The hustle and bustle of the regular season for Richardson Pioneer Weyburn Red Wings head coach Cody Mapes may be over, but it quickly gets replaced by the hustle and bustle of the off-season. That includes recruiting, scouting, league meetings, scheduling meetings and more.
Mapes finished up his second season as the bench boss of the Red Wings by helping guide the team to its first post-season berth since 2018, not including a wild card series in 2019. The Red Wings also went from a record of 14-40-3-0, last in the league, to a record of 26-27-2-1, just six points back of the Viterra Division pennant. The team also increased the number of goals scored from 128 to 181 and let in 45 fewer goals on the season.
“When you look at the on-ice product, I think that we continue to build the style of game that we want to play, where guys can showcase themselves and play at a high pace,” Mapes said of the season and the turnaround he led his team to. The level of play was especially impressive in the new year, but kicking things into the next gear happened a bit later than Mapes originally was hoping.
“Every team in our league kind of got hit with a bit of a flu bug, and it hit us in December, so I mean, it kind of slowed down,” Mapes explained. “I thought we were going to be about a month ahead of where we were, and then you look at the profess through January and on... I mean, we come back from Christmand and I think we went 16-4 after that.”
The momentum carried forward through January and February, and then one of the key measures of success for Junior A hockey, at least in terms of the quality of players being developed: scholarships. Post-secondary institutions came knocking and were getting a number of players on the roster to commit.
The momentum also carried into the post-season, as the Red Wings found themselves in a matchup with the top-ranked team in the country, the Battlefords North Stars. On paper, many were expecting not only a Battlefords sweep, but all four wins would be by a blowout. Then, Game 1 happened. Weyburn would take a 3-1 lead and held on to secure a victory to take an early series lead. The result shocked many across not only the SJHL but across Canada. Mapes, though, knew what his team was capable of.
“Anybody who watches those first... probably 3 ½ games of that Battlefords series know we gave them a real good test,” Mapes related. “We were able to take one off of them, and it would have been nice to get another one or two.”
While the Battlefords would ultimately take the series in five games, the Red Wings still accomplished something only two other teams in the country were able to do in the playoffs this year – beat the North Stars. The Collingwood Blues and the eventual national champion Brooks Bandits would be the only other squads to accomplish the feat, and they did so during the Centennial Cup tournament.
So what were some of the keys to the resurgence of the Red Wings this past season? Many could point to things such as the acquisition of Ryley Morgan in November, the stellar play of Ty Mason, and many, many other individual players. However, Mapes emphasized the development of the players as a whole as the reason for their success.
“I think we play a certain way that is entertaining to people when they come and watch, but it’s also a great thing for scouts at the university ranks to come watch and be able to see guys play at a high pace, and make plays and think the game.”
The mental development of players was also a key for the team, including bringing on Kyle McDonald.
There’s so much talk about mental health and all that in sports right now, and I think if we’re able to add an element of being successful when things get hard, and teaching guys how to do that, that it is a trained skill,” Mapes said, providing glowing praise for the work McDonald put in with the organization last year, and what he will be able to do to help players with the mental side of the game as well in the years to come.
Physical conditioning is also something important for every hockey team, and this past year, the Red Wings even included some different ways to help keep the players healthy and to avoid injury. The team has done things such as introducing yoga as part of the workout regimen for the players, among many other things.
“I think that the physical therapy side of the game is... we have to look at that as such a huge part of the game and we wouldn’t be able to do that without our sponsors and our fundraising efforts that have allowed us to implement those kind of things. We can’t thank the community enough.”
Community support is key to the success of the franchise, and with increasing crowds throughout the season, strong sponsorship and fundraising, the team has financial stability that Mapes attributes to the work of the board.
“We’ve had a few board members that have gone way above and beyond to make sure that our team is in a good position,” Mapes explained. “They’ve set out a budget, they’ve set out realistic goals and realistic expectations of what we can be over the last couple of years, and over the last two years we’ve been lucky enough to make some money and being able to reinvest that into the players is why we’re here.”
Mapes acknowledged the support really can’t come without the fans, and they came out in droves to support the club, particularly in the latter half of the season.
“I think this organization is absolutely going in the right direction, on the ice and off the ice,” Mapes said. “I think that our guys have worked so hard in the community as well, and I think that our sponsors love seeing our guys out there and we’ve been lucky to have a good group of local kids here over the last few years, too, that really saw the value of being involved.”
Mapes, along with his coaching and scouting staff, will continue to put the preparations in ahead of the start of training camp at the end of the summer. From there, the team will get set for a six-game exhibition schedule, with the regular season opening on September 22nd at home.