NL: You’ve been the Head Coach & GM of the New Hampshire Avalanche program for five years. Can you compare the caliber of play in the EHL from day one until now? The league just seems to get better & better each year?
CC: The EHL as a league gets deeper and deeper every year. There is no easy games and that is a credit to the all the teams and coaches. I think our league is becoming more popular across the country and a lot of players from all over want to come to the EHL because of its College commitment track record. The proof is in the numbers and every year our league is at the top when it comes to NCAA D2/D3 college hockey commitments. That has been the strength of our league and it has improved our teams recruiting more and more and it shows in the depth of our teams. Our league has done a lot of things to stand out from all the rest such as: our All Star team playing NCAA college hockey teams to our final four that has been played at Div 1 Providence College the past three years. We try to do more and more each year as a league to prove that we are a great league if you are working towards getting on college hockey radars.
NL: If a player is interested in your program, or the EHL in general, how do they make that known to you as a coach? Do you have camps to sign up for? Should they email you, call you, etc.?
CC: I think every team has its own nitch but for us we do have a Main Camp every off season and we also have spring and summer tournament opportunities. We encourage players and families to email and/or call us at anytime to speak about our program. Families should do their research and reach out to the junior teams that fit them the best. I encourage players to visit different junior teams maybe get on the ice for a practice this way you can get a feel for what that program has to offer. I think that is standard for most of the teams in the EHL.
NL: Your program is always toward the top (if not, at the top) of the league in regards to NCAA Commitments. How gratifying is that to you as a Head Coach of a top program in the EHL?
CC: There is only one reason a player wants to play junior hockey and that is to commit to the NCAA level. To me as a Head Coach in the EHL there is nothing more important than player commitments, it is the most important key to success of any junior hockey organization. We focus on this every season and we work very hard for our players our guys know if you work hard you will have a chance to play at the NCAA level. To me having a large number of NCAA commitments is the key to our success each year and the key in helping us recruit future inspiring student athletes. Championships and your position in the standings is great but NCAA commitments is where an organizations success really matters.
NL: What advice would you give a young player that comes into your program, and aspires to move up the ladder of development and play Tier II after he plays for you?
CC: We do not have a large number of guys leave our junior program to play Tier II to be honest. With our commitment numbers not many of our younger players leave because they can reach their goal of playing college hockey with us. But believing in the process is huge and players now all want to skip the steps and get to the highest level as fast as they can and it does not always work that way. Dominate the playing level you are currently playing in and than go to the next level wherever that may be. Be patient, work hard and work on developing your skills on and off the ice.
NL: Can you describe your programs structure? Practice, video, workouts, community service etc.?
CC: We have a really neat set up for our players. We own our own rink so we have ability to practice five days a week and also have skills ice available. At our rink our players have access to a brand new locker room facility with a change room giving our players a college hockey atmosphere every day. We have a warming room area where we do our video sessions as a team (this season due to covid-19 restrictions we have had to be a little more creative but we make things work the best we can). We have a great work out facility with a full time strength coach and we are in the gym 3-4 days a week so our players are being trained off the ice by a certified strength coach not our hockey coaching staff. We also have a full time goalie coach who works with our goalies on the ice every week which is something not a lot of programs have to offer. On normal years we are a more active in the community where we are a part of National Drug Awareness Day and Keeping our Veterans Warm both in Derry NH. Our players also volunteer their time at our rink during our Learn to Skate and Mini Mite skates each week. Our players are very busy and spend a lot of time together working towards their common goal of playing college hockey. Our program gives our players as many resources as possible to improve every day on and off the ice.
Chris Cerrella is the Head Coach & GM of the New Hampshire Jr Avalanche in the EHL. Prior to coaching the Av's, Cerrella starred at Division I Quinnipiac, wearing a letter as a Senior and scoring 205 PTS in 126 GP during his NCAA career.
NL: You have been with Minot for 8 years – and have gone from Scout to Director of Player Personnel to Assistant GM. In that time the organization has won a lot of hockey games and continues to move players onto college hockey. Explain the organizations philosophy to scouting & building its team each year?
CL: Our philosophy has developed over the years as we have created relationships in the hockey world, a culture of being a winner on and off the ice and a respected brand in the NAHL. We have learned to scout everywhere for players and you can find players anywhere that are really good hockey players. I think players need to know that if they play the right way people will find you. We are looking for players that compete in all 3 zones, skating is above average, bring more than one tangible to a team and are hockey players rather than someone that just seems to be playing hockey. We have also embraced the idea having players for all different parts of the hockey world can be a very positive experience for players and a great dynamic in the room.
NL: Minot has always had a niche with Minnesota players. Obviously you are based out of the Twin Cities Area. Does it matter to you & the staff where players are from? Is it important to have diversity on the roster in regards to where the players come from or is it just “find the best players possible?”
CL: I think we are always looking for the best players possible no matter where they come from! As I mentioned in our philosophy, I think as we have created relationships and a positive brand in the hockey world and it has expanded our ability to build a more diverse roster which we like a lot. Minnesota has many high end players, I have strong relationships in Minnesota, we are in the Central Division and come to Minnesota often so playing out of Minot, North Dakota should not matter that much because they will play in front of family quite often. On top of that, We may have the best facilities and arena in the league with a very supportive owner so we will definitely go after those players for sure.
