ABBOTSFORD — A season ago, Navjot Bains was unable to get around without a limp, and when push actually came to shove, he wasn’t physically able to lead a young Fraser Valley Cascades team through the rigours of a Canada West conference campaign.
Yet while there is always a personal laundry list full of hardships to be endured upon tearing an ACL in the weeks leading up to the start of your senior season, the Cascades’ gritty 6-foot-6 forward refused to allow any of them to obscure the big-picture view he had for his team upon his return for the 2018-19 season.
Now, as the 8-4 Cascades come off the conference-wide winter hiatus as the Canada West’s surprise team of the first half, Bains is not only back in the rotation, he’s a guy head coach Adam Friesen credits for helping re-write the narrative from the frustrating growing pains of 2017-18 to becoming one of the top defensive teams in the country.
“I think that in terms of our leadership, our veterans have set the tone of how we need to play,” Friesen said Wednesday before the Cascades hit the practice floor in preparation for its weekend games Friday (8 p.m.) and Saturday (7 p.m.) against the visiting Brandon Bobcats (2-8) at the Envision Financial Athletic Centre. “And in particular, it’s come from Nav’s toughness. The aspect of the intensity he brings to the whole group just trickles down.”
The addition of his younger brother, fellow former Tamanawis Wildcats star and NCAA D1 transfer Sukhjot Bains, has been huge as well.
And when you add it all together, it’s no accident that a Cascades team which was 4-8 coming out of the winter break last season has flipped its script to go 8-4 and sit in a tie for the conference’s third-best record with the Winnipeg Wesmen.
“All I could do last year was just keep telling the guys to keep working hard and that things would start to go our way,” recalls Bains, 25. “But last year the locker room energy was just different. Morale was low. Last year, they didn’t see the big picture. They saw that we were losing games. Now, we are more composed, calm and confident and it’s something that has picked up and helped our defence.”
There is a huge home weekend against the conference kingpin Calgary Dinos (12-0) at the end of January, yet it won’t mean anything if the Cascades don’t keep their focus trained on first Brandon, and then on a huge road trip to Victoria to face the Vikes (4-6).
And of course, everything the Cascades do starts on the defensive end.
The numbers that best define that defence?
Fraser Valley sits second in the Canada West in opposition field goal percentage behind only Calgary, holding foes under 40 per cent (39.7 per cent) on the season.
They also sit third in fewest points-per-game allowed – behind Calgary and Alberta – at 75.3 ppg.
“Last season was a growing year for us, a year where we really stressed learning how to win and what that looks like,” Friesen says, reflecting back on a 5-15 campaign which ended shy of a playoff berth.
“Last year we learned how important an aspect defence needed to be for us in order to win,” he continued. “This year, we’ve really committed to it. I’ve just liked how this group has come together and all pushed for the same goal.”
And while the likes of Parm Bains (15.2 ppg), Mark Johnson (14.4) and Sukhjot Bains (11.6) among others have handled their business at both ends of the floor, Friesen is quick to offer praise to the redshirt senior who brings so much more than his statistical counts of 16.2 minutes and 3.6 points per game.
“Everyone looks up to him,” Friesen says of Bains. “They see a mental toughness in him to battle though his ACL and everything else he has faced in his career. They all respect him. He’s brought so much presence and competitiveness. It’s been contagious for our group and it’s been huge in our success this season.”
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