BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — Most people prefer watching hockey live, but that just isn't the case during this COVID-19 era of sports, but that doesn't mean many people aren't grateful to watch live action on TV, and that includes Bakersfield Condors Head Coach Jay Woodcroft.
"To watch hockey now, you know, with real high stakes and a real high pace. I was glued to the television set for sure," Woodcroft said.
But it may be an even greater experience when you get to watch 11 guys that you coached right here in Bakersfield.
"We said it from day one, we wanted to field a team that could compete and compete with the best teams in the American Hockey League and provides that winning environment, but also our job was to develop these young men and, and to try and help them, maximize their own personal potential," Woodcroft said.
Nine players who were on the Condors roster this past season are currently on the Edmonton Oilers roster along with two other more recent players, Ethan Bear and Patrick Russell. The latter recently scoring his first NHL goal.
"Keep producing players that can compete at the NHL level really really good young players. So I think it speaks volumes to all the coaches and all the staff and everything, they just feel that they're doing something right and they need to keep that going," Russell said when asked about the level of talent in Bakersfield.
Russell was a part of the Condors team who led the franchise to its first-ever Calder Cup Playoff run a season ago.
"That year we had in Bako was amazing. We had such a good team. And just getting into the playoffs I think it showed what kind of team we were and it gets you going for the rest of your life you always have that experience and. And that's only an experience you can get from being in the playoffs," Russell said.
"You know, we wouldn't have liked those players' first professional playoff experience to be at the highest levels. We want them to learn that at the American Hockey League and once you starting seeing that success it serves not only our team in Bakersfield but it serves the entire organization well and you're starting to see the fruits of that labor pay off," Woodcroft said.
Coach Woodcroft was able to see the development first hand when assisting the Oilers ahead of the league's restart joining his former players for some time in Canada. And now he's hoping the NHL remains free of COVID-19 outbreaks to crown a Stanley Cup champion and keep the calendar turning.
"I know during my experience up in Edmonton, the testing was very thorough, you know they really locked it down in terms of their bubble," Woodcroft said. "I think what everyone's focused on in the hockey world right now is, is to make sure these NHL playoffs are played safely and a Stanley Cup champion is getting awarded. Once that happens, we should have a greater perspective of where things will be at.
But ever since the American Hockey League season was canceled in May, he's been eager to bring hockey back to Bakersfield which stands for a December 4 return as of now.
"Looking forward to gettin' back at her here come December," Woodcroft said.