Hat Tricks’ resiliency stands out in first half, MacIsaac says

by Jim Cerny, Hat Tricks Insider

There were many highlights in the first half of the FPHL season for the Danbury Hat Tricks, but coach Dave MacIsaac said he believes its signature moment was a defeat, not a victory.

MacIsaac referenced a 5-4 overtime loss to the first-place Watertown Wolves on Dec. 27 as an example of why the Hat Tricks enjoyed such a successful run over the first 30 games.

“We went up there with a depleted lineup to start, then the bus broke down and it took us 12 hours to get to Watertown,” MacIsaac explained. “We arrived at 11 p.m., got right off the bus and played, game started at 11:30. We go down 4-0 and then we tie the game 4-4 before we lost in overtime. But we got a point when there’s no way we should have even been in the game.

“Our resiliency so far this season has been a big part of our success. And there was no better example of that than that night in Watertown.”

The Hat Tricks were 18-9-3 in the season’s first half, including 12-2-0 at Danbury Arena. They have won each of their first three games in the second half, sweeping a series at home this past weekend against the Carolina Thunderbirds.

“I’m really impressed with how we managed to get points out of games where we were really depleted as far as our lineup, either because of injuries or other issues,” MacIsaac said. “To be honest, we got points in some games we had no business being in. That says something positive about the team, for sure.

“But we’ve played some good hockey, too. And our veteran leaders have played really well for us.”

That group includes captain Jonny Ruiz, who scored 27 goals in the first 30 games and has a point in all but two games this season. Gordy Bonnel rides shotgun as Ruiz’s linemate and has scored 35 points (13 goals, 22 assists) in 26 games; and forward Cory Anderson scored 19 goals in the first half.

“I lean on those three more than anyone else because they’re full-time guys and guys that have been here (in Danbury) with experience,” MacIsaac said. “If we’re tied or down a goal in the third period, we go down to two lines and those guys are the ones going out there every other shift. And they’ve been getting it done for us.”

Veteran newcomer Dustin Jesseau scored 12 goals and 27 points in 15 first-half games. And rookie forwards Dmitry Kuznetsov (21 goals) and Tobias Odjick (18 points in 11 games) stood out.

Lately, MacIsaac has been pleased with Danbury’s growing commitment to playing a better game defensively and with its evolving physical play.

“We’re getting tougher as a team, which is what I wanted from the start,” the coach explained. “When you play team tough and not back down from your opponent, that’s important.

“You come here to Danbury, where there’s a tradition of physical play and a lot of the fans expect that … so when you can deliver that, it’s a good thing.”

With an eye already focused on the playoffs, MacIsaac said there will be even more emphasis on team defense in the second half. And there might be more tweaks to the roster, too, as the Hat Tricks ramp up to make a run at the Commissioner's Cup.

“I didn’t know what to expect from this league when I became coach, and I think it’s better than people think it is … it’s a high pace, it’s good hockey, so we’ve got to work hard to succeed every night,” MacIsaac said. “Our compete and resiliency have been important so far and will need to be if we’re going to win a championship.”

Reflecting on the first half of the 2021-22 season, Danbury Hat Tricks coach Dave MacIsaac said that its signature moment might very well be a game they lost.

That might be a surprise since there were so many high points in the first half, which arrived Thursday with their 30th game, a 6-3 win at Binghamton.