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Mike, there's always been a, ever since it started, from what I remember, a debate on the values of the Development Program. Has that diminished, has that gone down since you guys won the gold a couple years ago? Did that boost the program to a level where people, from your view, have seen its value?
"I don't think the value has dropped, if that's the question. I think that, if anything, we were the first step in reaping some of the benefits of a lot of people's work before we won it, Jeff Jackson and all those folks that started the program.
"And what it's doing is taking some of our best players and putting them in a development program that'll help them grow, and then hopefully the goal is ultimately to have those young men get to the National Hockey League someday when they're asked or they're called upon to play in the Olympics or World Championships.
"Because of their ties to the program, they will step up and help this country in international competition. And we, you know, it's still a young program in those eyes. These young men that have been there that have been successful are still young in their process, but that's the ultimate goal."
Mike, it's clear what benefits the Development Program gets out of games like this. What do you get out of it? What do you expect to get out of it?
"Well, a couple of things. First of all, some of our young fellows that haven't played a lot, if I'm there and I'm in the lineup, I certainly want them to take advantage of it. It's an opportunity for them to play and show us that they can play and that they can do some good things. So from that standpoint, I'm hoping they're looking at it like that.
"But you're right, the major benefit here is for these young men in the Under-18. It's kind of like paying, helping them, you know, taking our time to help them, because when they play against teams like us and Vermont and Michigan and then they play kids their own age at the Under-18, this pushes them to a level that's outside their comfort zone.
"So they get the greatest benefits from this, but there are some benefits. We're going to try a couple different things during the game in terms of the way we want to play, maybe a couple different face-off plays. We're going to take advantage of the game as well."
You have three recruits on this team who have all signed. Could any of them play for you right now?
"You know what, Andy? I haven't seen them play. We don't get any video of them, which is kind of, we have to scramble around, see if any of their games are on, but none of their games are on tape. Right now, I really don't know. You know, if we were probably in dire straits and needed to give them a chance, I mean, they're talented young men.
"Where they're going to struggle is the physical strength and the pace, although they've played a handful of games already, maybe even more, maybe up to 10 to 12. But it's the pace and the strength that eventually catches, that's the biggest thing. I've been talking to John (Hynes) last week when they played Maine, and Maine just wore them down. In the third period, the game was pretty close, and then their older seniors, Greg Moore and all those guys just took over and scored on the power play. So it would be tough for them to come in and play a lot because of the strength and the pace factor."
Can you kind of appreciate how the casual fan would say how do you do this? I mean, there's no other sport that I can think of where you would get a chance to play against recruits that are coming in next year against kids, basically high school players. It just seems to be an odd opportunity that not a lot of sports have.
"That's correct. It doesn't happen in a lot of sports, but hockey is unique in that. The program is unique and that's what really sets it up. And these kids are going to be, these kids that we're going to play against, the Under-18 team, they're just going to be on cloud nine. This will be the biggest game of the year for them.
"And at the other end of the spectrum, it's going to be a little bit of what we went through Friday night, is that, you know, our guys are, it's not a regular-season game, it doesn't count as a lot, but hopefully, you know, the lesson, unless we're ready to play, these high school kids could come in and embarrass us and beat us and that's a fact. And I say that with an exclamation point at the end of it, hoping they're listening to these comments."
Mike, I know you haven't seen your recruits that much on film this year. But for the fans that will be coming to watch the game, could you kind of give them in a nutshell about Jamie, Nigel, and Blake and what type of players they'll see?
"Well, Nigel Williams is a big young man. He's 6-4 and he's 220 pounds and he can skate. He'll remind you a little bit of Joe Piskula in that he's a big man and just they both skate very well. And I think he's on the path to learn the intricacies of the position of being a better defenseman. And he's in the right place. I know that John and I speak once a week and ask him how his growth on and off the ice is going, and he's learning. He's learning, but he can really skate.
"I think Jamie McBain is a young man that, you'll like his poise and confidence with the puck. He doesn't panic. He can be the guy in the power play running it. And he's very comfortable with nobody behind him except the goaltender. He's got that ice in his veins. So, and he's got skills to go along with that kind of poise and confidence. So he brings that to the table.
"And Blake Geoffrion is heart and soul. He can skate. He loves to hit and make things happen with his energy. And if you ever get in a conversation with him, you'd better get a few words in right away because he'll carry the ball for a while. He's just a terrific young man."
Do you coach this game with a little bit more compassion than you would a normal conference game, because you don't want to maybe hurt the will or the feelings of the guys you're playing against, especially your own recruits and some of the other younger kids?
"No, I think we're going to coach it with some goals in mind. There are certain things that we want to achieve. And I think the game will unfold for itself. We talk about every game is a riddle and there's no textbook answers. This is a particularly interesting riddle of a game, because you're playing high school seniors, and although they're very talented, they're still in high school and how are they going to handle this.
"You know, but I think we can grab the attention of our players by trying to achieve specific things and then using this game against Michigan Tech to make sure that, you know, we learned our lesson. It's going to be a test, did we learn a lesson, because unless we're ready to play to some degree, this group of young men could come in and beat us.
Mike, I know you have a team of your own to coach, but how tempted will you be to watch it, keep an eye on those three guys during the game, because I know you'll have tape after the end of it, but I can imagine you might want to, you know, watch those guys live and see them right up close.
"What usually happens in situations like that is the fact that you will be concerned about your team. If we're trying to match up at whistles, you'll be concerned about who's on the ice. But unless somebody does something ultimately tremendous, you're focused on what you're trying to do.
"And if somebody goes coast to coast and they put the puck in the net, you're going to say, jeez, who was that, oh, that was Nigel Williams or Jamie McBain, that was a pretty good play there. But you focus on your group and then later on, yeah, we will really watch the games closely from two perspectives when we break it down, one from ours and then one from how those young men played."
Mike, is it your intent to make this an annual thing?
"You know, Andy, we tried to get this done our first couple years here, but it's a scheduling issue. So if the schedule works out that we can based on what they have and what we have going, we'd definitely like to keep it going. I just think it's, having been in the program, it's a tremendous benefit for those young men and I think it helps them represent our country in something that's very special."
Any coincidence that McBain and Nigel are paired together?
"No. It might give them some balance, according to Coach Hynes, but no. And I don't know how long they've been paired together either."
I know you and your entire team before the season were very confident in what Brian Elliott would be able to do this year. But can you sit there and say this is exactly what you expected out of Elliott, what your preseason expectations were, or has he exceeded those in any what from what you thought going in?
"Well, he has exceeded any expectations that we had to the degree that he's played right now. We knew and his teammates knew that he was a very good goaltender. We shoot on him every day. We see him every day. But he's had to answer the hurdle of doing it in games back to back was the biggest one.
"When he had played in the two previous years, except for maybe one outing, he had been pretty good for us. But to get the numbers that he has is a tribute to his work, it's a tribute to the defensemen that play in front of him, and it's a tribute to the forwards as well, both playing defense and, you know, taking care of the puck. We're scoring more. We have the puck more, which makes it less work for him. So to answer your question in a very concise fashion, he's exceeded the expectations that we had for him."