For new Worcester Blades head coach Paul Kennedy, this season is about building for the future.
For the past three seasons, the CWHL’s only American team has posted abysmal losing records: two points in the 2015-2016 season, six in 2016-2017, and five in 2017-2018. They’ve lost all eight of their games so far this season and sit at the bottom of the league with zero points and a -35 goal differential. The Blades have yet to convert on the power play and have given up the most short-handed goals against in the CWHL.
In the front office, Worcester has gone through four coaches and three general managers in as many seasons.
“To be quite honest, the team was a mess,” said Kennedy in an interview with The Ice Garden. “At the beginning...coming in late trying to figure out how this draft works and putting that all together...we missed out on a lot at the beginning, you know with pre-signs and all.”
And so Kennedy focused on the future, even with a bit of a learning curve on his part. Despite knowing almost all of his new players, Kennedy described the first few months on the job as a “huge learning experience.” He’s learning who can show up based on their full-time jobs and how to coach when the team is only on the ice twice a week.
He knows the team isn’t instantly going to start winning either. What Kennedy is looking at is how the team loses.
“We’re going over from the very beginning that it’s okay to lose the game, but it’s not okay to lose the game and not care,” he said. “At the beginning it was like ‘oh, we lost another game.’ Well, it’s not okay though. It’s okay to lose but you have to respect the loss and respect how it happened. We have to move on and go from there.”
He’s pleased with what he’s seeing so far, scraping together whatever optimism there is to be had.
He cited the at-home series against the Calgary Inferno. In the first game of the weekend, the Inferno were only up three goals going into the third period, a fact Kennedy considered a good sign for the team. The Inferno scored only two more in the third period.
Kennedy also looks toward the future in net. The Blades’ 25-player roster this season features two first-year CWHL goaltenders in Mariah Fujimagari and Jessica Convery alongside veteran Lauren Dahm. Thus far, Fujimagari has gotten a majority of the minutes — and starts.
“She’s a physical, fit player who can play the whole game and can maybe even give you two games in a row,” he said about Fujimagari, calling her the Blades’ starter. “You want to be able to put a goalie out there can go 60. If you get into a jam, now you have Dahm on the bench.”
Off the ice, the Blades are a building a new fan base in their new city. “Worcester has taken us in. They treat us just like the Railers [the local men’s ECHL team]. We have a crowd; they are buying stuff.”
While the goals and the wins still aren’t there, Kennedy is pleased. “I’m having fun here. And you know what, they’re better than last year, 100 percent better than last year.”
The numbers currently say otherwise. However, Kennedy isn’t giving up, and that tenacity is a powerful message to his players. A new city, a new coach, and a new mindset might be just what the Blades need.