a lot of talent and a lot of leadership between this season and last. Besides the Pats three overagers, Adam Brooks, Dawson Leedahl and Chase Harrison, standout stars like Austin Wagner and Connor Hobbs also moved on to the AHL. It’s created different team dynamics.
“You can just say we’re lacking in what’s being done in the dressing room.”
And while Paddock admits the team is going to look a lot different come the Jan. 10 trade deadline, he refuses to let his players use it as an excuse for how they’re playing.
“That doesn’t stop you from working, it might cause you a sleepless hour at night or something but I’m past that. Because let’s face it there’s some guys, we have good players on the team right now, that there’s no intention of them leaving, that if someone is here watching them they wouldn’t really care for them.”
The Pats will travel to Saskatoon for their final game before Christmas. A win would bring the Blades within two points of the Pats wild card spot.
Puck drops at 4 p.m.