Holding Their Heads High

If points were awarded for locker-room speeches, Alaska-Anchorage coach Dean Talafous would be near the top of the country.

And it’s not because of screaming or throwing things. It’s due to his message.

Recently, Talafous revealed a bit of what he would say to his Seawolves as they prepared to face Colorado College in their last regular-season series. Keep in mind that going into the weekend, his team had a shaky hold on third place in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, and probably needed at least a couple of points in the series to earn home ice in the playoffs.

Imagine you’re in the Seawolves’ locker room, and read on:

“I think the media and the fans, the standings are very important to them, and maybe even to some coaches,” Talafous said. “I’ve had teams that have won championships and I’ve had teams that have come in last. Wherever you are, I think you’re best just concentrating on the next game and getting better.

“We need to get better. We not only want to win this weekend, and we not only want to get home ice, and we not only want to get to the Final Five and everything else, but on top of all that, we’re a young program that’s trying to earn some respect and trying to move up in the college ranks.

“We don’t ever want to lose sight of that. We don’t ever want to play conservative, we don’t want to play scared, we don’t want to play unsure of ourselves or hoping to win. We want to play a fearless, aggressive, attacking, confident game. If we can’t win with it this year because we don’t have the talent, it will carry into next year with more experience and more talent. Attitude is what wins championships, and that’s why North Dakota’s doing so well. Sure, they have the talent now, but it’s the way they play the game, along with their talent, that makes them a champion.

“If I told our guys, ‘We’ve got to win, we’ve got to win,’ they’re going to play differently. It’s more important that we go out and play the same way we did Saturday against North Dakota, the same way we did against Minnesota (last) Sunday. We need to go after people and play as hard as we can and not worry, not want to win so bad that we play not to lose. We need to play with confidence and without fear.”

If you’re a 21-year old college student, words like these mean something to you. Cliches like “we need a win” are fine, but what if you don’t get the win? Is it the end of the world?

This is where Talafous knows his role. Alaska-Anchorage hockey is probably not going to consume the remainder of his players’ lives. But if he can instill a good attitude into them, he has succeeded in his job.

Sure, it doesn’t hurt that Anchorage is the feel-good story of the WCHA this season after finishing 1997-98 in the depths of last place.

But UAA is a different kind of team. The Seawolves are not going to win many shootouts. They’re not going to fare well when they take a lot of penalties.

But attitude has carried them this season.

And maybe it will carry them into the future. The Seawolves have a highly successful freshman class now, and Talafous said he is very happy with the five youngsters he has coming in next season.

“We think there’s no question that the kids that are here are going back and telling their buddies,” Talafous said. “They’re saying ‘You should come up and join us.’ We have some fun and we work hard. We get along and we play the game with class — people respect the way we play.

“It’s very unusual to see a team play with so much sportsmanship. I think it’s been lost for so long that some of us coaches have to take a stand and bring it back into the game.”

Would you expect anything less from Dean Talafous?