NL: Can you explain how the NAHL has changed since you first came into the league? From the outside, it certainly looks like the reputation of the league is at an all-time high?
CL: The leagues level of play over the last 10 years, especially the last 5 has been incredible. It’s been a huge talking point in hockey circles I’m around as well. The number of commits really tells the story from a numbers perspective but I really encourage people to come and see the level of play. Not just the number of commits, but to really big time schools as well. An example is Kyler Kleven. He was the forward of the year last year playing for Minot and committed to UMD before ever playing a shift in the USHL. He will take that step this year and we are really excited for him to have that opportunity. I think very high end players playing their first year of Junior in the NAHL may be a very smart move depending on their opportunities for ice and role elsewhere. I know personally I have had to adjust my evaluation of players to make sure I’m bringing in players that are ready for our division since I first started no doubt.
NL: What advice would you give a player / family that wants to play in the NAHL? Should they reach out to the staff? Sign up for camps, etc.?
CL: A player or family should definitely start some research on NAHL organizations and reach out to create a relationship. I know when I hear from a player or family it shows a strong commitment to learning about the next level and Minot. I suggest starting this at least one year before they plan to play Junior. One of the big reasons for our continued success is we have started relationships with players on our current roster a year or two earlier. This would involve visits to Minot, camps or a combination of both. I can be reached at 612-859-6852 or firstname.lastname@example.org
NL: Describe the Minot community & how much they support the team? The facility & attendance certainly shows they care about hockey there?!
CL: Minot is an outstanding place and community to play Junior Hockey. An example is this year how our owner Brad Porter, along with our organizations employees, billets, sponsors and fans have worked together to keep hockey going if at all possible during this pandemic. Why not Minot? Here is a little look at Junior Hockey in Minot, ND https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byKJAUHTUP
Chris Lonke began scouting for the Tauros in the North American Hockey League in 2012 prior to becoming an Assistant General Manager. Lonke was a prominent Head Coach at the High School level in Minnesota before stepping away in 2019.
NL: Please tell our parents & players how hard it is to play in the NAHL?! Between the USHL, tender, draft, and camp process – surely thousands of names come across your desk throughout the season?
GH: I would have to say the NAHL is one of the best leagues in North America. It continues to grow and get better every year. I would have to consider it second best after the USHL. However it is usually a lot older than the USHL. You have to be able to play at a high level with speed, skill, and hockey sense but also be tough and be able to take and make a hit. With the draft and the tenders we are able to sign a certain number of players each season. Those spots are limited depending on how many tenders and picks we have, which could be different every year. Every game you play is important because you never who may be watching. Our scouts could be at the game or us coaches could be. With HockeyTV now we are able to watch and scout that way as well. That certain game could put you on a NAHL teams Radar so always show up and do your best. That would be my advice to kids who want a shot to make it. Always give your best.
NL: What is Bismarck’s process in regards to building a team each year? You have tenders, draft picks, tenders, free agents, etc. Every team builds differently….how does Bismarck build?!
GH: Yes we definitely take pride in who we tender and draft every year. Those are the guys we truly think can come in and make an impact right away. With the number of players out there though and the limited slots we have for tenders and picks, we also are big on bringing kids into our camps in the summer. Tenders and Draft picks don’t fill a team so we take pride in our camps and getting the best free agents to them. Any player has a very good chance to showcase himself at our camps and earn that roster spot every year. Our pre Draft camps let us look at players before the draft to see whether we would like to draft them or offer them a spot at our main camp which then they would be competing to make our final roster.
NL: Bismarck has been around a long time in the NAHL. Explain how the community supports the team and how important that is to running a reputable organization like yours?
GH: Yes Bismarck has a lot of tradition and has had a lot of success over their time in the NAHL. Not only have they won, but they have put a great amount of players to the D1 college level every season. And those numbers have just kept growing. The community supports our team in many ways. One way is they pack the barn every night and cheer us on, and another is the wonderful business’s that sponsor us to help us financially succeed. We also have many great Billet Families who host our players each and every season. We cannot thank billet families enough for opening up their homes. Lastly we have an owner in Thom Brigl, who is from this area. He takes great pride in running this organization the professional way and that obviously is a big reason for our continued success.
NL: You have a great resume as an assistant coach. Working under Layne Sedevie, a coach who has an impeccable track record in the NAHL – what have you learned from him so far that you think prepares you to be a Head Coach?
GH: My philosophy as a coach so far has been, I can never stop learning and growing as a coach. Even when I become a head coach I want to keep that philosophy and keep becoming the best I can be. I learn things everyday as a coach whether it’s from practice, games, or just reading, or talking to different coaches/hockey people. Definitely here in Bismarck is a wonderful stepping-stone for me to become a head coach. Layne has been here for along time and has had many winning seasons. I am learning from him on a daily basis. One thing Layne does really well is he thinks about the decisions he makes for a good period of time. I think that is an important trait to have as a head coach.
NL: What advice would you give a player that wants to play in the NAHL next season?
