Scott Borek has definite ideas, ideas on how he’d like to see his players perceived by residents of Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.
“I guess I would really like to see us have a family, wholesome image. Hockey players have to fight for that. They’re seen as wild — the kind of guys who work hard but party hard, too.
“There are negative stereotypes about hockey players, and to some extent, football players that should have changed already. These days, guys are working twelve months a year to be successful.” Borek says that this recent breed of college hockey player stays conditioned in the off-season, and tries hard in the classroom as well.
Part of that change is to alter the way the Laker hockey team interacts with Sault Ste. Marie.
“The team is really involved with our community,” Borek says. He wants the 15,000 area residents to be comfortable with his players. “I want to have the kind of kids on our team that people in the community would like to have over for dinner. [The kind of players that] they would feel good about having their daughters date.”
If you like hockey — or hockey players, for that matter — Lake Superior State University is your place.
“If you want to be involved in hockey, you might as well come to hockey heaven,” says Borek. In his first year as Laker head coach, Borek has learned at least one big lesson: “This is the team, and success is expected.”
As the only Division I sport at a school whose other teams belong to the Division II Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, hockey rules at LSSU. With an enrollment of just 3,301, more than one percent of the University population is directly involved with the hockey program.
“The bad thing,” says Borek, “is that everyone in town is watching you. How their winter goes is how our season goes. If you want to be in this kind of a spotlight, this is the place to do it.”
It’s hard to believe that this is only the second full year that Borek has been with the Lakers. Last year Borek completed his first year as an associate coach at LSSU, under head coach Jeff Jackson. Before signing on, Borek served for three years as head coach at Colby College in Maine, and he was a little concerned about how his wife, Cheryl, would react to moving from their native New England to the heartland of the country.
“When we came here, I thought I’d have to talk her into it a little bit. It’s small town, USA, but she loved the idea. She loves it here.
“My family has adjusted well, I think. I have three young kids. My youngest was born here.”
In such a small town, in such a high-profile job, Borek and his family are living examples of the kind of relationship he wants his team to build with Sault Ste. Marie. “My wife is working with day-care. My daughter skates. Sometimes she won’t go out on the ice unless Mom and Dad are with her.
“When you have young kids you can’t be private. With three kids you meet people.” Borek’s daughter is four years old, and his sons are three and one.
Of course, such daily interaction brings contact with Laker fans, and Laker fans are not exactly quiet when the subject is their hockey team. “It doesn’t bother me,” says Borek, who knew what he was getting into when he took the job as head coach. “Last year I saw this when I was sitting with Jeff. People would give him advice. You hear it, and it comes with the territory.”
So what does Borek hear from Laker fans? “I think people around me and in the community didn’t appreciate the rebuilding phase we’re in,” says Borek. Not only did the Lakers experience a coaching change from last season, but there are many new faces on the team itself — six freshmen rotated into this Laker roster.
“For the first half of the season,” says Borek, “it was stressful because of the expectations I had for the team, and for what the fans expected.
“I knew that we’d be rebuilding this season before Jeff left. I knew it last year when we brought in all those kids,” says Borek, who recruited all of the new Laker players himself. “The day I took over, everything changed. As an assistant, I would have been more patient.”
As a head coach, however, Borek almost forgot about having to rebuild the program. “When the coaching changed, I put the notion of rebuilding on the back burner.”
The coaching change was an adjustment that everyone had to make. “Obviously, when you step in for a guy like Jeff, it’s a difficult scenario if you take it the wrong way. Jeff’s a big name. I’ve tried not to be Jeff Jackson, but to be myself.”
Scott Borek is the only Laker coach the freshmen have known. “The newer recruits knew me in only one way. In every case, I was the only one who recruited every one of them. I do think the older players had difficulty adjusting. They play for one guy for three or four years, but when the roles change, it’s almost like getting to know people all over again.”
Borek’s coaching style is much different from his predecessor’s. “There are times when I’m more emotional than what Jeff was. There are times when I need to vent. The guys can’t respond to that by getting down on themselves.”
And he’s learning how to respond to his players, especially those who played for Jackson. The coach and upperclassmen have to learn to understand each other, he says, because “those are the leaders that you count on.
“Actually, they’ve adjusted really well. That’s the key to our last fifteen games. They know when to listen and when to tune me out.”
Something must be working, because in spite of the turnover in coaching and personnel, the Lakers remain among the top ten nationally, and they continue to hover at the top of the CCHA.
Says the new head coach, “We’ve achieved at a level I’m comfortable with.”
Borek says that Laker fans can expect to see much of the same kind of hockey that’s made the team successful. “You’ll see us continue to move back to a defensive style of hockey.
“We lost our entire first power play this season. We lost the defenseman of the year, and the leading goal scorer in the history of Laker hockey.
“When I came in, I wanted to add more offense to our team, but we don’t attract those kinds of players. We play more of a grinding style of hockey. The longer I’m here, the more grinding we will become.”
Whatever his style, both on and off the ice, Scott Borek seems to be well on his way toward success in Laker hockey and in Sault Ste. Marie. “It’s been a learning experience, no question — a very positive one. If I could go back and change some things, I know I would.
“I want to mature enough to realize that I need to grow with this job.”