Head coach Danton Cole met with the media on Tuesday, Sept. 25 to preview the 2018-19 season.
HEAD COACH DANTON COLE: Well, I appreciate everyone coming out. I know double duty with Coach D earlier today but appreciate that.
As we are getting rolling here, we are able to jump on the ice as soon as classes start, but with limited hours. But now we’re getting close to when we get into normal hours on October 6.
It’s been pretty exciting. It’s been a good fall. The guys did a really nice job, I think last year, kind of building towards some things we wanted to do, and then we had an outstanding spring. We had about six or seven weeks, unfortunately. Hopefully in the future here our spring will be a little bit shorter training-wise, but that led us into the summer.
The guys had a good first half of the summer at home. Everybody was back for the second half, which is outstanding. They could work out together.
The freshmen were taking classes and getting acclimated to campus, so they worked in some nice segments, about six or seven weeks, with a little break in between. And then the same thing getting back here in campus will be about six or seven weeks and then we’ll get rolling with the University of Windsor game.
Guys have done an outstanding job. We didn’t lose a lot last year. Obviously losing Carson (Gatt) was a big thing. He played a lot of minutes. He was a good leader, all situations. So that’s a lot of ice time to fill but I think our older defensemen coming back, I think (Zach) Osburn, (Jerad) Rosburg and (Tommy) Miller, although Miller is a 19-year-old sophomore, he played a lot of minutes. He’s a good leader, all situations, they will fill some of that.
I think our freshmen defensemen have done a really nice job and we’ve got some three guys in the middle there that will push for ice time and the same thing up front. I think we’re a little bit bigger, a little bit faster, definitely deeper. Competition in practice has been much better and that’s a really, really positive thing for us.
There’s a lot of good things looking forward and we’re excited about this. We’ll be a better team this year. We’ll just keep moving that way. Just keep getting better every practice, every game and every week and we’ll continue to do that.
Q. When look at your incoming freshmen, do you have a grip or an idea how many you think will be impact guys that will play immediately?
HEAD COACH DANTON COLE: You know, you’ve got a little bit of a feel. I think we’re certain — we don’t have a lot of time on the ice. I think the Green and White Game will be good. I think the Windsor game will give us an idea.
Just from being around practice, I think the three defensemen coming in, the two Krygiers and Dennis Cesanahave done a really nice job. I think their hockey pedigree and the amount of ice time they have had and the high-level competitions, they have done a really nice job.
Up front, the three have done a really nice job. They fit in. We’ve played them together as a line to kind of make them feel comfortable playing. We’ve split them up with some older guys, and I think the sooner that those six guys are in the lineup every night, the better off we’ll be. Eventually they will be. Hopefully that’s this year but you never know.
The guys that were here last year aren’t going to give up their positions or their ice time easily and that’s something that we wanted. But they have done a nice job. They have listened and learned and you can really see the progress that they are making, and we have some sophomore lines that are together that kind of went through the same process last year, and they do a lot of things right. You know, they are going to have to earn their ice time.
Drew (DeRidder) has been outstanding. His compete-level is off the charts. He keeps getting better and better every day. I think one thing that he brings that really helps us is that compete level in practice and never giving up on pucks and kind of his refuse-to-lose mentality. They have made an impact, and like I said, the sooner they all get playing every night, I think the better our team will be.
Q. Your team has one of the best lines in college hockey (Taro Hirose, Patrick Khodorenko, Mitchell Lewandowski), but obviously the challenge is to get a second and third line. What do you see as far as the players that are in that mix and who do you think is going to make the role as second, third and fourth line center?
HEAD COACH DANTON COLE: If you look at the second half of the year and we had a little more success and we hovered around .500 and beat some pretty good hockey teams in the Big Ten. I think we started getting some of that secondary scoring. The guys you look at, (Logan) Lambdin, and Cody (Milan) started scoring a little bit, five-on-five, he did a good job power play all year but five-on-five goals were a little hard for us to come by sometimes.
Sam Saliba is going to have a good year. He scored 10 goals his freshman year and was down a little last year but I think we put him in a lot of tough situations. Certainly those are three upperclassmen we look at. I think Tommy Apap and Brennan Sanford did a good job and they chipped in some goals. You look at even towards the end of the year, Brody Stevens scored a couple goals.
I think it will be a deeper situation. We might find — if we can find a true No. 2 line, that would be really good for us and hopefully that’s emerging, and some of the freshmen have some offensive capabilities and they will be splattered in there. You find the right combinations and the right guy gets hot, like Lewy (Mitchell Lewandowski) did last year and he hopefully will have a little better secondary scoring.
