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I imagine that, at this point, here you are ready for the exhibition game and then it’s Game 1, the excitement has got to be hitting a boiling point?
“I think there is some nervous energy in the room. There is obviously a lot of excitement, too. I think we want to keep them from getting a little overwhelmed with too much excitement. There is a lot of new in our world right now. We’ve got new players, there are 21 of them, and out of those really only two are upperclassmen. The other four who were with us last year, they’re a year in. But not really. They’re still trying to figure it out as well. It’s been interesting trying to help them stay grounded throughout this process, and watching what they’re doing to stay grounded with this process. We want to make sure they understand it is a process. It’s not that we’re going to play and be perfect from the first night. Let’s learn from every experience we have and let’s be better the next time.”
I’m sure you had some expectations of what this process was going to be coming into it, and I’m sure you had a plan in place too. I’m also sure that at some points those plans had some deviations, maybe slight or maybe major. What were some of the unexpected things that came up over this process of building the team and building the roster and program?
“You know, it’s funny. I give Merrimack a ton of credit. The administration, from the president down, has been so supporting and have given us everything we’ve asked for. When I said we needed an assistant my first year so that we could hit the road and go out and recruit — and that was two years out from the program actually starting — they gave me an assistant. When I said I needed a second assistant for the second year because now we had kids on campus and we want to keep doing what we’re doing, then we had a second assistant. They’ve done everything the right way. Now, moving forward and going through the new locker room and facility, everything has been done first class. They’ve been awesome supporting me and helping me build our program. I can’t really say that we went off track, but it’s been a challenge to recruit players to a program that hasn’t started yet. That’s probably the only thing that has thrown us a little. We need to go out and figure out who are the players we want? Who are the players that will fill our ideals? Not just now, but down the road.
What role do you think the locker room facility to play in recruiting? I know seeing the plans, it looks incredible.
“It’s awesome. I just had a conversation with another coach, and in talking about them, he said they were awesome and wished they had them. I think it will be incredibly helpful in recruiting, and we’ve already used it in terms of talking about it and showing drawings. I know recruits love that stuff, and to us it’s secondary but it’s in the forefront of recruits’ minds. What’s their space going to look like?”
Were you able to recruit players faster than you thought? I remember talking to (assistant coach) Brent (Hill) last year and he had said that, around that time, this team was already done. This year, anyway, and you were already on to 2016. So was that quicker than you anticipated? Actually filling out the class with players?
“I think we got a lot of positive responses right away. So yes, it was a little surprising. We were kind of done earlier than we thought, but really you’re never done. Then it came down to, well we were going to hold back, see what happens in transfers. Then the spring came and the transfer thing didn’t really work out as well as I would have liked, so then we reached back out and it was a little scramble at the end. So there was a gap where we felt we were pretty good. It all evened out over the end. I think we as a staff had a plan and we decided to follow that plan with what we needed to do with scholarships and with our money and it all worked out according to that plan.”
The girls you had on campus last year, what was that like for them? Was it trying to just keep them sharp?
“For them, I mean we had three coaches and four players out there. So talk about not being able to get away with anything. They were under our thumb pretty much 24-7. It was a great opportunity for them. We had some players that we felt had certain skills we wanted to see get better, and some of it was just flat-out conditioning. It was a unique opportunity. We had four kids on the ice and we could just go skill work with them, constantly. A goalie that we had her with her own personal goalie coach for a year. All of those things you’d die to do as a player to get better, but never have the time to really do, they did that. So it was a cool experience for them. I think it was hard for them, too. They didn’t have a team. So I asked a couple of them how they feel this year having a team and they think it’s awesome. They love having players around and having a team.
“I think it seems more real. They have players, and a team and the jerseys are here and we’re getting ready for a game. But I also think it was so beneficial (last year) that it was something they’d never give back.”