The mountains might be to blame for the Whistler Winter Hawks Midget C team's recent struggles, but they haven't stopped the squad's blistering start to the 2010-'11 Pacific Coast Amateur Hockey Association season.
The Hawks have dropped back-to-back contests since opening the season at 8-0-1 but remain among the top five in the 16-team Lions Gate League standings with games in hand on several other squads.
"Overall, we've been playing pretty well. Their legs haven't been what they should be since the mountains have opened," laughed head coach Bill Rockliffe on Monday (Dec. 6). "Skiing has taken away a little bit from their usual effort, but they've been playing really well other than the last couple of games.
"Hopefully we can turn things around here and it's just a temporary hiccup."
On the road Sunday (Dec. 5) against the first-place Hollyburn Huskies, the Hawks fell 7-2.
The past two games aside, the Hawks have had little trouble putting pucks in the net while keeping opposing teams off the scoresheet. Whistler has scored at least eight goals in five of its wins to date, while posting four shutouts and a league-low goals against total.
Cole MacDonald and Doug Mosher have been the Hawks' top scorers thus far, said Rockliffe.
"Cole has been our most offensively productive player and he's also set up some really nice goals for other guys," said the bench boss. "But it's been pretty even, all-around scoring, which has been kind of cool. I think almost everyone except one or two have scored this year."
Goaltenders Malcolm Watson and Nick Wetaski have been equally impressive, splitting duties between the pipes and getting plenty of help from the defensive corps.
"(We've had) pretty good team defence as a whole," said Rockliffe. "We've had a lot of good forechecking and when they're skating the way they can, they're pretty much unstoppable."
Rockliffe is pleased with the chemistry his group has found in the first half of the season, as several first-year midget players joined just seven returnees for this year.
"There's been some really nice plays and everyone seems to be having a lot of fun, which is the main thing," he said. "A lot of these kids are rep-calibre players, so unfortunately we weren't challenged early on and sort of rolled over our opponents fairly easily.
"There are definitely some very talented skaters and shooters on the team and it's been fun to watch."
Rockliffe is hoping the talents of the group will help propel the team back up near the top of the standings before playoffs get underway in February.
"Anything less than a first-place finish in the regular season would be a disappointment, especially considering our start. But there are a few other teams that are up there with us.
"I have pretty high expectations of this group and I really hope we can stop this skid and turn things around, get back to playing the way we're capable of."
The Hawks have a pair of games on the schedule this weekend, traveling to face North Vancouver C4 on Saturday (Dec. 11) before hosting North Shore Winter Club on Sunday (Dec. 12) for a 6:30 p.m. face-off at Meadow Park Sports Centre.