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By Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian
BY MIKE GRIFFITH Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
When John Olver was hired as general manager of the Condors in April, his duties were many. But the primary one was to turn the team into a winner.
Back-to-back seasons in which the Condors were below .400 had left fans disillusioned and management determined to win.
Stockton at Condors
When: 10:30 a.m.
Where: Rabobank Arena
Radio: KHTY (970 AM)
Thunder record: 6-3-0
Condors record: 1-8-1
Series: Bakersfield is 0-2-0
Notes: This is the annual Field Trip/Businesperson's Game with around 5,000 school children are expected to attend ... The Condors dropped a 2-1 decision to the Thunder at home on Sunday ... All tickets in the building are $10.
Olver brought in highly-respected Troy Mann as the head coach, who promptly hired Ryan Murphy as a full-time assistant. Later, the team added Paul Willet as a part-time assistant.
But despite all the King's horses and all the King's men, Olver hasn't been able to pull the Condors together again.
Not yet, anyway.
Ten games into the ECHL season, the Condors are last at 1-8-1.
"I think I've done a very poor job," Olver flatly stated when asked what went wrong. "I don't think you can ever say there's one reason for having a start like we've had. I think it's a combination of things."
Certainly not helping matters was Olver being out of commission for most of August and September due to a liver abscess.
"Those were two pretty critical months for me to be on the shelf and that's had an effect," he said. "And I've made some mistakes. I've been out of this busness (pro hockey) for eight years. When you've been out of the league for a few years it takes a while to get caught up."
That said, both Olver and Mann went into the season optimistic.
"I think definitely there was some recruiting mistakes made this summer that became clear to us at the start of the season," Olver said. "We over-valued some players and I think we under-valued some players that we could have had that we passed on that have gone to other teams and done well.
"Troy and I have made some mistakes but I think we've addressed a lot of those mistakes already."
The two biggest problems for the Condors have been goaltending and scoring.
The goaltending issue may have been solved.
The Condors were giving up 4.43 goals per game after their first seven games but that number has dropped to 3.60 after Paul Karpowich (4.68 goals-against average in six games) was released and Andy Chiodo signed.
Chiodo played all three games last weekend when the Condors went 1-2. Chiodo gave up just five goals and gave the Condors a chance to win every game.
"Personally, I was very down after the weekend in Anchorage (three losses by a combined score of 15-3) about how we played," Olver said. "I did not think we were competitive. I can tell you on Monday coming to work I felt really encouraged."
Good goaltending will do that.
"We had a goaltending issue and getting Chiodo in, based on his first weekend, he looks like a premier goaltender in this league," Olver said. "(Former Condors coach) Marty Raymond actually tipped us off to him."
Two days after Chiodo was signed, the Condors added another goalie, as former first round-draft pick Chet Pickard was assigned to the team, Bakersfield's American Hockey League affiliate. Tyler Bunz, who started the season with Bakersfield was called up to the AHL on Oct. 26, leaving the Condors with only Karpowich.
"We suddenly fixed our goaltending concern," Olver said.
But goaltending only goes so far. The Condors are averaging just 1.40 goals per game.
Last weekend they averaged 1.33, a big reason why they went 1-2 despite a .934 save percentage from Chiodo.
Team captain Joel Broda, loaned to Oklahoma City the day before the season started, was retuned to the Condors on Saturday and had two goals in his first two games without practicing with the team. The team also signed forward Spencer Bennett, who provided a much-needed dose of speed and had one assist in his first two games.
The question is, can Broda be a catalyst to the team scoring more goals as a whole?
"Losing Broda before the first game took away a dominate player," Olver said. "We think we have personnel that will score and can score even though we haven't yet. We're starting to get the chances. We're just a little bit snake bit right now.
"I would equate it to a baseball player in a slump. He's hitting the ball hard but he's not getting any hits. I think we are getting chances now, we're not getting outplayed by any teams, we're not getting outchanced by any teams."
Olver points out that an anemic power play and not having a dominant line is a direct link to the lack of goals.
Nicholas Tremblay and Chris Collins were expected to produce a healthy dose of scoring but after 10 games each, both are searching for their first goal. And Ryan Garlock, signed after the first weekend to help provide more offense, has just one goal in seven games.
Olver said some of the lack of scoring could be due to players adjusting to a very structured style of play instituted by Mann, a style Olver supports 100 percent.
"Troy's a very structured coach and that's why were hired him," Olver said. "We believe in the long run and come playoff time that type of play is going to help us be the most successful. But for some players it's causing them to make some adjustments to their game.
"Look at a guy like Tremblay. He was a point a game guy (29 points in 29 games last season) and he has three assists. He's never played a structured game before. We like his quality of play right now. We think his quality of play is excellent. He's not getting the offensive results he had last year although we think he's a better player now."
Bottom line, however, is the Condors need to start scoring goals and the bulk of that scoring is going to have to be done those brought in for that duty.
A decent power play would go a long ways toward that happening.
"We have to get more production from our power play (just 5.4 percent success rate)," Olver said. "Power play production and a lack of a dominant line have been real problem."
One point Olver made clear: Coach Mann is not the problem.
"This is not a coaching issue," he said. "There's no coaching issue here with the exception of our power play needs to improve and Troy would be the first to admit we need to improve our power play.
"The way Troy wants our team to play is not different from any other good team at any level of pro hockey. It's about managing the puck, protecting it, not giving it away, battling, going to tough areas of the ice, chipping pucks in, not giving away turnovers at the line and playing a total team game."
At 1-8-1 and basically a seventh of the season gone, the Condors are in more of a canyon than a hole.
Yet, they are just three points behind Las Vegas with two other teams in the Western Conference below .500.
There is time to climb their way out of the canyon, but it's paramount the team starts taking more steps forward in the form of wins rather than sliding deeper into the abyss with mounting losses.
"We're very optimistic about our ability to be highly competitive with the teams we are playing this week," Olver said. "But we need to get some results. We need to win.
"Winning creates momentum. It creates confidence. It allows players who haven't been scoring to be more relaxed. Those are only things we can accomplish by getting some wins."