ELMIRA, N.Y. - With the playoffs on the horizon now is the time for the Elmira Jackals to push for the postseason. The scent of the playoffs smells like home cooking with 15 of the final 24 games at First Arena.
“It is a hard building for other teams to come in and gain momentum,” said alternate captain Rob Bellamy. “We are getting a little tired of going on the road so we are excited for sure.”
This season the Jackals had to endure a road-heavy schedule in the first half, which included seven of their first nine games away from First Arena. Through 48 games Elmira is tied with the Toledo Walleye and the Florida Everblades for the fewest home games in the ECHL with just 21.
In addition to traveling great distances, the Jackals’ road trips have seemingly been never-ending. Elmira has endured three four-game road trips and two five-game swings into the South and the Midwest. Compare that to the single four-game and lone five-game homestands at First Arena and the disparity is quite evident.
Despite the adversity and early-season struggles the Jackals have rebounded well, especially on the road. They have earned points in six straight road games, which is the longest current streak in the ECHL.
“We are just finding our identity as a group right now,” said alternate captain Jordan Pietrus. “We are finding a little bit of our swag and our confidence and we are getting contributions from all 18 guys on the ice.”
This upcoming homestand will mark the make-or-break point of the season for Elmira. With ten of the next 11 games within the comfortable confines of First Arena the Jackals have a tremendous opportunity to heat up at the right time.
“Not having to travel allows you more time to prepare,” said captain Jean Bourbeau. “From here on in whether you’re on the road or at home they are important games so mentally we are going to have to prepare with a playoff attitude. When you have the home crowd behind you, it’s going to help.”
The Jackals will host their division rival Wheeling three times this weekend and play them four out of the next five games. The Nailers currently sit two spots ahead of Elmira in the standings.
“That is a little incentive for us,” said Bellamy. “If we could mix in three or four wins against Wheeling then we are right back in the mix. It is going to take our best effort because they come and play hard every night but we are excited for the challenge.”
Elmira hasn’t had much success against its division rivals this season. The Jackals are 4-13-3 against the Atlantic Division, including a 2-5-2 mark versus the Nailers. The red and blue are eying a six-point sweep this weekend following Saturday’s tough 2-1 shootout loss at WesBanco Arena.
“Anytime we play Wheeling the games are tough and tight,” said Pietrus. “It is definitely a rivalry but it is not about beating them more than anyone else. They stand in between us and a playoff spot and that’s the bottom line.”
The Jackals are currently 19-23-6 and sit 11th in the Eastern Conference. Fourteen of their remaining 15 home games and 21 of their final 24 overall are against teams above them in the standings so the chances are ripe for the taking.
“We have just been showing up and playing our game and not trying to complicate it,” said Bourbeau. “The games that we do have trouble we are trying to reinvent the wheel so we just need to stick with what’s working and that’s simplifying our game and playing together.”
The Jackals have been moving in the right direction with a 7-1-2 record in their last ten games. Elmira will need to keep its wheels churning in the winning direction in order to make the playoffs.
“Everyone is pulling the rope together and pulling hard,” said Pietrus. “We know what is at stake every night and our backs are up against the wall.”
One thing is certain; the Jackals will not go down without a fight.