While fielding questions about his lack of NHL experience will be common talk to begin the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2013-14 season, new assistant coach George Gwozdecky has remained poised and ready to address any doubts.
The head coach of the University of Denver Pioneer’s men’s hockey team for nearly the last two decades and a veteran player and coach of the sport since the early 1970’s, the Thunder Bay, Ontario native’s ability to instruct a younger Bolts team and teach the mental components of the game will be crucial for the Lightning.
Former student of Gwozdecky and current Tampa Bay defenseman Matt Carle agrees.
“I think the biggest thing with him being a college coach is taking 18 -year-old kids and helping them through those huge development stages in their life,” said Carle. “I think for our organization, having all these guys in the minors and him being able to come in and help develop these younger guys. It’s huge for us.”
A number of bubble players on AHL affiliate ,the Syracuse Crunch, including center Vladislav Namestnikov, right-winger Richard Panik, left-winger Ondrej Palat and blueliner Mark Barberio, as well as third overall pick in this year’s NHL draft, forward Jonathan Drouin, will look to make the jump into the league during this season’s campaign.
Among his credentials, Gwozdecky was the only coach in NCAA hockey history to win a D-I National Championship as a player, assistant coach, and as head coach.
Carle, who attended the University of Denver from the 2003-04 season through the 2005-06 season, was the first member of the Pioneers and first Gwozdecky-coached product to be acknowledged as the nation’s top player with the Hobey Baker Memorial Award during his final season with the team.
“The way he can handle these younger guys will be good,” he said. “It’s going to be exciting. I’m looking forward to playing for him again.”
Winning a number of “Coach of the Year” honors during his tenure, including most recently being named the WCHA Coach of the Year for the fourth time (1995, 2002, 2005, 2010), as well as a number of accolades on his resume, Gwozdecky now has the chance to show that coaching experience at any level is as good as any.
Carle believes that his biggest obstacle in joining head coach Jon Cooper’s staff may be relating to the star-studded names featured on the Lightning’s roster, but given Gwozdecky’s assistant coaching role, he’ll have more flexibility in building relationships with those veteran players.
“The biggest thing for him is going to be trying to get comfortable in coaching the Marty St. Louis’s and the Steven Stamkos’s of the team,” said Carle. “Being in an assistant coaching role though, will allow him to be a little looser with these guys and have a little bit more fun.”
As the only coach in NCAA history to win a hockey national title as a player (University of Wisconsin), assistant coach (Michigan State University) and head coach (Denver University), Gwozdecky has a proven track record of breeding success from a number of roles. This versatility may help him go through this transition to the NHL that Carle thinks “he’ll handle with relative ease.”
“I don’t think it matters that he doesn’t have a lot of NHL coaching experience, because it’s all about how you deal with people,” said Carle.
With training camp now less than a month away, Gwozdecky will be anxious to answer the “inexperience question” by getting out on the ice and proving his worth. With Jon Cooper a newcomer to his role at the NHL level too, the combination might be just what Tampa Bay has been looking for.