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"Well, we started on Saturday morning, kind of ran a little mini-camp this week. We initially planned to go twice on Saturday and twice on Sunday, but after talking to the captains, it became evident that we're hitting a part of the academic schedule where they've got quite a few exams. So we went twice on Saturday and then a longer time on Sunday morning and gave them the afternoon off to rest and study that night.
"But we got the ball rolling. And as one would suspect, everybody was anxious to get going after a long summer of training and get together as a group on the ice. The young kids were wide-eyed and the veterans were a little bit more subtle and they understand that this is the first step in a long journey. But it was a good start."
Mike, the young guys you just referenced, you know, maybe they won't have their first real test until they go on the road, but getting them involved this weekend, is that a priority for them, to see at least, you know, one game this weekend?
"Yeah. We have to find out if they can, at some point if they can adjust to the pace of the WCHA. That's always the biggest step for a young man and one would think for a young guy like Jack Skille who played 25 to 30 college games last year that there wouldn't be as big a step for him, but for Mr. (Ben) Street and Mr. (Tom) Gorowsky and Mr. (Shane) Connelly, that's going to be a bigger step for them. So we need to let them get into the mix of things and see how they handle that pace."
You mentioned how anxious the guys were to get back on the ice. How anxious are you to get on the ice with this team and get this season going considering all the guys that you have back and the expectations that you have for this team this year?
"We spent the whole month of September in either groups of four or captains practices, and the groups of four have the benefit in that you're able to go back to some details, some real fundamentals, which is fine, but it would have been nice to be like basketball and that we, you know, would have two hours a week on the ice as a team before we actually get started. We have six practices before we start our games.
"So it's something, the learning lesson there is you get together as a coaching union and kind of see if maybe we can get something done that basketball did, so we had that luxury. Because I know some schools are going to have a practice and play that night, and you're putting the student-athlete at risk. But the excitement of getting back together and we've been waiting for this moment to get on the ice and start the process of becoming a team."
Can you update Brian Elliott, where he'll start this week as far as his injury and, you know, what you hope to maybe take day by day with him to maybe get him ready to play this weekend?
"Well, I believe that he'll play this weekend. I just don't know if it'll be two games or one game. It'll depend on his health. I think we've done a pretty intelligent job of getting him back in the mix. I mean, his foot is healed. It was just a matter of not giving him too much where he might pull a groin or hip flexor or something like that, and I think we've been pretty intelligent. But as opposed to basketball with a stress fracture of the foot, you know, he's not jumping up and down on it and, you know, the chances for injuring that are less than it would be in basketball. So that's a plus for Brian."
Audio file 2 (3:34) –
Mike, what has been your advice or approach with Brian in the fact you're trying to replace a Bernd Bruckler, who everybody knows what his numbers were and what he meant to this program, where some guys might want to try to fill those shoes? What has been your advice for his approach to this season?
"One of Brian's strengths is his work ethic. It's also one of his vices because he can over-prepare. And I think, I remember last year when we played Michigan State, he probably played his best in the warm-up and left his game there. And it was a just a young man over-preparing.
"And so Brian is, you know, the advice to Brian is just take each game a day at a time, find that ideal performance state where you can play your maximum and you're not leaving it on the ice in practice or during the course of warm-ups. And that's a process that every young athlete has to go through. So if he can learn the lessons from the games he played last year and apply that, he puts himself in a position to be successful every night."
What are the realistic expectations for Jack Skille? People look at him as being a No. 1 draft choice of the Blackhawks. But realistic expectations for that young man?
"Well, you know, again, it's, every young man that comes in when he's drafted, he was drafted very high, so they look at Jack and they say there's great potential for this young man because of his size, his speed, his strength. Now he has to actually see if he's got that next gear in him. I mean, there's been some very good college players that try to go and make a living as a pro and they don't have that next gear. They can't play at that next pace.
"So the success that Jack will have will be dependent on his ability to make plays at the next pace. He's big and strong. We believe that he'll easily be able to keep up, but will he be able to make the same plays he made at a pace lower. That'll be his parameters of how successful he can be."
Coach, assuming Brian Elliott is the starter, are you concerned with both backups being freshmen and who right now is the frontrunner to be that, you know, first back-up?
"Well, Shane Connelly has more experience. He comes from playing in the USHL where he's played 60 to 70 games plus a season. He's going through a bit of a metamorphosis right now being under Coach Howard [goaltending coach Bill Howard]. I think his eyes are probably the widest open of anybody on our team because Coach Howard is actually taking him back two steps to help him go five steps forward. So it's been interesting.
"The boys have been making sure that he's not alone at night because he hasn't stopped many pucks lately, but that's all part of the process. And he will get better. And he senses that now coming too. I mean, it's been tough on him, but, again, as I said, I said, Shane, the fact, you take a look at a guy like Tiger Woods changes his swing, why does he change his swing, it was pretty good, well, he wants to get better. So Shane is in that process of taking a step back so his whole game will be better in the end."
You said right from your opening press conference when you took this job that your goal was a national championship, the team should be thinking that way to have set those kind of high goals. Is this team, at least going into the season, maybe the best equipped you feel to have that as a realistic expectation going into the season?
"The goal never changes. I think realistically we take a look at what we have. We're as close to having what we need. It'll be a matter of how this team comes together and plays as a team that will get us to that next level. You know, we made some strides here in the years that we've been together. And I make the analogy between a golf game in that when you're trying to get from a four or five handicap down to a scratch, it's very difficult. It's all about your short game, and we're in that short-game process now of fine tuning our game so that we can get to where we want to be."