Q. What about centermen?
HEAD COACH DANTON COLE: You know, obviously starting with (Patrick) Khodorenko, and Tommy Apap. Those two are kind of locked.
After that, we have been trying a lot of guys. Sammy (Saliba) still does a great job for us. I think eventually, probably next year, he’d probably end up back on wing. I think that’s where he’s more comfortable, more effective but as a junior and a captain, we might need him early on.
But the three freshmen, (Mitchell) Mattson, (Adam) Goodsir and (Wojciech) Stachowiak, those are all centermen. You’ve got Gino (Gianluca Esteves) coming back from last year, did a great job. He looks outstanding. He’s done a really nice job. We’ve got some depth there, which I like, and all of those guys can play wing, as well, and that’s not unusual. But I like centers and I like depth in that area, and the guys will sort that out. Players decide ice time.
Q. Is it just easier for you in year No. 2, because of the bootstraps are kind of fastened now and everyone knows what to expect?
HEAD COACH DANTON COLE: Yeah, you know, the first year was interesting. A little bit like a mosquito at a nudist beach – I knew what I wanted to do, I just didn’t know where to get started (laughter).
This year, it’s different, we just talked where it’s different, not easier. You still have to bring the same mentality, the same process, the same focus as a staff, and you have to get that; you have to pass that on to the players. They can’t say, well, it’s the second year, everything’s easier, and we’re just going to go out and win hockey games.
We have to work as hard, if not harder than we did last year. Our preparation, we kind of knew a little bit more what we had, and that might have made some things easier. We knew some guys coming back. You hope they have a great summer and the freshmen are a question mark.
I would say more different than easier. It’s been a little bit more fun and we definitely know what to expect. We know that the Big Ten is a heck of a conference, I think everybody including ourselves got better. So it should be a lot of fun.
Q. You talked about the lines, the top line, and then last year you seemed like you got a result out of almost every weekend. So you say, you’ll be better this year. What are the reasonable expectations from outsiders and then yourself inside the program for this team?
HEAD COACH DANTON COLE: You know, in terms of being better, I think there are certain benchmarks, and you can always say, hey, wins and losses. I try not to get too caught up in that because that kind of gets you away from how you’re progressing, again, day-in, day-out.
We want to be better every day and I know that sounds a little cliché, but there’s a lot of truth to that. I think that’s something that the players can control.
And if you say, ‘hey, we want to win 32 out of our 34 games this year,’ you start losing a little bit of control on that and that’s such a big goal. You can’t do that in the first weekend.
You know, we want results every weekend, but a lot of that varies on like I said, there are symmetries. Our penalty kill has to be better this year. Goaltending, we need a better save percentage. We have to give up about a half a goal less a game, and we’ve got to score about half a goal more a game. And those are kind of real easy things to look at. But if you look at those things, we’ll be in the mix of doing some pretty good things result-wise this year.
And again I’ll go back to I think the greatest coaches, I don’t get to hang around all of them, a few of them here on campus, but I read a lot of books and go through a lot of stuff and watch a lot of interviews: The results will take care of themselves.
It’s up to us to take care of all the other stuff and making sure our guys are working hard enough and doing the right thing. We don’t want to get outworked in games and we don’t want to get outsmarted. That’s on the coaches and the players.
Q. With such a skilled freshman class, does that help to build competition, that all the older guys know these guys are coming for your job? How much does that help your team get better immediately that way?
HEAD COACH DANTON COLE: That’s where we want to be as a program. You want to be in a situation — and not that the guys are looking over their shoulders. I think when you have a really good program, a really good culture, I think they look forward to that. And I know when we had guys come in, when you have a Rod Brind’Amour or Dwayne Norris and Jason Woolley and guys coming in, we were excited, like ‘hey, we have a chance to win another National Championship.’ You can’t take the view of, this guy might take my ice time and my spot. It’s up to the players to get better.
Yeah, it’s exciting and you can feel the energy on the ice. We’ve got five lines and one extra guy up there, so 16 forwards and nine defensemen, and you know, we go best on best quite a bit in practice, and we try and make it competitive. We’ve been able to now.
There is a little more energy, a little more rubbing and riding out there, a little more banging around out there. It’s been good. The learning curve or the acceleration of learning when the competition is there is just tremendous. It’s a completely different ballgame.
Last year, we had 24 guys, and if you have a couple injuries, everybody is in the lineup. Not that the guys didn’t work but there’s a better urgency, when you have a bad practice or a bad week, you’re not in the lineup and we need every edge we can get right now and that should help us.
