By CLAUDE SCILLEY
There may yet be some good come from the last time the Queen’s Golden Gaels met the Carleton Ravens for a hockey game.
From the Gaels’ point of view, it certainly wasn’t apparent at the time. Ten minutes of sound hockey and some terrific goaltending by Kevin Bailie allowed the defeated Gaels to leave the Memorial Centre under cover of a 3-2 score that obscured just how badly they’d played for most of the game.
For that game 10 days ago not to have been played in vain, of course, some good must arise from the experience and, indeed, Eric Ming says, there’s a moral to that sad story.
“They’re a skilled team,” said the sophomore Gaels forward of the Ravens, “and if we even turn our brains off or our legs off, for even five or 10 minutes, it can cost us.
“Our mental preparation is going to have to be better this time around.”
As it turns out, the schedule maker gave the Gaels an early shot at redemption. Carleton returns to the Memorial Centre Friday night, while the memory of that debacle remains fresh in the Gaels’ minds.
Queen’s has won two games since then, and Ming said the Carleton defeat didn’t rest lightly when the Gaels went to northern Ontario and took victories out of Laurentian and Nipissing last weekend.
“We played a little hungry, a little angry,” Ming said, “for the fact that Carleton came into our rink on the Tuesday and pushed us around for the majority of the game. We were confident that our effort had to improve and our attention to detail had to be better.
“We were the better team for 50 to 55 minutes in both of those games and we came out on top and that was good for us, to get our confidence back, get some of our guys feeling good about themselves again. Hopefully we can keep that going on Friday.”
The challenge will be more formidable. Both Laurentian and Nipissing are languishing on the shady side of .500, while Carleton, 17-5—third in what is quite likely the most competitive division in Canada—is the No. 8-ranked team in the country.
Want more? The Ravens have won their last five in a row, seven of their last eight, and they are 9-1 on the road. “They’re big, they’re physical and they’re fast,” Ming said. “They’re skilled and they’re deep.”
Nonetheless, the Gaels, 13-6-1, fifth in the East division of Ontario University Athletics, have defeated Carleton this year, 3-0 in Ottawa in late October, a victory that was Queen’s fifth in six games to start the season.
The difference between those two games, Ming said, was the Gaels’ attention to detail and their energy at the start of the game.
“We came out and played from the time the puck dropped when we were up in Carleton, and we kept our foot on the gas for 60 minutes up there,” he said, “but when we played them here we came out flat. It took us time to warm up to the game. By the third period we played well. Luckily enough, Kevin Bailie played great all game so we could make it close, but we’ve got to play for 60 minutes if we’re going to beat them Friday.”
With 12 goals and 22 points in 19 games, the second-year civil engineering student from Williamstown, Ont., is fashioning a splendid season with the Gaels. He’s got at least one point in each of his last 11 games, he’s scored a goal in six of his last nine, and with 14 points in those nine games, has been involved in 52 per cent of Queen’s 27 goals since Nov. 28.
“I’m just getting more comfortable with the game,” he said. “Last year was an adjustment year. I had a pretty good season in the OHL before I came here but the style of play is so much different at this level. It took some time to get adjusted to it. It’s all new players, new faces, new systems, and I think it’s (a matter of) finally feeling comfortable and finding a role on the team.
“I have pretty good chemistry with my linemates, so that helps, for sure. It’s more enjoyable. I’m having more fun.”
Gaels coach Brett Gibson said it’s a reasonably common phenomenon for players, even good ones, to come from major junior hockey unprepared for the transition they’re about to experience coming to the intercollegiate game.
“I mean this in a very constructive, positive way,” Gibson said, “but just because they’ve played major junior doesn’t mean they know the game that well. There are a lot of major junior programs that are fantastic and (players) come in and they’re ready to play, but there’s a lot of them, who still don’t know the game. They need correcting.
“It’s funny. You think just because they played major junior hockey, they’re going to come in and light this league on fire, but it’s a man’s league. You’ve got to get accustomed to it. The special players jump in and do it right away, but sometimes it takes a few months, or even a season, to get used to it.”
Ming, who scored 34 goals in 2013-14, in his fourth and final year in the OHL, could have fit that mold, though the scored 10 goals for Queen’s as a freshman last year was by no means shabby.
“I don’t know if he took the league for granted,” Gibson said. “He had a tough time juggling school. He’s an engineer, a very smart guy, and school is very important to him. He had a tough time balancing the two his first year. He missed some practices.
“This year he hasn’t missed practice. He’s arguably been our best forward, all year. He’s a totally different guy: his commitment, his compete level, he’s able to finish, and now he’s finishing in big games for us. He’s scored some big-time goals and when I say big-time goals, I mean goals at the right time.”
Often in his rookie season, Ming appeared to be playing on the periphery, almost reluctant, at times, to get involved in the play. “That’s a very good analysis,” Gibson said, “and that’s not Eric Ming.
“He’s an inside-the-dot player. That’s where he scores his goals. We tried to tell him that last year but it takes a year. Once you get accustomed and feel more comfortable with the coach, feel more comfortable with school—I think we’re seeing the real Eric Ming that we brought in.
“You know what?” the coach continued. “Probably last year I would never have thought he’d be a leader on this team, but he’s become a leader as well. We’re winning a lot of games and he’s leading the way.”
Being a year older, Ming said, has made him wiser.
“I’ve learned that a lot of the defencemen in this league are big and physical,” he said. “You almost have to pick your battles. Any time that I identify a battle that looks winnable for me, I just try and grit my teeth and get the puck back.
“Instead of always trying to work and do too much in one shift and being tired a lot, like I was last year, I find I’m more selective and whenever I see a puck that I can win or a play that I can make, I usually still have good energy left to make a play. I’m being a little more patient, a little bit more confident. It seems to be going good—so far, anyway.”
Game time at the Memorial Centre is 7:30.