Soo Greyhounds head coach Marty Abrams would prefer to be preparing for a first round playoff match but instead must focus his attention on improving his club for next season.
The Greyhounds dropped a 4-3 decision to the London Knights on Sunday afternoon at Memorial Gardens and were shutout in a bid to qualify for the playoffs after the Windsor Spitfires claimed the final spot with a 6-2 win over Plymouth.
"There is no excuse. We should have won and we didn't and we should have played better but we didn't," said Abrams following Sunday's contest.
While disappointed that his team is watching the Ontario Hockey League playoffs from the sidelines, Abrams was pleased that the organization was able to even compete for a playoff spot this season.
Following last year's disastrous campaign under John Vanbiesbrouck, the Greyhounds were in rough shape heading into the 2003-04 campaign. The team lacked scoring punch, a competent defense and had absolutely no goaltending on the returning roster.
"Would I have been happy with 30 wins when I got this job in May? Yes, because I was concerned that we were only going to win 15 games but you can't be happy with the status quo," said Abrams.
"I think that has maybe been a problem here -- just being happy to be competitive. That doesn't mean anything to me, I want to win. The people in the Sault expect a competitive and hard working team and we also expect our team to win."
Greyhounds general manager Dave Torrie filled some voids in goal and on defense to allow the team to be competitive during the season without trading the team's future for a mere playoff spot.
When put into perspective, the Hounds failed to qualify for the playoffs but exceeded almost everyone's expectations this season.
After the sixth game of the season, the Hounds got hot and reeled off seven straight victories. Add another four game win streak and the Hounds found themselves ranked tenth in the Canadian Hockey League.
But the Greyhounds fortunes took a dive when the team struggled to a 6-14-2 record through December and January.
Suddenly in a fight for the final playoff spot, the Greyhound played .500 hockey down the stretch in February and March while the Windsor Spitfires turned up the jets and reeled off three consecutive victories over Sarnia, Erie and Plymouth to conclude the regular season and claim the final playoff position.
Looking ahead to next season, the club has an opportunity to vastly improve as the team is eligible to return 20 of the 23 players on the current roster.
The Greyhounds graduate overage forwards Scott Dobben and Jeff Doyle along with defenseman Travis Chapman.
Also graduating are 19 year-old goaltender Kevin Druce, forward Reg Thomas and defenseman Brad Staubitz although all three are eligible to return as overage players next season.
Captain Jeff Carter could also be a question mark next season if the National Hockey League decides to have a season. Carter is as good a candidate as any to play in the NHL as an underage although the Philadelphia Flyers do have a solid lineup.
In goal, the Greyhounds will return goaltender Jakub Cech, who had a solid rookie season, and have a dandy prospect in Kyle Gajewski coming through the system.
Returning on defense is leader Jordan Smith, Mike Looby along with Brad Good, David Jarram and Martin Tuma, who all showed signs of potential as rookies.
Aside from the world class play of Carter, Tyler Kennedy and Jason Pitton head a list of returning forwards and are the two most likely candidates for a breakout seasons.
Andrew Desjardins and Thessalon native Jacob King were impressive in limited action as rookies while Jeff Larsh will be relied on to increase his offensive production.
First round draft pick Chris Lawrence got his feet wet as a 16 year-old rookie this season, Matt Puntureri returns his energetic style while Brett Connolly, a former first round pick of the Sudbury Wolves, and Aaron Lewicki will have the opportunity to increase their roles on the team.
Matt Leszczynski will also return next season although a shoulder injury in training camp allowed the 16 year-old to suit up in only five games this season.
With a potential of 20 returning players and drafts picks from last May and this coming May's draft, fans can expect a very competitive training camp beginning in late August.