GH: My advice would be to live everyday in the present. Don’t worry about what you have done or what you need to get done. Live in the now and attack each day likes it your last. Show up to the rink or even your workouts and give it 100%. Don’t take anything for granite because there is always someone else who wants it just as bad as you. Be a good kid on and off the ice and then lead by example. Another big thing is being open to change. Not every coach coaches the same so have an open mind and be coachable.
Garrett Hendrickson has been an assistant coach in the NAHL & SIJHL after starring at Concordia in the MIAC. The Center from Virginia, Minnesota played junior hockey in the BCHL and NAHL prior to the NCAA.
NL: Why do you think the EHL is a good option for an aspiring player that wants to play NCAA Hockey or advance to a higher level of Junior Hockey?
BZ: The EHL has a great group of coaches and leadership that have proven to put player advancement to the forefront of the league, the players are in a spot to be seen on a number of occasions by scouts and a coaches at a ton of different levels.
NL: Can you talk about how gratifying it is as a Head Coach when one of your players commits to an NCAA Program? It must feel good knowing your program develops players for the next level & a player reaches a personal goal?!
BZ: I feel this is the main reason we do what we do as coaches. As former players, now coaches we all had coaches that took the time to get to know us as people as well as a player and had the best intentions for our future. Now seeing a player in our locker room get to reach his goal of finding an academic fit as well as athletic is very gratifying.
NL: You played College and Professional Hockey. After a playing career that brought you to levels most kids dream of…. what advice would you give a player that wants to accomplish what you have?!
BZ: Control where you are rather then where you think or want to be. There are so many things that are uncontrollable, but being your best where you are will continue to make you the best of your ability.
NL: What is your process in the off-season when building your teams? Do you have try-out camps? Do you have scouts that find you players?
BZ: We do have a tryout ( usually in April) but we are also in a great area for scouting year round and getting to see players more then once for the most part. This season was a lot of live barn and HockeyTV and such to gather as much information as possible. We do have scouts in a few different areas and with my travels as a player, I’ve met some great people that will help send me information on players.
NL: What is the best part of coaching in the EHL?
BZ: The league is very competitive which on a personal level makes us (coaches) have to be prepared and think and get better, so that’s always exciting. Also, working with the group of coaches with a common goal of helping players , no matter what team they are on, to help advance is a great thing to be a part of. We all want to win but we understand that putting kids in a competitive league will prepare them to make that jump to the next level.
Bill Zaniboni starred in the net at Northern Michigan in the CCHA NCAA Division I prior to a professional career in the IHL, SPHL, & Central Hockey League. Zaniboni won a Presidents Cup with the Mississippi Surge in 2011 prior to becoming a coach.
NL: Your team hasn’t lost in regulation (12-0-1), so far this season. Tell us about your team in terms of how you built it during the off-season? Do you have geographic areas you focus on with recruiting? Try-out camps? What is your process?
AH: We are fortunate to get off to the start of the season like we have. We build our teams throughout each year within the year. For us, we try to project where are current team is going to finish with possible returners, we then look to our Premier team to gauge what players are ready to make the jump to the EHL team. Once we have a clear understanding of our internal picture, we then attempt to see what we need and what type of players we want to recruit. We work extremely hard to recruit the type of player we want, and that player can come from almost anywhere in the country. We like players who can skate, think the game at a high level and love to compete. We have steered away from tryout camps as we like to be focused and authentic when we recruit a player. Every player we talk to, we make sure we have spent numerous hours watching online and live prior to our first talks.
NL: What would you tell a player or family if they want to play for your organization next season? What is the process if they want to connect? Do they just call? Email? Fill out a player questionnaire? Sign up for try-out camp?
AH: Any player who would like to be an 87 should always start by filling out our player interest form on our website or social media accounts. Once we see there is an interest, we will start our internal process and put the player on our recruit board. From there, the player can expect a member of our staff to reach out and begin conversations. If a player is coming from an advisor, we usually start talks with them and then progress to more personal talks with the recruits.
NL: The EHL is a good league…. A really good league! Can you talk about the league in general and how it has developed into a huge part of the ladder of development in the U.S.?
AH: The league has become so strong because we have focused on making our players aware of who they and what they can achieve. While we remain a league that predominantly dominated the division 3 ranks, we are beginning to see younger players play in our league because of how difficult our league is on a day in and day out basis. Playing against older, junior level players has allowed younger players to develop quick and make the jump high in the ladder of development. Our players who remain steadfast of reaching a division 2 or 3 commitment understand that if you can find success in our league it will translate to the college game and beyond. We are a league that understands, adapts, and delivers.
NL: Can you talk about how you run your program? The practices, video sessions, workouts, etc. What is the structure of your program? You are obviously doing something right having the best record in the league to date (knock on wood!).
AH: We run our program under the idea we will always be professional, innovative, and unique. If we cannot provide this to our players, we will not get what we ask from them. We demand a tremendous amount, and we expect our results to be driven by our performances both on and off the ice. We use InStat for our analytics and video breakdown of our games, we record our practices for immediate video review if need be and we make sure our players are taken care of from practice to games. We fully believe if you put everything into your program that benefits the players, the players will in turn do everything to make it successful. We try and run our program by taking a mix of everything we have learned and observed from others. We continue to fine tune what we do and we always make sure we are learning and growing.
