The U18 AAA Interlake Lightning are hoping to turn a new page this year. The squad overhauled the coaching staff and have almost a brand new roster for the 2022-23 campaign. Rookie head coach Aaron Kaatz says he's trying to focus on speed this year.
"We now want to see if we can play the game the right way, regarding our system and structure. Whenever we stay away from that penalty box, we seem to be on the right side of the game, and we decide to put more pucks in the net than the other team and come out with some pretty convincing wins," Kaatz explains. "That's the premise of how we're going to be building this team this year: a lot of speed, a lot of structure, and a lot of discipline."
While they have more losses than wins through seven games so far this season, Kaatz notes making the playoffs is the main goal.
"We've got a lot of high-end skill on our team but also a lot of smarts too. When you're able to pair that together, you end up having almost a two-headed monster of what you can utilize against teams," Kaatz continues. "The expectations are high. We want to get back into playoff action but we know only the top eight teams make it. So, we are point hunting almost every single game we're out there because once you're in the dance, anything can happen."
Adam Vigfusson has been the star offensively so far this season for the Lightning. He is currently tied for the league lead in points with 12 after scoring six goals and dishing out six assists.
Kaatz adds he's been a part of some top-tier programs, including a few AAA bantam squads and the Players of Excellence U16 program in Winnipeg, however, this is his first AAA experience at the U18 level.
"It's incredibly exciting for myself as I'm a younger coach in the league. Sometimes I coach against guys that coached me when I was coming up through the AAA system. For me, I understand what these players are going through. They're not just hockey players, they're also students, sons in their families, and they maybe have relationships going on. Understanding that relationship with them is super beneficial, and it's a part of my core values to build those good relationships with the players. Through the good times and the bad, that's what's going to get us through it."
The head coach says they have a mantra for the 2022-23 season.
"Our motto for this year is, 'Why not us?' When everyone talks about playoff teams in this league, we want to be involved in those conversations, so our motto this year is, 'Why not us?' Winning teams, 'Why not us?' Why can't we be in those conversations? We're out there to prove something this year, and we have guys that are on board with it. We're excited. We're probably going to be making some noise this year and beat teams that we never had in the past. It's going to be an exciting year."
The Lightning are back on the ice tonight as they battle the U18 Brandon Wheat Kings.