As I finish this column, it’s the day before Thanksgiving and just moments after my last class of the week has let out. In three days this week, I’ve taught six classes, provided feedback on more than 100 drafts of student work, been observed for evaluation purposes by two of my peers in two different classes, have written two entries for USCHO’s CCHA Blog, attended two meetings, done five loads of laundry, cleaned the bathroom, run errands and written literally thousands of words for the NaNoWriMo writing challenge. (More on that later.)
I still need to finish this column, run some more errands, do some more laundry, clean, and somehow grab some sleep before a 6 a.m. Thursday flight.
In short, it’s a busy week. One of the tasks on my to-do list that I finally got around to late Sunday night was reading through about a dozen or so recent e-mails from readers, all of whom commented on the changes at USCHO, including changes with the conference columns.
What I read surprised me. I’m glad that those of you who wrote like the changes this season. I’m also glad that every one of you who wrote me said that you miss the “old” columns, the longer columns, the chattier ones.
You know what? I do, too — not the length, but the connection to readers that I felt while writing them.
So grab a beverage, make yourself comfortable, and let’s dish a little. I’ve been drafting parts of this all week, but I’ve got about an hour to pull the whole thing together. I’ll risk making my editor grumpy — an editor who apparently has a life — but I am in a chatty mood.
I heart Jim Roque
No, it’s not Valentine’s Day, but it’s never too early to give a coach credit when he’s earned it. I had a chance to catch up with Lake Superior coach Jim Roque after the Wolverines shellacked the Lakers last Friday night.
When talking with Roque, I was reminded immediately of why I like the guy. He’s a coach who is always mindful of his role as teacher. He started freshman goaltender Kevin Kapalka in Friday’s game, the same goalie who had shut out Ferris State twice the weekend before. In the 7-2 loss to Michigan, however, Kapalka was overmatched in the first period, during which he gave up four goals.
The first thing that Roque did when I talked to him was confess that he made a mistake in playing Kapalka.
“I’ve got to tell you,” Roque said, “I’m the only one that thought … that he shouldn’t have started tonight. You know what? He’s a freshman, he’s a young kid, this is an intimidating place. Hindsight’s 20-20, but I just knew. I know he had two shutouts last weekend, but he wasn’t overly tested. I thought he had some good bounces. He’d tell you that, too.”
Roque wasn’t playing to the media; I was the only member of the media who bothered to talk to him after the game. He was completely sincere. He felt bad.
“I kind of put the kid in a bad spot,” Roque said. “He’s still a freshman and I think he’s going to be a good goalie. I just wish I would have had the guts to just go with what I thought, to play Brian [Mahoney-Wilson] and get Kevin ready, to let him see, let him experience — which we did at Miami [when] Brian played the first night.”
Roque was in a hard spot. He’d been rotating his two goaltenders, playing the senior, Mahoney-Wilson, the first night, Kapalka the second. And he knew that if Mahoney-Wilson started and the Lakers lost, people would criticize Roque for not starting the goalie who’d had back-to-back shutouts the weekend before.
“At the same time,” Roque said, “I’ve got to worry about what’s good for Kevin as a player. It’s my job to put those kids in positions where they can have success and do well. I don’t want to lose the kid.
“I honestly believe that our guys, in the first period, they wanted Kevin to win the game for them. I think that’s a tough spot to put a young kid in, so I got him out of there. I didn’t want him to get beat up.”
Mahoney-Wilson looked steady and the Lakers played better in front of him.
Something else after that game really impressed me: how relaxed the Lakers were after the loss, and not inappropriately so. I think that came from Roque, too, who told me that he was impressed with Michigan, that basically LSSU got outplayed by a team on a mission to “get over this Friday night jinx thing they have.” Why punish your team for being on the wrong end of that?
Michigan did get over the Friday night jinx thing, having gone into the weekend 1-3-1 in Friday games. “They kicked us around tonight,” Roque said, “and now we have to pick ourselves up and play a lot better tomorrow night, ready to battle, and see how we respond.”
