EDMONTON, AB - The playoffs are a different beast but not one the Bakersfield Condors are shying away from.
The Condors, who didn't lose a single game all February during their epic 17-game winning streak earlier in the year, are preparing for their first American Hockey League postseason experience and are doing so with a strong sense of cohesion.
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Nothing tightens a group together like winning - or losing, for that matter - and the 'Dors have endured both in the 2018-19 AHL season. The highs and lows from the year have moulded the group together, causing players to want to perform for one another as well as for their coaches, Condors staff and Bakersfield community.
The hope is that it all culminates in a long and memorable playoff run. Which, for the Condors as a collective, would be paramount.
"It would mean everything," said rookie forward Cooper Marody, who's third in AHL rookie scoring with 60 points in 55 games.
"This group that we have, it reminds me a lot of when I won a USHL Championship with Sioux Falls. The group reminds me so much of it. We're such a truly close-knit group. Everybody talks about how they have a close-knit group but I truly believe this team is close."
The Condors are currently first in the Pacific Division with a 39-21-3-2 record and three games remaining, projected to face off against the Colorado Eagles. Regardless if that's their opposition or not, the strong sense of spirit in the Condors locker room has the club prepared for anyone.
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"We want to play for coach Woodcroft," Marody continued. "We want to play for all of our coaches. We want to play for our staff. We want to play for each other. You don't always get a group like this and it's rare to have. If you go around the League, I don't think many teams are this close. It would be special to go on a long playoff run and get a championship."
Nine rookies are enlisted on the Condors roster and 11 have dressed this season. Despite all the new faces in the dressing room, the nascent club has come together at the right time and will get to experience what the playoffs are all about. They'll do so with the help of veterans like Ryan Stanton, who went all the way to the Calder Cup Finals in 2015-16 with the Hershey Bears.
"It's very unique for our group because we're so young," said offensive defenceman Logan Day. "These next few months coming up entering playoffs is going to allow all the younger guys to see what it's all about and really push on our older guys to show us the way and how these runs are done.
"Coach mentions that this is a brotherhood and playoffs really bring everyone together, so we'll see how it goes."
For Head Coach Woodcroft, the one stressing how profound the Bakersfield brotherhood is, playoffs are vital for the Oilers prospects in their developmental incline.
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"It's extremely important for the future of our organization to experience playoff games in the American Hockey League so that they know what it takes," Woodcroft said. "I can tell you that the singular focus of our team here is to accomplish that goal this season: To make the playoffs. Because we know, and I know through experience, that if you get into the playoffs, anything can happen. If we play to our identity, we think we can be a dangerous team."
They've felt the rigours of a regular season, feeling the sting of loss and the excitement of winning. Up next is trying to slay the beast that is the postseason.
"There are days when we come in here and we're all grumbling and complaining because of how much work we put in the days before but when you really see guys buckle down and give 100 percent, it's fun," said defenceman Ethan Bear.
"It would mean a lot."