[Hi, remember me? I still write for this site.]
Today was the first of the season’s coaches’ luncheons. Not only did we get a chance to hear from BG’s Chris Bergeron — always a pleasure — but we heard from new WCHA Commissioner Bill Robertson, who is visiting the Rocket City for the first time. After we heard from both men about the weather — de rigueur — it was time to get down to business. Among the commissioner’s comments were these nuggets:
- “I’m having a lot of fun in my first year as Commissioner. … I want to be a very good listener.” Funny, sir, the Internet has a lot to say about WCHA.tv…
- “The league has a great plan, a great name, and a great history. … We’re looking to build new traditions, and one of those is here tonight with Bowling Green and UAH, both new entrants into the league.”
- Since we’ve heard his clarion call for two or more teams in the NCAAs, I’ll finish with this one about the league post season. “Who knows? [The WCHA Final Five] could be down here someday.” It sounds to me that the league is thinking about downsizing the tournament after the 2017 visit to the X.
Next up was BG boss Chris Bergeron, who noted that “this is the first team of guys who wait to me and my staff, ‘I want to be a Falcon, Coach.’ ” This is what every coach wants, to be sure. Make no mistake: this is Bergeron’s program, and after an 18-win season last year, they look to be on the way up.
In talking about recruiting, Bergeron says that they often have to answer the question, “What does 1984 (the year BG won their national title) have to do with 2014?” This is a common refrain from all coaches whose programs’ past success is in their rear view mirror. We know about that ourselves: the D-II days are long set in stone, and Jared Ross, Scott Munroe, and Cam Talbot are not walking through that door. Lastly, in discussing the scuffle for recruits, Bergeron said, “Well, I wouldn’t want to get into a (physical) fight with Gavin Morgan, that’s for sure.”
Lastly, we heard from Coach Corbett, the man who is inspiring confidence all through the Tennessee Valley. The team lost a couple of close games last weekend at CC, 3-2 and 4-3, and of the weekend, Corbs said, “Last weekend was a culmination of everything that we started last spring.” He mentioned the turnover in the locker room between graduation and the release of a handful of players. Returning players were pushed through a grinding physical regimen combined with team-building exercises. When the players returned, “everybody passed the eye test, and we picked up where we left off. They held each other accountable, and we threw eight freshmen right there with them.”
It isn’t just that new blood that is sparking the team. “There’s a little swagger and a glint in some guys’ eyes,” Corbett said, “especially with Vandy (Jeff Vanderlugt) and Doug Reid.” Of the big man, Corbett said, “Jeff Vanderlugt had the best weekend that he’s had since I’ve been here,” a sentiment echoed to me later in the hallway by UAH assistant Matt Thomas.
But that new blood is important. “The five freshmen saw the ice, and they just need more experience.” Cody Champagne, Max McHugh, Brandon Parker, Brennan Saulnier, and Josh Kestner generally stayed out of the box (a slashing minor to McHugh on Friday followed by hooking minors to Saulnier and Kestner on Saturday), took some shots (six on Friday, five on Saturday), and were a combined -2 on Friday and -5 on Saturday.
When it comes to goaltending, Corbett is still really thrilled with what he has in Matt Larose and Carmine Guerriero. “They’re both going to play this weekend because they’re both pretty damn good.” Corbett mentioned that Rick Ice has been coming in as a volunteer goaltending assistant coach, which has made an impact on their development, “especially because Gavin doesn’t have to speak to Carmine in half-French, half-English on the side.” Corbett also praised Jordan Uhelski as “more than just a third goalie”, saying that “he’ll make it very hard for us to recruit another goalie for next season, because he’s that good.”
- BG is a solid program on the rise. They lost a lot this offseason, but they will be looking to prove themselves early in the season. They have to view coming into Huntsville as a chance for a road sweep, since two close games against a team that won just seven games last year doesn’t mean instant respect (unless you’re a USCHO poll voter). Also, BG is one of the two teams that the Chargers defeated last season, and you know that losing in OT on home ice still smarts for those guys. Corbett likened this game to “two freight trains heading down the same track,” and I think that’s what you’ll see.
- Graeme Strukoff is apparently out with a lower body injury. Get well, Struky. His injury opens the ice for appearances by Anderson White and Richard Buri. I would expect Ben Reinhardt to get top-four minutes alongside one of the freshmen, and my guess would be Champagne. I’m probably wrong. I wouldn’t be surprised for White to see the ice one night while Buri gets it on the other one. Hopefully they’re both willing to make their physical presence felt on the ice, as that’s definitely how they’ll continue to get ice.
- Corbett noted that the team has increases in both speed and puck possession, to which I can only say, “Hallelujah.” I’m really excited to see McHugh, Saulnier, and Kestner in the flesh.
- The native-son cheers won’t be for Kestner only, as Bryan Siersma is on the roster to provide needed depth after a couple of committed players were unable to be on this year’s squad. Welcome home, Bryan. Hopefully you’ll get some ice time at home soon.
- Seriously, we need a home win, and it would be amazing if that came off of a Josh Kestner goal. No pressure, Kesty. None at all. (Top shelf, stick side, please.)
- Lastly, I can’t confirm this, but I have heard that one of Michael’s colorful suggestions for this season has come true.
See everyone at the rink! I’m not broadcasting this year, so you can find me in my game-worn Cam Talbot black third jersey upstairs by the pep band. Michael and I will figure out tweeting as the games go by.