NL: Some players in your league gain college commitments to schools, and some move on to other levels of Junior Hockey. If you had a player that was, for example a 2003 right now and he was excelling, would you try to help that player try to reach a league such as the NAHL?
AH: Without a doubt, we will. It is the main reason we are in the business. Our goal is to develop the player both on and off the ice. If a player has the ability to climb the ladder, we need to support, educate, and deliver. We have shown in our short history that we fully believe in this statement and we have done so in the past with our players.
Adam Houli was a standout NCAA player with the Trinity Bantams prior to turning pro with the Danbury Whalers in 2011. Houli also scouts for the New Jersey Titans of the NAHL.
NL: You’ve been with Nexlevel Hockey since early April when the company launched. What was it that attracted you to joining this industry?
TD: I’ll be very honest. At first, I wasn’t. As a coach I saw advisors overstep their bounds, oversell players for “placement”, and use a lot of fear-based tactics to sign players. There were several advisors doing right by the families that hired them, but they weren't in the majority. It's a role that when done the right way can make a huge positive impact on their hockey careers and help out the staffs of the teams that trust them. It is an area of the game that plain and simply has the opportunity to get much better and we are aiming to do just that.
NL: You played Junior Hockey, College Hockey, and Professional Hockey…Those experiences make you uniquely qualified for this job. Can you explain how your playing and coaching/scouting backgrounds work together when working with your players?
TD: As a guy who played into my 30’s, I was lucky to develop relationships and see many different situations within the game. Nobody has it all figured out and playing experience is not a must when it comes to advising, but there are some guys that teams will just avoid because they don't know what they are talking about. There are a lot of pretenders out there that make life harder on the players they represent. I remember dealing with specific advisors while coaching in the NAHL and have learned a lot of what not to do. There is such a fine line between having the player’s best interest prioritized and creating negativity for that player. I can put myself in the coaches & player’s shoes because I have worn them both.
NL: What is the most gratifying part of the job so far?
TD: It’s the same as when I was coaching. Providing honest feedback. Our role in understanding the situation and providing insight on proper development is powerful. It is never easy for a young player to hear that he isn’t good enough to play in a certain league or on a particular team. If that is the reality of the situation, then why not be honest and use the “why” to improve and get there. I played for three coaches who really developed my awareness, Chris Brown – Marian Sabres NCAA, Jim Bermingham – Knoxville IceBears SPHL, and Tracy Egeland – Rocky Mountain Rage CHL. These men gave me positive & negative feedback continuously. It was always honest, good or bad. Playing for these guys really impacted me and allowed me to play longer than anyone would have guessed when I was 18. I’m forever grateful for the experience gained in the seasons I played on their teams.
NL: How is Nexlevel Hockey “different?”
TD: I’d say we are pretty fun. Having a family advisor is something both the player and family should enjoy. Not all, but most kids and families that come to us are wound pretty tightly at first. It's inherently part of not understanding the game and there is nothing wrong with that. We try to make sure we can enjoy the player & mentor relationship. At the end of the day, the family, the advisor, and the player are a small team and the best teams I played on had a lot of fun. I want families to see value and to “want” to work with us. I believe we are making a difference for the kids we work with and that is gratifying. As you get to know these families, you appreciate the fact they trust you to do what is right for their kids and their hockey careers. My wife Ashley and I have two hockey players of our own so I have a high level of appreciation for the situation. Also, we have an experienced team at Nexlevel to lean on. Our time playing, coaching, & scouting has us positioned to help the kid out there who understands it is possible they might need help.
NL: You are coaching for Minnesota Hockey’s CCM High Performance League for the first time. How have you enjoyed getting back behind the bench?
TD: You forget how much you miss it. I’m coaching the Voyageurs 18U (Northern Minnesota) team and we are off to a good start (5-1-0). We are solid on the defensive side and I’ve been really lucky to have great Assistant Coaches in Chris Triggs & Sean Graves. We don’t get a lot of practice time because our kids are spread out from Duluth all the way to Moorhead. We teach the things they will learn at the Junior level like puck possession and shortening their shifts. The Minnesota kids are so skilled, but tend to pace their game because of long shifts. They just aren't used to four lines that can all play at a very high level. Instead, we prepare them with our expectation of their best 45 seconds and making good choices during changes. I was lucky to spend a five seasons working under very outstanding Junior coaches (Marty Murray - Minot Minotauros & Tim Madsen - Minnesota Wilderness). Watching how these men went about teaching the game really helped me develop as a coach.
Terry Dunbar played profesionally for five seasons in the SPHL, ECHL, & CHL. Dunbar was inducted into the Marian University Athletic Hall of Fame in 2016.
NL: Having spent 8 years in the Central Division of the NAHL, when we talk about “style of play,” what kind of adjustments do you expect to see now being a Head Coach in the South Division of the NAHL?
GR: I believe every division has a little different style of play and the process of getting ready for the South division starts with how you build your team. The teams that have success in the NAHL have traditionally been an older, more experienced group of players. Having a team that can play a heavier game while keeping it simple and managing the puck tends to have the most success. The coaches in this division are all highly experienced and are going to have solid game plans heading into the games. Being able to make in game adjustments and find ways to relieve some of the pressure on our players will be key in helping them have success. The games will have a little more of a pro style feel to them with the atmospheres and the style of play so having the players mentally prepared for that is something that certainly needs to be a focal point when heading into the season.
