The U18 AAA Interlake Lightning are fighting for their playoff lives over the next three weeks. The Lightning is currently in ninth place in the Manitoba U18 AAA hockey League's standings and is just two points out of the final playoff spot.
Head coach Aaron Kaatz is extremely proud of the team's progression.
"There's a 'no quit' attitude right now in the dressing room, and it's because we realize now that we can be there in the postseason," Kaatz continues. "We can play with good teams and beat really good teams that are at the top of the table. We've realized we might actually have a shot at this."
Kaatz adds the players are hungry for a playoff birth as the U18 Lightning program has gone nine years without getting to the postseason. The first-year head coach notes they've been the most resilient team in the league recently.
"In the second half of the season, we are the best third-period team in the league," says Kaatz. "We have scored the most goals in the third period. So, it doesn't matter if we go down because other than our 8-1 win last week, every game, we've been down by one or two goals in the third period. Those boys inside the dressing room say, 'Nope, we're going to win this hockey game.' They either work to tie it up and send it to overtime, or they work to get that win and get the full two points."
The playoffs have been the number one goal for this team all year, and Kaatz believed at the beginning of the season that it would take 40 points to achieve that goal. The Lightning currently has 35 points with seven games left to go but he says they now might need to shoot for a higher number.
"This year, that number has risen to 42 points because it's a lot more competitive. So, with our last seven games here, to give us a really good shot, we need to go 4-3. That would get us to the 20-win mark and give us 43 points, which should get us in at that point. If we really want to make it comfortable for us, we want to go 5-2."
The Lightning's next game will be a big one as they take on the Eastman Selects, who currently hold the league's final playoff spot. With a victory, Interlake would overtake Eastman's position and basically control their own destiny the rest of the way.