Tuesday night’s 4-3 win by the Calgary Mustangs over the top-rated Brooks Bandits is another example of how Tyler Drader continues to drive the team’s new-found success.
Drader took over as general manager and head coach midway through the 2016 Mustangs season when the team’s position was far from ideal. The team had just set a record for losses in a row and sat at the bottom of the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s south standings. Since then, Drader instilled new concepts which have propelled his team up the standings.
When Drader was given the role of GM, he was eager to have control of personnel and looked for the right types of people to steer the team in the right direction.
“We focus on having good people around,” says Drader, adding “we recruit good kids that want to be there and want to get better and it makes a difference.”
In 2016, the Mustangs managed only eight wins in 60 games finishing last place with a total of 18 points. In the first full season under Drader, the team tripled their wins for a 37-point improvement and finished fifth place in the standings. Drader was nominated for coach of the year after his first stint with the team.
How the players feel
Defensemen Tyler Lentz is in his third season with the Mustangs and has experienced the team’s turnaround first-hand.
“Basically as soon as Drader stepped in, he brought in mostly character guys who aren’t selfish and from day one he really changed the culture in the room,” says Lentz.
Lentz says the Mustangs emphasize work ethic and there is no room for selfishness in a sport that requires teamwork.
“There’s five guys on the ice and there aren’t any one-man shows on our team and [Drader] always preaches that,” says Lentz.
He adds that Drader’s cool demeanour keeps the team level-headed.
“He’s definitely a calm presence,” says Lentz, after the Mustangs defeated the highly ranked Brooks Bandits on Nov. 28. “He tried to keep us as level as possible even after wins like today.”
Seeing a turnaround
Ryan Krahn has worked for the Mustangs as an off-ice official for seven years and says the team is starting to see larger numbers coming to their games.
“This year we’ve been getting bigger crowds than normal,” says Krahn. “It’s tough in Calgary because there is a lot to compete with, but this year we’ve definitely had a few good ones.”
Smaller towns like Canmore and Drumheller generally see larger crowds at their AJHL games as they aren’t competing for fans in the same way that the Mustangs are.
While there are circumstances out of the team’s control, a better product on the ice for the Mustangs certainly helps bring in new and existing fans. Krahn attributes the team improvement to the bench boss.
“In the past, our power play was all over the place, our breakout was sloppy,” explains Krahn. “Drader definitely brought strategy to the game. The kids know what they’re doing and it’s not just a free-for-all out there.”
Krahn says there is also more players wanting to play for the Mustangs due to their recent success.
“Drader got here and there was a much better system and they started winning games, making it a lot more attractive for kids to want to play here,” says Krahn.
A fan's perspective
Social worker Cheryl Carter has brought disabled adults to Mustang Games for more than four years. She sees a lot of value in checking out the games and her clients really enjoy the experience.
“It gives them social interaction and gets them involved in the game,” says Carter. “My client went to the dressing room and met all the players and we always look forward to seeing games.”
She likes how warm and receptive the Mustang players and personnel are.
“The Mustangs are all welcoming, all very caring,” says Carter.
Up next for the Mustangs is Nov. 30 rematch in Brooks against the Bandits.
- By Rodolfo Neyra & Vinyet Miro Pujadas