NL: Having been chosen to lead an expansion team this season, can you explain the philosophy in building a competitive team in year one – while at the same time, laying a foundation for future success?
GR: When Mary Anne gave me the opportunity to lead this team the first thing I wanted to do was find someone that I trusted and that I knew had the same vision as I did. So being able to bring Keenan Kelly onboard to coach alongside of me was a huge addition and a pretty easy decision for me. From there we wanted to identify players on other teams that we could trade for to add some NAHL experienced players to our roster. It's imperative to have that group of high character players that have dealt with the adversity that comes during a 60 game season. We wanted the players that we added to have leadership qualities as well as the ability to play key roles in our lineup. While we were focused on that we also looked across all the junior leagues in North America so that we could continue to add junior experienced players to our group. Through that process we were able to put together a very good nucleus of players that we feel has the maturity to create the culture we desire and will need when you bring a collection of 25 players to a new city from all different teams. That is the group that we will lean on to help our first year guys get acclimated to moving away from home for the first time, understanding role identity, and more importantly maturing into good ambassadors of our team in the community of Wichita Falls.
NL: What brand/identity do you want to instill in your program as you begin season one? What do you want people/players to say when they hear “Wichita Falls Warriors?”
GR: As a coach you always want your team to be known for being a hard working tough team to play against. With that being said, our focus as a coaching staff is to make sure our guys have good practice habits and that we compete on a daily basis. Our group needs to have that competitive nature embedded in them so when we get into games they have a good base to succeed. We want every player in our locker room to be able to push each other on and off the ice so that we can eliminate some of the team weaknesses that can show up on game day because of lack of effort. It's not a secret that competition eliminates complacency and that is going to be something that our guys will be aware of and understand. We ultimately want our opponents to know what they are in for every time they step on the ice against us.
NL: How has the community accepted the Wichita Falls Warriors so far? I am sure they’re starving for hockey once again?! When you were in Bismarck, we remember ALWAYS seeing your teams being active in the community on social media…
GR: The community is excited to have hockey back in Wichita Falls and the opportunity that we have to help build a youth program is something that we are taking a great sense of pride in. Junior hockey has always been known as a place where hockey players can showcase their abilities to achieve a lifelong dream of playing collegiate hockey at the highest levels. The part of junior hockey that often gets overlooked is the amount of time these players put in around their communities over the course of the season. The most notable situation that occurs is the players being involved in the youth hockey program helping with learn to skate and/or coaching teams. What people are unaware of is the countless hours that players can be at the elementary schools reading books and playing games with them. Being role models to them while teaching them healthy eating habits and teaching them the long term effects of what bullying does to a fellow classmate. Those are the impacts that can help build a close relationship with a team and their community. Junior hockey allows kids to mature into young men through these experiences and that is what ultimately prepares them to be successful in life after hockey.
NL: You’re a former NAHL player AND Division One Athlete. If a player aspires to play at those levels, what advice would you give them from your experiences playing & coaching?
GR: I think it is really important for them to understand that every player has a different path. A lot of times players get caught up comparing their abilities and/or skill set up against another player and wondering why they aren't at the same level or having the same success. In reality all that is doing is allowing negativity to creep into the brain and to give them an outlet to make excuses. The focus needs to be channeled into the things that they can control to improve their game and off ice training is a major component in players advancing and having success at the junior and collegiate level. With all that being said, the one thing I tell players is that you need to understand what your identity is as a player and focus on being the best at that particular role. If a player can realize who they are and can bring accountability, work ethic and character to the equation, they have a long career ahead of them.
Garrett Roth starred at NCAA Division I Bemidji State prior to coaching for the Aberdeen Wings and Bismarck Bobcats in the NAHL.
NL: We follow you & your organization on social media. Both you & your players appear to be extremely active in the community. Can you describe the Lloydminster community and the support your program receives?
ND: It truly is a core foundation of our program to be involved and enhance the community of Lloydminster. It is my duty to bring in a group of young men that will represent our city in the best way and during their time here we teach teamwork, dedication, and humility so they leave here as better people. We are very proud to be members in the community of Lloydminster. With the geographical location we are very fortunate to have the support like we do with our fans as there are no major junior, college/university, or professional teams around us. I tell our recruits the story about the first day of school when we help at the local schools running the crosswalks, we had a new player with his jersey walking on the side walk and a little boy stopped him to ask if he plays for the Bobcats, when he said yes the boy responded with “NO WAY that is the coolest thing, these guys are the Bobcats!” Our players really get to be the local celebrities, with that is also the duty to give back and be the role model we expect our players to be. There is not a game where the little kids aren’t lined up waiting to give high fives as guys go on the ice or fans waiting after the game to have a conversation. Players will feel the support from the time they arrive to the city, there is a lot of hype around junior hockey and we couldn’t be prouder to give back to the people of Lloydminster anytime we can.
NL: You’re a Canadian that played College Hockey in the States. I am sure you get a lot of questions from your current players asking what it’s like playing College Hockey?
