Some people run, while others choose to ignore them. But still others grab hold and work to overcome them. Those folks may conquer, or they may fall short.
For Tim Watters and Dean Talafous, the latest challenge is as head coach of a WCHA team — working to get to the top of one of the premier Division I hockey conferences in the nation.
Both are looking forward to the work ahead.
Watters Returns to MTU
Tim Watters returns to Michigan Tech after a splendid 13-year career in the NHL. He spent seven years with the Winnipeg Jets (1981-88) where he was a co-captain and received the team’s 7th Player Award for contributions both on and off the ice. He was signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Kings (1988), playing for the next six years. He was voted the team’s top defenseman and won the club’s Unsung Hero Award.
Watters, a Kamloops, B.C., native, played his college hockey with the Huskies and scored 19 goals and 93 points in three seasons. In 1981 he helped the Huskies to a third place finish in the NCAA tournament and was named an All-American and to the All-WCHA team.
He got a taste of coaching last year as an assistant with the Boston Bruins. He liked the experience and returned to Houghton in August.
“It’s just fabulous to be back; it’s great being back in Copper Country,” said Watter. “Ever since I turned pro, we’ve had a summer home close by. For me and my family, being back coaching the Huskies is a great thing.”
The Huskies are off to a good start with a 4-1 overall and 1-1 WCHA record. And Watters is happy about the team’s early-season success.
“Our players have picked up the systems very well. Whenever there’s a coaching change there are always periods of adjustment for everyone. The players are getting a feel for me and I’m doing the same with them. But it’s gone quite well and we’ll keep going strong.
“We had players step to the front: Andre Savage, Jeff Mikesch, Rob Kinch and Jason Prokopetz. They’ve done a very good job for us. I think throughout the year a lot of players will have the chance to prove what they can do. We lost a lot of players to graduation and other things, so there will be plenty of opportunities.”
So why would a man with a chance to coach in the NHL move to a new challenge at the collegiate level?
“I believe this program has great potential,” he said. “It’s a program I went through and went on to be successful. This program can offer, in my eyes, besides the top education and good hockey, a school in an area that brings the best out of people. Quality people are here and that is the type of program we want; we want to attract quality people.”
That sounds like a solid theme to work with, and Watters has proven at least two things in his career; he understands what it takes to be successful and he knows how to accomplish his goals.
“Right now the best thing about our young season is I am very pleased with the character of the team. It is a great group of individuals and all the coaches look to mold them into a good hockey club.”
North to Alaska
Last May, Dean Talafous became just the second coach in Alaska-Anchorage hockey history. He firmly believes in the hockey program and wants to win a national championship. He believes he can accomplish that lofty goal, or he would not have taken the job.
But he also knows that it will take time, a commitment from everyone in the program, and a “no excuses” attitude.
That attitude helped Talafous win a 1994 NCAA Division III national title at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and a berth in four straight championship finals. No other NCAA Div. III team advanced to the finals four straight years. Plus he spent several successful seasons in the NHL.
Talafous isn’t new to the WCHA, having played at Wisconsin (1971-74), where he helped the Badgers to the NCAA title, being named tourney MVP in the process. Before going to UW-River Falls he was an assistant at Minnesota when the Gophers won two WCHA titles.
So far this year he has enjoyed some early-season success with a 2-2 overall record. Last weekend the Seawolves dropped a pair of close WCHA games to Minnesota-Duluth, and are 0-2 in the league.
“So far the players have been real receptive to our ideas,” said Talafous. “We have three captains who are good listeners. They follow instructions and the rest of team follows their lead. Stacy Prevost, David Vallieres and Todd Bethard have been good leaders.
“We are much farther along than I thought we would be at this point. We have to look at our own progress and not the end results. We must play strong defense and then generate more offense. In the areas of discipline and team defense we are moving along. Most important is the effort from the players has been there; there’s a good work ethic with them.”
The Duluth, Minn., native will apply the same tactics used on him to convince players to move to Alaska and play hockey.
“We can make people aware of how Alaska can grab you — the beauty and friendly people,” he said. “There’s no other place on earth with the beauty of the ocean and mountains. People here come from other places and have to bond together and support each other to get along. Alaska is not for everybody, but for the player who wants adventure and the experience of a lifetime, there’s no other place like it.”
Talafous has noted the attention the Seawolves get and that has been his biggest adjustment this year.
“The big difference [from UW-River Falls] is the media attention. There is tremendous community interest. I’m speaking, doing TV, radio and newspaper interviews on a daily basis. We must be organized to get the job done on the ice, which is number one for us. People desperately want a winner here.”
With time and that “no excuses” attitude, the winning can’t be far off.