Defense has made the difference
By Mark Beason
Everybody knows about the ability of Tupelo's high-powered offense. But most people don't realize it's the defensemen who make the offense go.
The T-Rex sent two defensemen to the WPHL All-Star Game, but it could have sent two more. Reagan Harper and Barry McKinlay made the team, but Pat Powers and Brian Stacey are having all-star years.
"We feel like we've got the best defensive unit in the league," Harper said. "We've got four or five of the top defensemen in the league."
What makes the T-Rex defensive unit so strong isn't its ability to stop the other the team from putting the puck in the net. It's the plalyers' ability to change from defense to offense.
McKinlay, a three-time United League defenseman of the year, has had another stellar season. He leads WPHL defensemen in goals (21) and points (68), and is second among all players with six short-handed goals. With one of the most powerful slapshots in the league, he brings another dimension to Tupelo.
"He's shoots the puck as good as anybody," Tupelo coach George Dupont said. "He's able to find the holes and with his shooting ability, he is tough to defend."
Harper is known more as a true defensman, but he has good touch with the puck, too. He is leads all defensemen with 48 assists and is third in points (58). The T-Rex captain leads all players with 62 plus/minus.
"It's always comforting to know that Harps is back there," McKinlay said. "But he's good with the puck, too. He does a good job of getting the puck up the ice."
The T-Rex forwards rely on the defenseman in transition. Tupelo plays a fast-paced game and it starts with the defensemen.
"They do a good job of getting the puck to the forwards and keeping the puck moving," Dupont said. "We've got five guys like that. At any time they can jump in and be a part of the offense."
The first priority of the defensemen is keeping the other team from scoring. Harper and Stacey are two of the more active defensemen in the league, making it hard for teams to get good looks at the net.
"The guys in front of us do a really good job," Tupelo goalie Roby Gropp said. "It makes it a lot easier when you've got one the best defenses in front of you."
The T-Rex defense has been consistent all year. The close-knit unit has been able to remain solid, even with key components missing.
"When I was out, Stacey picked up my slack and when he was out, I picked up his," McKinlay said. "We stick together a lot, because it makes a difference when you know who that guy is beside you."
In playoff hockey, defense come to the forefront. With lower scoring games, each goal is critical.
"We've got a lot of depth, which is important during the playoffs," McKinlay said. "You have to play some many games in a short period of time, it wears you down. With our depth it keeps us fresher, which will help the deeper you go into the playoffs."