ND: One of the differences we have really seen a shift in is the youth having more interest in College Hockey in the US. Back in the day there was a lot of hype around the Western Hockey League bantam draft, now the young players are seeing a lot of player commit to colleges and it has really added a new element to the game. Seeing players like Cale Makar who played for the Brooks Bandits in our league, go to UMASS for two seasons and be a 4th overall pick to the Colorado Avalanche, he hasn’t had a bad season to start off his career either. Technology I believe has been a great tool for players, when you type his name in and see where he came from you dig deeper into it. The College Hockey game is very strong in the US now and you can take a virtual tour of the campuses and hockey programs to see how they are set up just like the pros. You take all of that and add in the fact you can get a degree and have an entire student body of support to play in front of is pretty special. Younger players continue to be educated on the College Hockey route and how Jr. A hockey is first step in getting there. When we speak to our recruits is the importance of how the AJHL has players committing all over the NCAA while playing in our league and the success they have when they move on to college because they are prepared for it. Overall it is an experience of a life time, you see athletes go down to be College Hockey players and end up being married to an American girl, having kids, and calling it home. It provides much more than just a game of hockey that we believe is a big part of life.
NL: Can you explain what your process is with building your team in the off-season? Do you have a draft? How many players can you sign? How many American Imports are you allowed?
ND: When it comes to building the team in the off season it is important for our coaching and scouting staff to do our homework in recruiting. Our league does not have a draft or a protected list, it is recruiting to sign a Letter of Intent (LOI). Starting January 11th to May 31st we have the ability to sign players to a LOI, on June 1st those LOI’s became a Hockey Canada card. From June 1st of a new season we are given 45 cards total, which includes any trades being made in the off season and the returning players. When we sign a player to an LOI we have every intention and plan for the player to play for us for the season and more if eligibility allows. We are not a program who will over sign or commit to players because it is not something we do, we sign players to play for us. There is very little movement throughout a season because the card numbers, we do not have injured reserve or extras.
Our staff spends 12 months of the year recruiting, we have watched more game film and built our call list to coaches even during COVID. We have weekly meetings as a staff on the players we have identified and continue to watch their progression. Currently players who are eligible to play for us from 2000-2004 birth years. Our recruiting watch lists go to 2006-2007. This past season we had 2 – 16 year olds on our roster, both with potential to be NCAA commits at a young age.
NL: There are also many rules our league has with age. We are allowed 6 – 20 year olds on the roster, 6 – imports from the United States, 2 – 16 year old roster spots are available, 6 – 18 & under players need to be in the line up every night. I do believe these rules make it very enticing for NCAA coaches to watch our league so closely.
ND: As a former defenseman, you were just shy of 100 points in your career at Minot State. What are the 3 most important things you value in evaluating defenseman when it comes to the recruiting process with Lloydminster?
We like to have a very strong balance on our blue-line. One of the most important values we look for is a d-man who can process the game at a very high pace and has the head on his shoulders to do that. When you have a player who put up 50 goals and is going to be a top round NHL draft pick coming your way you need to be able to think the game on both sides the puck. Second most important is the ability to angle with the stick and the hips. We look for those who are able to use their stick and feet to remove time and space, this starts in the offensive side of the ice. The quicker our d-men are able to turnover and recover pucks the quicker we transition to offense and attack. This mentality leads to solid offensive defending even in our own zone, the faster we have the puck the less time the opposition has a chance to score. Thirdly, we look for our d man to be able to move pucks and go. We can have a D who may have 0 goals, 5 assists and be our best PK and shot blocker but we also want him to be a player who jumps up. If our D can jump in to the rush it creates opportunity for us as a unit to be offensive. We want to move pucks and go north quick on our half of the red, on the second half of red we want our D to be a threat offensively.
NL: What is your advice to any aspiring player that wants to play in the Alberta Junior Hockey League?
ND: Be a great human, put in the work to have success, and love every minute of what you are doing. Have an open mind to what league and team would be best for you, what works best for your friend may not be the same for you, create your path. Our league is evolving and developing some of the top junior hockey players in North America. If one was to look at the list of NHL draft picks and college commits it is an impressive list. I had the opportunity myself when I played in the league to play with guys like Joe Colborne, Mike Connolly, Allen York, Andrew MacWilliam, and now Olympic Gold Medalist Karl Stollery (impressive group to win a Championship with!). We are very proud as a league of the number of players who do not have a commitment before getting to the AJHL but move on to the next level with one. When it comes to NHL draft picks like Cale Makar, Jacob Bernard Docker, Austin Wong, Quinn Olsen, to name a few. A player gets the opportunity to play against these types of players every night, it forces you to develop and play at your best every night which creates the opportunity for exposure to the next level. Love what you do, live for the moment!
Nigel Dube captained the Minot State Beavers ACHA team patrolling their blue-line and graduating in 2013. Dube was an NAHL Assistant Coach for four seasons with the Minot Minotauros.
NL: You run a very successful USPHL program that is in the heart of the Midwest. This is a great location in regards to scouts. Are both NCAA & Tier II Junior, coming through your building?
