01/16/2014 5:46 PM
Since the start of 2014, no Pirates player has been hotter than Brett Hextall. With eight points (four goals, four assists) in his last seven games, Hextall has been one of the most consistent players on the Portland roster in recent weeks.
“I think it’s just the simple things,” he said. “When you focus on the simple things, like getting to the net, you know, making smart, simple plays and eventually, they’re going to start falling in. And, fortunately, they’ve been falling in.”
But it hasn’t only been simplicity that has Hextall on his recent tear—he’s playing with more confidence and believing in himself more.
“Sometimes a guy like me always thinks ‘make a safe play’ all the time but sometimes I can hang onto the puck a little bit longer and make a better play,” he said. “Skate with the puck, draw a guy towards me before I make a pass to somebody to give them more time. Just little things like that.”
While Hextall does not believe he has changed his approach recently, coach Ray Edwards said he has been playing “fast”, creating a lot of chances by moving his feet, finishing checks and playing a simple, direct game.
“When you play fast like that and have an edge to you, people know you’re coming and don’t really want to engage, so pucks get turned over,” Edwards said. “He’s playing at a good level right now.”
In college, Hextall scored 91 points in three years at the University of North Dakota, but has only recorded 15 points in each of his first two seasons in a Pirates uniform. Scoring is important, of course, but Hextall is not worried about producing such low point totals the last two years.
“College hockey is so different from professional hockey, that adjustment can be difficult sometimes,” he said. “For me, it’s a high energy, in-your-face kind of game and if I do that, I’m going to have success and when the points fall, that’s a big bonus.”
Edwards is pleased with how Hextall has played this season, calling him a great penalty-killer and saying he is “relentless” on the puck. While the team does not currently use the 25-year-old in power-play situations, that could always change.
“He’s not a guy we see that’s going to play the power play for us in the organization, so we don’t put him in that situation,” Edwards said. “But the more confidence he gets offensively, if he keeps creating for us, it might force us to look at that, so he’s definitely making us think about using him in different situations.”
But more importantly to Edwards, he would like to see Hextall playing with this same confidence and style more consistently moving forward.
“Once you get confidence, sometimes, you try to beat people one-on-one and get fancy and those types of things,” he said. “He has to stick with what gives him success and that’s a direct, hard, fast, simple game.”
Hextall wants to keep his point streak alive but knows that he and the team will be tested this weekend when the team faces off against the Springfield Falcons (25-8-1-3) and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (22-11-1-3).
“We’ve got two top teams in the conference coming in, so we know it’s going to be a battle,” he said. “We’re going to have to play 60 minutes both nights to win hockey games against these teams. So, I think it’s a good challenge for us as a team. If we can play our style and make sure we do the simple things right, we’re going to have success, which is no different for me than it is with the team.”
The Pirates host the Falcons Friday night at the Androscoggin Bank Coliseé at 7 p.m and the Penguins Saturday at 7 p.m. Tickets for both games are available by calling (207) 783-2009 or online at thecolisee.com.