There are four new coaches in Division I NCAA hockey this season, with three of the new coaches in the CCHA -- Jeff Blashill takes over at Western Michigan, Mark Osiecki at Ohio State and Chris Bergeron at Bowling Green. The other new coach is Chris Luongo at independent Alabama-Huntsville. On Campus recently chatted with all four new coaches to learn what they hope to bring to and achieve with their new teams.
Chris Luongo, Alabama-Huntsville -- After two seasons as an assistant to Danton Cole at Alabama-Huntsville, Luongo takes over as coach for the Chargers. Luongo, a former NHL player who also spent two seasons as an assistant coach at Wayne State, is looking to lead the Chargers to their first winning season since 2005-06, though they have made the NCAA Tournament twice after winning the now defunct CHA. To do so, Luongo plans to tweak things for sure, but also continue the culture of consistency he helped try to build working alongside Cole. He believes that having been in Huntsville for two seasons gives him an edge in doing so.
"I was familiar with the guys already there and the new guys coming in, so that obviously puts me in a much better position right away," Luongo said. "It's a lot of the same things that we had been working on for the last couple of years and that's to play the game right. All of sports and the game of hockey are a game of percentages and when you play the game right, you give yourselves a chance to be successful, a lot more consistently. Of course we want to be a team that plays hard game in and game out and is about the team."
Luongo realizes how imperative it will be for his team to apply this mentality on the ice with Alabama-Huntsville being an independent and the challenges that presents in selection to the NCAA Tournament.
"Our situation is probably more important than is typical as far as giving yourself a chance to win," Luongo said of his team having to impress even more as an independent. "And from a standpoint, I believe that the main role of a coach is to give the players the tools and plan to make sure they have a chance at success."
Luongo knows implementing his plans and reaching his goals will take time, but he's continuing to stress the importance to his players of bringing their best every time they step on the ice.
"It's an ongoing quest for sure, and even with (Cole) here we would say we are striving to improve that," Luongo said. "Consistency is a hard thing to get to. There are a lot of guys on teams that can be good every second night, every third night ... you never know when the other team is going to have their best game and if you're not prepared for it, once again you're not going to be in the game. I would say that striving for perfection, for lack of a better term, is where we were as a team when I took over, and of course with personnel changes it's always a little bit different puzzle each year."
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The Chargers are 1-5-0 under Luongo thus far but will try to give their new coach his first win in a two-game set at Michigan State this Friday and Saturday.
Chris Bergeron, Bowling Green -- Bergeron spent the previous 10 seasons as an assistant coach for Enrico Blasi at Miami, where he helped lead the RedHawks to six NCAA appearances and the last two Frozen Fours, earning a reputation as one of the best recruiters in the country. Bergeron now carries this impressive resume to Bowling Green, where the Falcons haven't had a winning season since 1995-96 and were 5-25-6 last season.
Bergeron may have left one of the most successful programs in the country to come to Bowling Green, but he is more than thrilled to get the Bowling Green program back on the map.
"I am very, very excited to come here," Bergeron said. "When the opportunity arose for me to get involved or throw my hat in the ring, I was excited about it. I felt like I knew the league pretty well -- been in it for 10 years, and I thought it might be a job that I would have a chance at or at least to go through it professionally as I had never gone through in 10 years as an assistant. So I thought the timing was right."
Bergeron's goal is to bring the respectability he helped build at Miami back to Bowling Green. The last time the Falcons made the NCAA Tournament was under legendary coach Jerry York in 1989-90. York won an NCAA title in 1984 at Bowling Green and went on to win three more at Boston College, where he still is head coach. Bergeron knows it will take time to reach those lofty heights, but he wants to build the expectation of winning back to the program.
"As for what we want to achieve, we want to bring the program back to where it once was," Bergeron said. "That's something that is hard to control but we are going to focus on daily improvement and having high expectations and holding people accountable to those expectations. We need to improve the expectations of the players that are here right now and that is something we are trying to do right now."
A year ago, Bowling Green hockey players couldn't realistically expect playing this season as the future of the Falcons program was in jeopardy with expected budget cuts. But Falcons hockey survived and Bergeron is thrilled to ride a reinvigorated feeling around his team and in the Bowling Green community.
"I think Bowling Green had gone through adversity over the past 18 months in terms of instability and the long-term picture of the program," Bergeron said. "Once they got past that, I felt like not only did they want it to stay, but they wanted to be great. That was something I was excited about. When I did more and more digging and got to talk to people at Bowling Green, people are really excited about hockey and there is a good, passionate, loyal hockey base and we're hoping to build on that and continue to nurture the people that are already hockey fans. It seems like it is an exciting time in the history of the program and we're hoping to leave our mark just like people in the past have."
