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CONDORS: Woodcroft treating winning 'as a skill'

Condors Head Coach Jay Woodcroft's philosophy is resonating with the players, as evidenced by the team's 13-game run

by Paul Gazzola /

EDMONTON, AB - It's easy to buy in when the result is paying off.

For the Bakersfield Condors, living by Head Coach Jay Woodcroft's philosophy doesn't mean simply playing to his on-ice X's and O's. 

The first-year American Hockey League bench boss is instilling an overarching ideology that treats winning as more than a mere result and is watching the doctrine resonate with his players.

Video: CONDORS | Woodcroft's Craft 02.14.19

"What we've talked a lot about, right from the beginning of our training camp here in Bakersfield, is that winning is a skill," Woodcroft, sitting on a stool in Rabobank Arena while his players practiced behind him, said. 

"It's a skill that's just as important as skating or passing or shooting. It's one that we want to develop in our young players in the American Hockey League."

Woodcroft's philosophy is embodying a life of its own, with the club's 13-game win streak serving as living proof.

"Over this last little stretch that we've been on here, our guys have found ways to win games in different types of fashions," Woodcroft said. "Sometimes it's been our power play, sometimes it's been our penalty kill, sometimes it's been our goaltending. 

"But most of all, what sticks out is the work ethic and determination of our players."

On Friday, with their 10-game win streak on the line against the Pacific Division-leading San Jose Barracuda, it was a concerted effort on the defensive side of the puck that paved the way offensively for the Condors. The club was down by one in the first period and kept their deficit from growing by backchecking hard, playing sound in the D-zone and helping out netminder Shane Starrett.

By preventing the Barracuda from extending their lead in the first, Bakersfield was able to take control in the second period - where the Condors have dominated all season long. The home side tied the game early in the middle stanza then added two more to take the 3-1 lead, keeping the Barracuda at bay in the final 20.

No back-to-back would prevent the Condors from coming out flying on Saturday. With a new franchise record winning streak up for the taking, the Condors, once again, displayed the mantra they've been taught over the course of the season and gutted out their second win in as many nights, thanks to another 20-minutes of dominance in the second period.

The Condors scored five middle-frame markers - two at even strength, one on the power play and two shorthanded - downing the visiting Gulls 7-1.

Video: CONDORS | Protecting the Nest 02.13.19

Before starting their tour of triumph, the Condors experienced a five-game losing streak. Both the coaching staff and players felt they were performing well but still coming up short. The handful of outings served as a teachable moment and the club hasn't suffered a loss in over a month since.

"After the Christmas break, we had a little bit of a slump and learned a few lessons there," said Condors Captain Keegan Lowe.

"We've found different ways to win games. We've been holding onto leads, protecting leads, coming back. We've been having a lot of fun and we've really bonded as a group. 

"The results are showing for us out there."

It's clear the Condors have bought into Woodcroft's belief that winning as a skill, given the remarkable run. But the bench boss isn't solely relying on that to breed a winning culture in Kern County. Woodcroft also takes the time to understand his players as individuals, causing his troops to rally behind him.

Many Condors skaters lauded Woodcroft's ability to understand each player in the dressing room individually. It's a sentiment that's gone a long way.

"He's been really open and speaking to guys, getting personal with guys. I've never really had a coach that wanted to get to know all about me like the way he does but he does it to everybody," said Ethan Bear, who has 20 points in 38 games this season.

Neither the coaching staff nor the players want to get too ahead of themselves during their winning streak but there's no doubt in the culture Woodcroft is manufacturing in Bakersfield.

"He's one of my favourite coaches I've ever had, honestly," said Cooper Marody. "It's a fine line between a guy you want to play for and also a guy you respect greatly.

"It's almost like when you come to the rink, you don't want to let him down. Everybody in the locker room is playing to make him proud of us. That's a great environment."

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