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'Choose Your Attitude'

by Michael Smith / Carolina Hurricanes
Michael Smith

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That’s the number of wins the Carolina Hurricanes have in their first 33 games of the 2014-15 regular season. With 22 points, the team ranks last in the Eastern Conference and 29th in the league.

But you wouldn’t know that by watching practice on Monday afternoon in Newark or being in the room with a group of 20-plus that, all things considered, remains in good spirits.

“You try to keep the mood upbeat. I think the coaching staff has done a great job with that,” John-Michael Liles said after Sunday’s 1-0 loss in New York. “Nobody wants to be in the position we’re in right now, but it’s a learning process, and hopefully we can take positives from each and every game, whether it’s a win or loss.”

In practice on Monday, Jordan Staal raced down the ice, ripped a slapshot to the back of the net and leapt into the glass in celebration. Anton Khudobin shared a few laughs on the ice, perhaps about his attempt to climb over the boards late in Sunday night’s game. When Victor Rask left practice at one point, head coach Bill Peters had Brett Bellemore don a red forwards sweater saying, “You’re a play-making center.”

It’s these moments of levity that keep a room upbeat even when the results aren’t evident.

“It comes from the top down. From the coaching staff to the captains to the older guys, continuing to tell us that we have to keep our heads up, stay in the trenches and keep battling to try to find a way out of it,” Patrick Dwyer said after practice. “As long as they remain in good spirits and try to keep us positive, it’s easy to do. The second negativity starts creeping in, things can go from bad to worse.”

Of course, no one in the locker room, coaches’ offices or front office wants to see the team in the situation it’s in, but that’s reality at this point – and now it’s about finding a way out of it.

“Until you get on the inside, you don’t know for sure,” Peters said when asked in Montreal if this is proving to be a tougher challenge than anticipated. “It’s a project, and it’s a challenge worth taking on. We’re going to get it turned around.”

“I think anyone would be lying if they said they didn’t look at the standings, but at this point where we’re at, we have to take it game-by-game,” Dwyer said. “We’ve got to try to string some together here to get ourselves back in the fight.”

Getting it turned around and getting back into the fight has been something the team has been searching to do since going winless in October. A six-game point streak at the outset of November gave hope, but since then, the team has gone 4-14-1 and struggled to find the back of the net and get on the right side of one-goal games.

“We’ve got to do it right. We’re in all these games, and we have to find ways to make more plays,” Peters said. “Our goaltending has been solid and consistent with both guys, so we have to find a way to score and get on the board. We’re a different team when we score early in games and when we have the lead.”

The inability to score, the one-goal losses, the early goals against – it can all be frustrating. Ask Khudobin, who still, despite playing well in many of his 10 appearances this season, doesn’t have a win to his name.

“Sometimes I’m losing my mind at home. To be honest with you, sometimes I’m breaking the sticks or whatever,” he said after making 30 saves in a 1-0 loss on Sunday night. “If you look at the game, it looks like I played good, but we still didn’t get results. There are a lot of things in my head right now.”

Mentally, though, the frustration has to be channeled in a positive manner. Whether scrawled on the whiteboard or spoken by Peters in media scrums, “choose your attitude” has been a mantra over the last few weeks.

“You can take a bad situation and make it really bad if you start getting into a negative mindset," Dwyer said. "As long as everyone stays positive, it’s easier to come to the rink every day. You know everyone else next to you is going to come in with a positive spirit, put on their work boots and become better people and better hockey players. If we keep that attitude, we’ll get out of this at some point.”

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