The Falcons are off to a 3-3-0 (0-2-0-0 CCHA) start and will travel to Alaska for a two-game set Friday and Saturday.
Mark Osiecki, Ohio State -- After 15 seasons, there's a new coach in Columbus as Mark Osiecki replaces John Markell. Osiecki comes to the Buckeyes after spending the last six seasons as an assistant at Wisconsin. During his time in Madison, Osiecki helped the Badgers to an NCAA title in 2006 and a title game appearance in 2010. Osiecki is hoping not only to change the way his players perform on the ice, but off it. "Doing the right thing" in life is what matters to the new coach.
"When it comes to developing our culture, it's not just the hockey side of it," Osiecki said. "It's everything that's wrapped into their life skills, living away from the rink, how they are approaching the security guard station, saying 'please' and 'thank you.' We needed and wanted to put a stamp on that. Every staff has to do that when there is a change. We have not talked about a lot of hockey stuff and we still haven't to this point. I mean, sure, we've talked about hockey stuff and working, but it's more about doing the right thing and everything else will be a by-product of that."
Osiecki credits his former boss, Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves, for teaching him this philosophy and proving that it can work.
"Working with Mike there, you are really going to learn a lot of life skills," he said. "The best thing that happened in my six years was learning that culture. We had to go in and be hard and the first year was tremendously hard for them and him as a staff. I was able to learn a lot from him in talking about that and living that."
One of the challenges in instituting the culture he wants around his new team is that he inherited 10 seniors. For the last three seasons, these players have played under a different mentality and Osiecki is hoping they will embrace what he preaches.
"The difficult thing with this roster is that you have 10 seniors on here right now and a few juniors to mix in with that," Osiecki said. "The sophomore class is a class that is interesting because when they were recruited, they were recruited late and they came from different areas. You mix that in with 10 seniors that are heading out and you have some freshmen, so it is an interesting mix.
"Hopefully, these seniors are hungry for direction, some development along with their skills. And coaching wise, that is something we'd like to do and they've shown that so far. Now you put some freshmen in there and that is a decent group -- some kids that will play pro hockey -- so that is fun to work with. Hopefully, we can bring in a big group next year that will have the same goals that the freshmen do now."
The Buckeyes are 2-3-0 (1-1-0-0 CCHA) this season and will play at Northern Michigan this Friday and Saturday.
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Jeff Blashill, Western Michigan -- CCHA lifer Jeff Blashill takes over the reigns at Western Michigan after spending the last two seasons in the USHL, where he led the Indiana Ice to the Clark Cup in his first season and the semifinals in his second. Prior to that Blashill was an assistant at Miami, working on the same staff as new Bowling Green coach and good friend Chris Bergeron. Blashill also played and coached at Ferris State.
"I have been part of the CCHA either as a fan growing up, as a player I played at Ferris State, and then as a coach, I coached at Ferris and at Miami as an assistant," Blashill said. "For 30-something years, I have been a part of the CCHA. Western Michigan is a place that I have always felt was special, had some special qualities to it both as an institution and potentially as a hockey program.
"When the job opened up, I was at Indianapolis at the USHL and really felt that that was one of the jobs, that if it ever opened, I wanted to go after, and once it opened, I really went after it hard. I felt like with a lot of hard work, we could build this up into a championship-level hockey program. We obviously have a lot of work ahead of us. That's what I felt the potential was. I was excited when it opened up and when I had the opportunity to get the job, I was very excited."
While he realizes it takes time to achieve greatness, Blashill wants his players to at least strive for greatness and know they can achieve it with hard work.
"You want to create a culture of what's important to you and one of the biggest things we want to get across to our guys is that greatness is a choice and it's a choice that we are going to make every single day," Blashill said. "We are either going to take a step toward becoming great or a step away from becoming great. It is really in our hands. It might take a lot of steps to get that level -- it might take a year or a number of years -- it's really in our hands to determine that. I totally believe that and it's something we have tried to get across to our players.
"We want guys in our locker room who are going to work because they want to be great, not because they have coaches looking over their shoulder. I think we have a lot of that now and guys understand what we are looking for. I talk about a championship standard where we strive to be perfect every single day. It doesn't mean that is going to happen, but as coaches we need to demand that every single day so that we can reach our full potential."
The Broncos are off to a great start under Blashill's watch at 4-1-0, and will begin CCHA play this weekend with a home-and-home against Notre Dame.
It's pretty crazy, but believe me when I say we didn't draft these players with the mindset we had to because they had good hockey-playing dads. It just turned out that way. But we're certainly glad they're a part of our organization.
— Arizona Coyotes director of amateur scouting Tim Bernhardt regarding the coincidence that six of the organization's top prospects are sons of former NHL players