Mike, since you played Colorado College the last time, they've split up Marty Sertich and Brett Sterling and haven't played them together. What kind of feedback have you gotten from your players about the need to keep your lines in, your combinations together? I mean, you've done some flip-flopping with the third and fourth lines, but your top two lines, how important is it in your mind to keep continuity in your combinations?
"Well, the continuity will be kept there as long as the groups are being effective. I think if you, in looking back at line combinations throughout my observations as a hockey person, that there's usually two people in the line that are really the catalysts, and then you add a third person and that completes it.
"And that will be effective for a while, then eventually that will kind of run its course a little bit and you need to break them up. And I think with Sertich and Sterling, maybe that's what Scottie (Owens) felt. I know with our lines, you know, if you take a look at [Joe Pavelski] and Robbie (Earl), they have a unique chemistry there, and Adam (Burish) provides something that gives them balance.
"There may come a time when we, and we have in the past, where maybe Adam is having, or that whole line is having a bad night, you can take a guy like Ross Carlson, and we did this last year at times, put him with that group and it gave them a spark. So, I mean, we'll, to answer your question, we'll keep the continuity together as long as they're effective, but if it slows down or bogs down a little bit, we can change it up to give them a spark again."
Mike, you just mentioned that Adam gives them a balance or something. Could you expand on that, what exactly does he give, contribute to those other two guys?
" He gives them, first of all, Adam takes his skill set, which is ability to skate, his ability to play physical, and his ability to understand the game in terms of how to create little smaller plays, he gives that to them, because in that unit you need that physical presence. Adam, in many cases, provides space for his linemates. And he can think at the same level. He understands where his skill set are in terms of his puck-handling abilities and that, and he plays it to his strengths and it gives that group balance with those things that I mentioned."
Mike, as interested as you are in getting fitness, you know, with your guys and making sure that maintains throughout the whole season, you get kind of a challenge this weekend in that you're, one, you're coming off a weekend off, and, two, you go to this elevation where teams have, other teams have had trouble before. Any specific challenge in that for you this weekend in keeping that going?
"We've gone to Denver and CC over the last couple years and there's a couple things we can do physically to, you know, help ourselves, but basically, I think in our own minds, we have to have the mindset of being intelligent and not getting caught too long on the ice. That seems to be the biggest, when you get out there, it may take you five minutes to get everything back to square one.
"So being intelligent and not overextending your shifts, getting line changes at an appropriate moment. Rather than stay longer, stay shorter, and be smart about it. So those are the kinds of things that we'll preach all week. And our older guys have been there. I think they understand that inside out."
Mike, you guys have not lost on the road this year. One would look at your lineup and say a lot of that has to do with the veteran nature of it. Is there more to it than that in your mind?
"I think it starts right with that. There's no question. The trials and tribulations that we've gone through with this group, especially with our seniors now, they've had three years of some pretty tough road trips and battling through some things. We've received very good goaltending on the road and specialty teams that would be pretty good. If we continue that combination, hopefully we'll have the same results."
Along the same lines of experience, the stretch you're going through the next three series, it's been compared a little bit to a tough stretch you went through last year, a difficult [one] on the schedule. What did you learn last year from that stretch maybe in late January, early February or do you hope that your team has learned that'll benefit it this time around?
"Well, we spoke this past weekend. We got together when Jack got back in town, Jack Skille, and took a look at our map, where we have been, where we're going, how we're going to get there. We talked about past experiences. And we talked about, we had read something about the Canadian Olympic team and some of the young players that were on their past Olympic team and being in a locker room in a key game and a tough game and a key moment.
"And the younger guys were talking about how calm guys like (Steve) Yzerman and (Mario) Lemieux were and how they had been there and they believed in their ability to get it done and just the calmness. And I think with our older guys now, last year I think one of the greatest lessons that we took away from our last stretch was we played pretty hard in some buildings. I don't think the thing we handled particularly well is that when we didn't have the offensive success that we have liked, we probably squeezed our sticks a little bit too hard.
"And the fact is, you know what, fellas, we can get this done. We've proven to it, and I think that's what we've seen on the road and we've seen all year from our older guys, is no panic, we don't need to flinch, as Coach (Barry) Alvarez likes to say, and we can get the job done based on what we've done before. So I think the lesson of that is something that has helped us this year and hopefully will continue to do so."
The series against CC here ended on kind of a sour note with Adam Burish's hit. Do you address that or worry about any sort of retaliatory measure when you head out there this weekend?
"No. I think it's, there's nothing we can do. It's happened, and the punishment was there for Adam. It'll, you know, and the truth of it is, it'll probably heighten the intensity of the series, but college hockey and the rules and the way they are, for retribution to take place on the ice, you know, you've got the No. 1 and No. 6 teams playing in the country and there's a lot at stake, and to be foolish would be very counterproductive for either team."
Jack Skille returns to this team this year in a little bit of a different situation than players returned from the World Juniors in the last couple years when they had to come right back in and play that weekend. Do you get the sense that he will be a little more refreshed having the last weekend off and a little time to recuperate and, you know, just kind of ready to ride into these, you know, seven, eight weeks, however long he's going to be playing in the regular season?
"Jack has played some pretty intense hockey as of late. It's a high, especially playing up there north of the border where it's like us watching the Super Bowl. Everybody is, the Super Bowl here with the Packers being involved, it's that intense. And I could see in his eyes that he was tired, and I think it was a good call to just, you know, he came in for the meeting on Saturday, but he had Friday, Saturday, Sunday off, get his bearings a little bit.
"Now he's got a week to get back with his teammates, his linemates, and get back in the flow. And I think it'll be most beneficial for him. The other thing that we take for granted is the fact that he didn't have to fly across the ocean and to have, you know, six, seven time zones to deal with. He'll be ready to go today and get acclimated pretty quickly."
It seems to be the nature with all college sports that recruiting is going younger and younger and younger every year. Is there, how young for you is too young to be recruiting a guy, for you or for your staff, and do you fear the day where you or your staff is sitting at a peewee or a squirt game sizing up a kid's potential?
"Well, the nature of the beast has really forced our hands. I think up in Canada they changed the, you know, the Bantam draft, they can draft Bantam hockey players now into the major, major junior hockey, and so those kids are having to make decisions at a lot earlier age. Their hand is being forced—do I go to major junior, and if I go to camp then I can't go to college anymore. So they're having to make that decision earlier.
"And we've had a couple kids that have had that happen in their lives. And so it puts a lot of pressure on people. You're speculating down the road, which is a roll of the dice in many cases. Sometimes it'll work out and sometimes it won't. And it's unfortunate. You see these young people with this pressure around them to make, you know, a very important decision in their life and it's too bad.
"To be really honest with you, it'd be nice to be able to wait and sit back and let them mature into young men that have an idea better of what they want to do, who they are. Because of the nature of the business, it's gotten younger. I certainly hope it doesn't go any younger than Bantams.
"But when you walk into the rink I think, when you walk in like Mark's kids, Mark Osiecki's boys are starting to play, and he goes to the rink and I think some of his friends bust him about, oh, are you recruiting right now. No, I'm here with my son. So hopefully it doesn't get any younger because it is too bad, the bottom line, it is too bad."
Do you have a hard and fast rule of what is too young or not too young or is it a case-by-case basis?