The Lakers did respond well — another credit to Roque’s coaching. They lost 3-2. Kapalka made 33 saves.
I heart Red Berenson, too
Unless you’re a Michigan hater, it’s hard not to.
When Berenson entered the postgame interview after his team beat the Lakers 7-2 Friday night, he sat down with a cup of black coffee and said, “I’ve got to stay up and watch the game again and see if I saw what I thought I saw.”
I’m not entirely certain where Jim Roque’s guilelessness originates, but I know that Red Berenson knows that he can say pretty much anything he wants to — so he does. He’s an expert at working the media without making it look like he works the media. He has an ease that is charming, a self-possession to which people react either very positively or very negatively. I’ve always liked that his confidence comes from success and that he’s never been pretentious when talking to me. I also like that he can be the king of the understatement — but that he’s often so dead-on when describing his own team that no other analysis is necessary.
“I think our team is gaining a little more confidence, a little more composure, and they’re learning every weekend about things that they have to do better,” Berenson said after the Friday win. “I thought we did a lot more things better tonight.”
There’s the understatement for you. The Wolverines were masterful Friday. There was never a question that they would lose. Even if Mahoney-Wilson had started in the LSSU net, there was no chance the Lakers were winning that game. It may have been closer … or maybe not. As Roque said, Michigan was on a mission. Better? Better than any single-game performance I’ve seen from any team yet this season.
The Wolverines may be only one point out of first place, but they’re not performing as Berenson had, well, foreseen.
Here’s Berenson talking about playing with a lead on a Friday night and about the best-laid plans of CCHA coaches.
I love my job.
Another take on the time out
In late October, Walt Kyle told me that he liked the new television timeout rule. It evens the field, so to speak, between teams who have a lot of television exposure and those who don’t. “Everybody comes back with their first line after the break,” Kyle said.
Jim Roque told me, though, that he sees the television timeout a little differently.
“The time out has really changed everything, too, for us,” Roque said. “My fourth line barely plays. The problem is if you run your lines four lines and you hit a TV timeout, your best players may not play for five minutes. Rick [Schofield] can’t sit there for five minutes; I’ve got to get him back out there. So I skip over the fourth line. So the rules of that fourth line have changed a little bit.
“Now basically we’ve got nine forwards who are the guys you lean on and then you’ve got a fourth line that has to understand that they might play three shifts a period, so the dynamics with all this timeout stuff has kind of changed a little bit.”
That NaNoWriMo thing
This month is National Novel Writing Month. Who says so? These folks do. The whole idea is to draft a 50,000-word novel between Nov. 1 and Nov. 30. Everyone who reaches that benchmark between Nov. 25 and midnight Nov. 30 is deemed a “winner.”
I registered to do this last year and didn’t make it past two days. As I finish this column, I’m just over 40,000 words and on pace to finish on time.
It’s not 40,000 good words. The whole idea is just to spit something out, draft without editing, write for the sake of writing. I know there’s any easy punch line for many of you long-suffering CCHA readers, and go ahead and take your best shot.
If you are at all interested in the creative process, though, I highly recommend this little experiment. What I’ve written so far isn’t linear in large chunks, hasn’t gone through a spell check, is raw, unedited, repetitive (yes, I know, I make it easy for you), but it’s also the result of the most fun I’ve had in years. Seriously, the NaNoWriMo challenge has been a blast.
The fact that the organization that sponsors this does good things for literacy initiatives, too, is just icing.
There’s a script-writing challenge every April called “Script Frenzy.” I’m in. I hope you are too.
And just in time for the Frozen Four!
Speaking of novels …
USCHO has many fine writers, but none finer than my friend Dave Hendrickson, our Hockey East columnist. This week, Dave announced that his novel, “Breaking the Ice,” will soon be published by Westside Books.
What’s coming up?
Oh, I don’t know. A final College Hockey Showcase post-mortem, I’m sure. It’ll be interesting to see how the CCHA does in non-conference play this weekend, too.
And don’t forget that Black Friday brings the picks blog.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!