Wednesday night, Laredo Bucks coach Serge Dube sat with his team on a bus destined for Fort Wayne.
His mind, however, was hundreds of miles away in Bloomington, Ill., where the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees were playing the Bloomington Blaze.
The Bucks’ postseason dreams hung in the balance.
When the verdict came in via pointstreak — a Killer Bees’ victory — Dube knew his team’s dwindling playoff aspirations were finally at their end.
“It’s kind of disheartening, but we shouldn’t have our fate in other people’s hands,” he said. “The games we should have won at the start of the year came back to bite us, and that’s hockey. It happened last year and it happened again this year, we just have to play hard every game, and unfortunately we didn’t make it this year.”
Dube didn’t tell his team the news right away, but most of them had found out on their own by the time he broached the topic at practice Thursday morning.
The team wasn’t defeated though. Dube says nothing has changed. They still have six games to play, and they plan on winning them all.
After all, these last six games could be considered early auditions for next year’s squad.
“My guys are still trying,” Dube said. “We are going to play against good teams that are fighting for playoff spots or playoff rankings, and we know they’ll come out hard against us and guys still have to play hard.
“Guys have to show me they want to be here and stay here and play for the Bucks next year.
“Even though we’re out, we still need to battle every night.”
That’s right. They’re not alive in the race, but they’re not dead on the ice — they’re the zombie Bucks, and their rampage begins tonight.
The zombie Bucks are feeling pretty strong for a team that’s undead.
After weeks of playing shorthanded, they’re fully healed, back at full strength and ready to bite into someone.
“We can maybe be a spoiler,” Dube said. “Guys are professionals and they should play to win every night. Doesn’t matter the circumstances; just find a way to win.”
They’ll be playing their final six games with a chip on their shoulder, and why not? They’ve already got one of the league’s grizzliest goons on the roster, according to the Central Hockey League’s annual “Best of the Best” poll, which was released Thursday morning.
“Justin Styffe (was voted) the second-toughest pound-for-pound player in the league and also the second-most agitating player in the league,” Dube said. “He has a big mouth, but he backs it up. He’s a big part of what we did this year and I’m proud of what he does for me day in and day out.”
When Dube addressed the end of his team’s playoff hopes, he brought them word of their honors in the poll as well.
“I just told the guys straight out, ‘Congrats for being voted the second hardest working team in the league, which is great,’” Dube said. “I’m obviously proud of the guys and their work ethic all year.”
The Bucks’ work isn’t over yet. They play a pair of games against Fort Wayne tonight and Saturday, and then a game against Dayton on Sunday. Tulsa and Rio Grande City round out the season later next week.
And, as these remaining foes will soon discover much to their horror, zombies never tire.