Bandits hit the road to provinces with .500 in mind

March 07, 1996|By Phil Jackman | Phil Jackman,SUN STAFF

Five words that always have struck fear into the hearts of hockey teams are "road trip to the provinces." An annual ritual for all American Hockey League entries stateside has been to grab the schedule on the day of release and check out when and where the gauntlet begins.

After 63 games and with about 20 percent of the campaign remaining, the Bandits prepare to commence that tour of the Canadian Maritime Provinces, with stops at Portland on Saturday and Worcester on Wednesday as warm-ups.

After Portland and Worcester, the Bandits check out Nova Scotia (Cape Breton), New Brunswick (Fredericton), Prince Edward Island (PEI) and New Brunswick again (Saint John) over seven days. Actually, the schedule is kind with reasonable travel and a day off between each game in the Provinces.

"The goal is to go .500 on the trip," said coach Walt Kyle. "It's not going to be easy, but that's what we've been playing on the road all year [12-12-4], and that's what it's going to take if we're going to make the playoffs."

The Bandits gave themselves a smidgen of breathing room (three points) Tuesday night with a 5-3 victory over their chief rival for the eighth and last spot in the Western Conference tournament, Carolina. It concluded a disappointing homestand, but the final tally of two up and five down was understandable.

Basically, the club's offense of late has been produced by just one line, the Slava Butsayev-Steve King-Denny Lambert trio, with Kyle experimenting to come up with another line with punch. At the same time, defensemen have been wandering in and out, and it has been no easy task coming up with effective combinations.

A bunch of new arrivals, culled from lower-echelon minor-league teams by Kyle, has team prospects looking the best they have since center J. F. Jomphe and block-of-granite defenseman Jason Marshall were called to duty in the NHL with Anaheim.

"It's tough to be taking guys off [East Coast Hockey League] rosters this late since everyone is going for playoff positions," said Kyle. "But every guy is looking to make a step up to the next level of competition and every coach knows that."

Defenseman Brian Goudie, for example, has been impressive since arriving on loan from Richmond. "He went back because [the Renegades] have a couple of games coming up. But he may be back with us after the weekend. It all depends on the situation there and here," said Kyle.

In strong efforts against Hershey and Carolina, Goudie partnered with Darren Van Impe, Bobby Marshall and Brian Corcoran played together, and Oleg Mikulchik and Nikolai Tsulygin teamed. Though Van Impe was called up to Anaheim yesterday (Don McSween returning to Baltimore), the Bandits haven't been this deep on the back line in weeks.

Fact is, save for the fact it has played soft at times, the team has been at least adequate during recent losing 10-game segments of 3-5-2 and 3-4-3. The main problem has been putting together at least two effective attack lines.

While Jomphe, Dwayne Norris and Mike Maneluk soared before Jomphe got the call from the Mighty Ducks on Feb. 3, the big noise lately has been the Butsayev-King-Lambert combo, which has scored two dozen goals in the past 13 games.

For one game at least, Kimpi Daniels showed up from Charlotte (ECHL) the other day and looked to be the man to center Norris and Maneluk for a much-needed counterbalance to the Butsayev line.

Baltimore played all four Maritime Province teams between Oct. 31 and Nov. 29 last year and won three, losing to Saint John.

"Yeah, I think playing .500 would be fine," Kyle repeated.

Pub Date: 3/07/96

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