BLOOMINGTON — A fast-skating Jason Dale unintentionally flattened his unsuspecting coach during a drill Thursday.
“I never saw it coming. My breath is still out there in the rink somewhere,” Bloomington Blaze coach Paul Gardner said. “I’m sure I’ll be using ice bags tonight.”
That collision is a metaphor for how the first half of the season went for the first-year franchise. The team was caught flat-footed by a lack of time to adequately prepare for the season and was run over by Central Hockey League foes.
The Blaze, who started the season with a 1-10-2 record, have begun to catch their breath as the second half of the season begins at 7 p.m. Friday at Fort Wayne.
Home games follow Saturday against Missouri at 7:05 p.m. and a 4:05 p.m. start on Sunday against Quad City.
The Blaze have played .500 hockey (10-10-0) since that horrendous start, yet charging back to claim one of the four playoff spots in the Turner Conference is certainly an uphill climb. But it is a climb Blaze players feel they can make.
“Until we’re mathematically out, absolutely,” forward Kyle Laughlin said. “I think opposing teams see us as dangerous, and we have nothing to lose.”
“We’re still talking about making the playoffs,” Dale said. “It’s realistic. But we have to have some urgency, especially on the road.”
The Blaze are 13 points behind fourth-place Rapid City for the final playoff berth. Plus, they must climb over two teams in front of them.
“Until you’re mathematically out of it, you have to believe,” Gardner said. “Who’s to say we can’t win 8, 9, 10 games in a row?”
Rough road: Of the remaining 33 games, the Blaze will play 18 on the road. That includes three trips to first-place Fort Wayne, two visits to second-place Quad City and the final four games on the season away from U.S. Cellular Coliseum. Bloomington has found just two victories in 15 tries on the road, while going 9-8-1 at home.
“We are playing better on the road, when before we had a terrible time with it,” Gardner said. “Usually later in the year when games become more important, home ice isn’t as much of an advantage, which you see a lot in the playoffs.”
Gardner’s future: Gardner said Thursday he would like to return to the Blaze next season. He was hired in September.
“I love the area,” he said. “My family is very happy here. I think as an organization we’re going in the right direction. There are so many positive things ahead for us.”
Sheahan still out: Leading assist man Brodie Sheahan will miss this weekend’s games as he continues to recover from a shoulder injury.
He was on the ice for light duty Thursday. Gardner is optimistic for Sheahan’s return next weekend.
Second half starter
Blaze at Fort Wayne
When: Friday, 7 p.m.