BW: I can’t say enough great things about our location and the community of Hudson, WI. Its population is about 14,000 people and it sits on the St. Croix River and right along highway 94. In proximity to NCAA programs we are right in the middle of the MIAC and WIAC conferences. It makes it easy for those schools to be able to come watch games on a regular basis as well as provide players an opportunity to visit and tour numerous campuses in the surrounding areas. For east coast exposure Hudson being so close to the Twin Cities schools from out east are able to make quick trips to catch practices and games by flying into MSP which is 25 miles from Hudson, WI. As far as Tier II Jr. A exposure we are within driving distance of multiple teams in the NAHL’s Midwest Division and have an affiliation with the Boston Jr. Bruins in the NCDC.
NL: You played both NCAA & Pro Hockey. Given your experience in the game, how would you describe the USPHL to someone who hasn’t seen a game?
BW: The USPHL is a great league with a focus towards moving players onto higher levels of junior and college hockey. I love being in the Midwest-West division because the demand of the schedule and the style of play translates well to the next level. There are 9 strong teams in our division that can beat each other on any night. Here in Hudson we have a schedule that is set up very much like it would be run at an NCAA program. We skate 4-5 times a week for 2+ hours a day, our guys have a strength and conditioning lift twice a week, yoga, film review/preparation, and play the majority of our 44 games on Friday and Saturday nights.
NL: Can you explain your process in building a team each off-season: Do you have a league draft? How many players are you allowed to sign? Do you have tryout camps?
BW: We have an unbelievable scouting staff led by our Assistant GM Jim Mitchell. They work year around and across the country to be able to identify and build relationships with potential players for the future. I am very grateful for my staff, they allow us to have eyes and ears all across the country while I am behind the bench during the season. In the summer time we travel to multiple showcases and camps across the country. In previous years we have a camp in Hudson in early May each spring and compete as a team in multiple showcases throughout the summer months. While building the team we are looking for great players, but also great people for our community here in Hudson. We look for players who can provide value not only at the rink but in our community as well. We sign and carry around 25 players for the season. Our league does not have a draft at the USPHL Premier level, but does at the Tier II USPHL NCDC level.
NL: What advice would you give a player that wants to play in the USPHL?
BW: If you are interested in playing in the USPHL, be proactive and start doing some research on programs that you might have some interest in and call or email those coaches. Ask for information, build relationships, and see if a program would be a good fit for you on and off the ice. Show up to camps and showcases prepared and in shape, be able to communicate with coaches and their scouting staff. I think players that are prepared to play, able to show they want to be somewhere and be able to communicate with coaches are the ones who end up having the most success.
NL: At Nexlevel Hockey, we think it’s really important that a player plays somewhere that fits his game/style of play. Can you explain the type of players you look for and what brand of hockey you like to teach & play?
BW: I look for players that are coachable, love showing up to the rink everyday and are student-athletes. My goal as a coach is to make sure these guys can leave Hudson and have a seamless transition to the next level on and off the ice. It may be Tier II Jr., it might be NCAA hockey. From a mission standpoint my goal is to be able to teach Preparation, Detail, and Consistency. I think if you are able to learn to prepare, prepare to be detail, and be prepared and detail consistently then you will always find a way to be successful.
When it comes to on ice style of play I prefer to play a strong defensive game. Defensively we take away time and space and play very structured. We do not pass up hits, and we put a lot of emphasis on stick pressure and placement. Offensively, I like to let the guys be creative while placing value on having the puck on our stick offensively. My guys hear it too often from me, but possession is the name of the game. If the puck is on our stick then it can not be in the back of our net.
Brett Wall played Division I college hockey at Lake Superior State. The former teammate of previous guest Kevin Murdock played pro for 4 seasons, winning an FPHL Championship in 2013-2014.
NL: As a former College and Professional Player, what makes the NAHL an attractive path for players that have goals of playing at higher levels?
SW: There are numerous characteristics about the NAHL that make it attractive for prospective players. I will name the top two. The first one is exposure. Every single NCAA D1 and D3 school lay eyes on our players at LEAST few times each season. Not to mention, NHL Central Scouting has representation at our major events as well. Every player in our league always has the eyes of higher levels on them. The second is competition. The NAHL has exceptional coaches who recruit highly skilled and motivated Student-athletes. Every single night, these players and coaches bring their best. The competitive nature of this league is one of the things I love most about it. Many players have not secured a college commitment when they enter the NAHL, making it a must for players to give it everything they have. Exposure to scouts at higher levels and competing against the top players in the world sure is a great environment for any prospective junior hockey player.
NL: Your franchise recently relocated from Topeka, KS to Kansas City, KS. How has the transition been and how has your program been received in the local community thus far?
SW: The transition has been smooth, but still some work to be done! The response has been phenomenal. We have a strong youth hockey base of around 1200 families in the area. They are vital to our program. Many of these families will become billets and attend our games. In reciprocation, we will have our players out on the ice at youth practices and grass-roots level programs, including Learn to Play hockey and Learn to Skate. Our players will be counted on to represent the Scouts and themselves in the highest regard and act as model members of our hockey community. We could not be more excited to play in such a beautiful city with awesome food and hospitable people. Our players will love KC!
NL: When building your team each off-season, what are the 3 most important traits you look for in a player?
