The Niagara IceDogs have vaulted themselves from the bottom of the eastern conference to fifth place. What once looked like a lost season has evolved into a competitive one. In all likelihood the IceDogs will improve on last year’s 57-point season as with 17 games remaining in the 2014-2015 season Niagara has accumulated 52 points. Niagara is heating up at the right time of the year coming off a home and away sweep of the London Knights. The two victories were certainly a statement to the rest of the league that Niagara could make some noise in the upcoming playoffs.
Through 51 games, the team is averaging 3.76 goals per game while giving up 3.54 goals per game. Since the start of the New Year, Williamson’s squad has scored 4.875 GPG meanwhile goals against remained relatively similar (3.5). A 1.155 increase in goal differential has propelled Niagara to an 11-5 record in 2015.
Questions about the longevity of Niagara’s recent upswing are legitimate but should be critiqued. The once struggling IceDogs had to fight at every opportunity to get out of the eastern conference’s cellar. Now with the trials and tribulations of 2014 behind them, Niagara is a battle tested team that can appreciate the position they’re in and the fans have followed suit. The Meridian Centre’s inaugural season has provided the IceDogs with an added home ice advantage with sellouts of the 5,300-seat arena occurring regularly. The success of Niagara’s potential playoff run could be helped tremendously by the fan support.
The front office’s plan for the 2015 portion of the campaign highlighted the importance of a successful season to break in the Meridian Centre. In November, Niagara acquired New York Islanders’ 2014 first round pick Joshua Ho-Sang for Hayden McCool and three-second round draft picks from the Windsor Spitfires. The baggage that Ho-Sang carried over from the 2014 NHL draft process is currently an afterthought to Niagara. Tallying 1.42 points per game, the right winger causes headaches for opposing coaches not only because of the danger Ho-Sang possesses with the puck on his stick, but also the spacing he creates in defensive schemes dedicated to stopping him.
The talent delegation by Niagara’s front office may have put on figurative handcuffs for future seasons, adding further importance to continue 2015’s winning ways. With 17 games remaining, the IceDogs are still searching for an identity. As stated earlier, Niagara’s victories do not follow a set criteria; an identity may be the key to playoff success.
During the late stages of the season it will be crucial for Coach Williamson to find his team’s identity without forcing the matter. It’s a rather delicate idea, but teams with an identity are much more likely to rebound positively to poor stretches by inherently understanding their strengths and weaknesses. While Niagara is in fifth place, the separation from fifth to ninth place is only six points. Three straight losses could potentially place Niagara on the outside looking in, where a distinct identity is needed to rebound late in the year.
As Niagara continues to trend upward, the success of the 2014-2015 season will be determined by how they play down the stretch.