The only goal the Halifax Lions set this season was to make the playoffs.
So far, they’re well on their way.
At the Maritime Junior A Hockey League’s holiday break, the Lions have gradually crawled out of last in the six-team Bent Division, and are now in fourth place with a 12-12-2 record and games in hand on their nearest challengers.
For a club that finished with just 10 wins last season and six the year before, the Lions can’t complain.
“From Day 1, the biggest thing has been to change the atmosphere here and make winning a priority, and it’s slowly starting to happen,” said Lions head coach Troy Ryan, who took over the job in the off-season.
“We found ways to lose games in the past, and now, we’re starting to find ways to win.”
The Lions have four games in hand on the fifth-place Yarmouth Mariners and six games in hand on the last-place Amherst Ramblers.
Their winning percentage of .462 puts them in the middle of the overall standings and their power play — operating at 25 per cent — is No. 1 in the league.
“We’re right in the thick of things,” Ryan said.
Forwards Travis Perry (25 points in 25 games), Stuart Lenehan (10 goals) and Wayne Bedecki (18 points) have led the way offensively.
Power-play quarterback Dylan King, defenceman Kyle Mariani and captain Robbie Veriker have also been key factors in the Lions’ improvement.
Veriker, who Ryan calls a “hard-nosed, two-way guy,” arrived in a September trade and has made a difference.
“He’s holding guys accountable and that’s maybe something we didn’t have in the past,” Ryan said.
The Lions are off until Jan. 7, but they’ll be thrown right back into the fire with 13 games in January. If they survive that stretch, the playoffs should be a virtual guarantee.
“It’s going to be a tough test,” Ryan said, “but if we come out of that with a .500 record at the end of January, what we gain from that will be beneficial down the road.”
Bent Division standings at the holiday break.