EDMONTON, AB - The American Hockey League season is rolling but if you're the Bakersfield Condors, it's at a standstill.
The club opened the 2019-20 campaign by beating the San Diego Gulls 2-1 on Friday then dropped a 3-2 overtime loss to the Ontario Reign a day later. The team doesn't play again until Sunday when they visit the San Jose Barracuda, meaning the Condors calendar is carte blanche.
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"We're using it as a development week," Condors Head Coach Jay Woodcroft, entering his second year with the squad, said.
"We started this last year. We wanted to take advantage of those weeks that come up in the schedule when there's a big gap in between games."
For Woodcroft, development week is about personal growth through detail-oriented drills. A change-up from practices typically devoted to team systems and strategies.
"What we like to do is we split up the players by position and we'll do forward-specific things, D-specific things, goalie-specific things, all in the hopes that we work on little details to improve individuals so that the team improves as a whole," the coach said.
"The way we equate it to players is they're investing in their personal corporation when they go through these types of practices because they're working on details in their game. The more you do that, the more you get out of everyone's potential."
Woodcroft and Co. unearthed plenty of the team's potential in '18-19 when Bakersfield topped the Pacific Division with a 42-21-3-2 record and .654 win percentage. The Condors achieved a 17-game winning streak, clinched the franchise's first AHL playoff berth, defeated the Colorado Eagles in Round 1 then were outed by the Gulls in six games in the Pacific Division Final.
But Woodcroft isn't dwelling on it.
"It's a new season, a new year, a new team," he said. "We have new players and we have some experience now. We made it clear right from our opening meeting that we're here to produce in the present."
The book is out on Bakersfield, though. Last season's ascension put the club on notice, so nothing is expected to come easy in the new schedule.
"Having the year we had last year means that you're not going to take anybody by surprise in any way," Woodcroft said. "I think the idea that as the team gets better, things get easier. I don't think it works like that. I think it gets harder."
Kailer Yamamoto, who used development week's downtime to get settled into a new house, is buying in.
Woodcroft's '18-19 philosophy was to treat winning as a skill and his message this year is convincing the players that teamwork does, indeed, make the dream work.
"You just come to the rink every day and put your boots on," Yamamoto said. "Every time you come into the rink, not only do it for yourself but if you're playing your best, you're making other players better."
So even though the ball may not get rolling again until Monday, progress is being made.
"We want to be the best team that we can be," Woodcroft said.
"We realize that the strength of the team is in the team. We don't think winning and development is mutually exclusive. We think you can do both."