Q. A hockey coach’s least favorite question, but is it Lethemon’s job to lose going in?
HEAD COACH DANTON COLE: I’m not a big fan of guarantees. Maybe if Ryan Miller is here, you know, if he wants to come back, if he has another year, sneak him in.
It’s going to be who is playing well. We’ll go into it like we did last year where they are going to be battling it out and split some games and whichever way it goes, it goes. The competition you’re talking about and the rest of the team has to continue on there. And John (Lethemon) did a great job for us last year. We expect that out of him this year, but we also expect drew to really push him.
You know what, I think that’s a great thing back there, and goalies have to be good friends. They have to be great competitors. But at the end of the day, they have got to back the guy that’s in the net and expect him to cheer for you just as much as you’d cheer for him when you’re not in the lineup. It’s a good situation.
Q. Could you comment on Dennis Cesana as far as his role and his expectations are for the season?
HEAD COACH DANTON COLE: Well, you know, right now, he’s been slotted in. He’s with the four guys that are returning for the power play. So he’s sliding in for (Carson) Gatt there.
He’s just really natural there. He’s got a good, good hockey IQ. He’s got a real understanding of how to flow up top on a power play and he moves, and he and Taro (Hirose) interchange and work the puck real well together, so he’s going to get a ton of playing time there.
We’ve had him paired up with all older guys, all the younger guys predominately in practice and he’s been with Jerad Rosburg a lot. Jerad has done a great job leadership-wise just in terms of helping him through practice.
But defensively, he’s good. He’s not a big physical guy, but he’s got an outstanding stick. He defends fairly well and that will keep getting better.
He’s going to see some ice time. He’s going to be real effective for us and if he’s on that power play, I hope he has a ton of points. That would be a good outcome. But he knows what he’s doing out there and he’s been fun to coach.
Q. You finally have a captain that’s here after not having one last year in Sam (Saliba). What difference will that make on and off the ice?
HEAD COACH DANTON COLE: I think we did it as a committee last year. I think the three guys we had did an outstanding job and that wasn’t not by design. I thought spreading it around — there was a lot of pressure on the guys last year and the year they had before, and you know, it changes and expectations; I thought it was good to spread that out.
Once we took the vote in the spring, Sammy was clearly ahead of everyone. So I think that was pretty easy on us as a staff. Then we had four guys that were real close and we decided to kind of keep everybody involved in that and that leadership group so, we have five guys.
And again, they have to spread that out a little bit. All of these can’t be one guy. I think the more leaders we have, I think the more guys that get votes in that, the better the locker room is, and especially if the older guys are.
We don’t have a lot of seniors but we rely on them to lead us and do the right things and whether they wear a letter or not, Zach Osburn doesn’t, but he’s one of the leaders on our team and he generates a lot of stuff in practice. He generates a lot of energy and enthusiasm. He’s going to get a lot of ice time.
You know, the way your seniors go, a lot of time is the way your season goes. And last year, I’ll say that, is I thought our seniors in adding Dylan (Pavelek) and Ed (Minney) didn’t get a lot of playing time and Carson did, but those three guys did an unbelievable job, and again, only one of them wore a letter.
I kind of get away from the letters making a difference in the season. I think it’s the guys in the jerseys that make the difference.
Q. What does your top line have to do to be better than last year? Do you need them to score more, or as far as the success goes? Can they be the same and you still have success and depend on other guys to come up? What’s going to be their responsibility?
HEAD COACH DANTON COLE: Well, you know, their consistency was pretty amazing last year. You know, it wasn’t every game. They had the odd game where they didn’t get some stuff done, but night-in, night-out, they faced the other team’s top defensemen and their top defensive forwards, or whoever they wanted to match up against us. They produced and produced and produced right to the bitter end playing Ohio State and playing Notre Dame right at the end of the year – two really good hockey teams.
Production-wise, they will be around the same. They could be a little more. They could be a lot more. I don’t know. They are going to produce. It will hopefully be spread out a little more. Hopefully the other guys pick up the slack, but what we really need out of them is they bring a certain amount of swagger to us, and they make plays and when guys make plays like that and score goals or have a grade shift or Taro makes a really good pass, it buoys the bench, and you can feel the energy on the bench and feel the confidence. It’s outside the scoring. It’s the way they play. We expect that out of them and they will give that to us.
The other part, I think they can be better. I think they can pressure the puck better on the way back. I think they can be better defensively. I think they can drive the neck more offensively and not be quite as perimeter. I think they will be better this year. Whether they get more points or not, I don’t know, but I think they will be a better line and that will be good for all of us.
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