SW: The first trait we look for is character. We want driven, passionate and mature young men that have a humble and hungry attitude. To be able to wear the Scouts crest is a privilege and players that we recruit should know and understand this before they step foot in our home rink. The second is compete. We want players who LOVE to compete ALL THE TIME. Someone who watches a NAHL game for the first time will be blown away by the compete level of the players. What I think is even cooler is to come and watch one of our PRACTICES. They are AWESOME. Our players turn up the intensity in practice constantly and is an incredible breeding ground to develop good habits that are showcased in games. The third one is speed. Speed of mind and the ability to make quick decisions are extremely important in our system. Hockey is a fast game and we want to play fast. You cannot play fast with players that think slow. Our goal is to play a fast-paced game, so we need players that think fast and execute plays at high speed.
NL: How many players did you move onto NCAA Hockey last season? This has to be one of the most gratifying parts of your job?!
SW: We moved 14 players on to the NCAA last season. All 14 players did not have a commitment before joining our program. This is the BEST part of my job; extremely gratifying and the reason why I absolutely LOVE my job! We could not have accomplished this without the NAHL providing excellent exposure for our guys. Also, our Associate Head Coach, Justin DeMartino, was RELENTLESS when speaking with Colleges on our players behalf. We look at it as being advocates for our guys and reaching out to schools on their behalf is key. I would also like to mention that each of these players work their butts of for their commitments. It takes dedication and perseverance to accomplish what these guys have achieved; any player would say that. Could not be happier for every one of them!
NL: Each coach and program are different. How would you describe the ‘style of play’ of a typical Kansas City Scouts Team?
SW: As I mentioned earlier, we want to play a fast-paced game. We expect all five players on the ice to be creative and jump in on the offense when required. Also, we need guys to play fast and smart without the puck to neutralize the opposition. We also want to have a nice combination of skill and sandpaper. We need guys to buy in and play a physical style of hockey. Our division demands it. We like to have players with skill, but a full 200-foot game is what College hockey requires, so they might as well figure it out with us first!
Simon Watson played professionally in the Central Hockey League for Lubbock, Rocky Mountain, & Missouri. Watson, a Division I player, starred at St. Lawrence prior to turning pro.
NL: Your track record of moving players to the NCAA & NAHL is as good, if not better than anyone at the Tier III Level. This must be a very gratifying part of the job?!
TS: Moving players on to higher levels of hockey is the most gratifying experience a coach can have. Our goal in North Iowa each year is to lead our league in NAHL placed players and Collegiate opportunities. We work tirelessly for our players in this regard. The importance of player advancement is critical to the success of our team. It follows that players want to play for a team that openly promotes their players in an upward fashion. In season NAHL call-ups and promotion is a standard of our operation and NAHL teams know that we are willing to work with them in this process.
NL: Your program plays out of one of the best, NEW arenas in Junior Hockey. How does this benefit a player and his experience of playing for the North Iowa Bulls?
TS: The new arena in Mason City, the Mason City Multipurpose Arena, is a state of the art junior hockey facility that includes everything a player needs to train on site. From the spacious locker room with player lounge and medical training area attached to the work out and shooting area upstairs along with the theater room for video breakdown. Mason City is a vibrant junior hockey town which consistently leads and breaks attendance records for the NA3HL. Our new arena holds 2250 fans for hockey. In 14 dates last season our attendance average was 1850 with three of those dates exceeding 2000 fans. The facility not only completely encompasses the player training needs but also the amazing atmosphere that comes with games. Two large digital score boards at each end of the arena provide the home starting line up, live replays, and in game advertising and promotional opportunities. Including Suites and private boxes the facility looks like a minor Pro facility!
NL: How do you build your teams each off-season? Do you have a draft? Tryout camps? Tenders?
TS: In the NA3HL the player procurement process starts with the tender process. A tender is a contract in terms that the player who signs with that specific team is pledging his rights to that team in the NA3HL and forgoing the NA3HL draft. Each NA3HL team gets 12 tenders to use at their discretion in recruiting. For North Iowa, the tender process is the most important method of our recruiting process. Tenders are a more personal form of recruiting and we expect players to honor that commitment with our team if they don't make a NAHL team. The second part of the process is the NA3HL draft which takes place in April of each year. Each NA3HL team gets 8 draft selections to round out their recruiting options. Any age eligible junior player which is not already protected by another NA3HL team is eligible to be selected in the NA3HL draft. The final element of the process surrounds the North Iowa Bulls main camp tryout which is in August each year. The main camp is a required event for returning, tendered, drafted, and free agent players who are seeking an opportunity as a North Iowa Bull. Our team selects roughly 30 players from this camp for the start of our season. These 30 players will continue to compete for roster spots throughout exhibition and early regular season games.
NL: How closely do you work with NAHL Teams? It seems like you have a lot of players that sign NAHL Tenders each season?
TS: Being under the umbrella of the NAHL it's important that our staff is familiar with and engages with NAHL teams staff to help facilitate the advancement of our players to that level. As with any successful business relationships play a key part in that success. My prior experience as a coach in the NAHL helps with coaches at that level as they understand that we have the knowledge of what they are looking for in players. We do not push players up that can't do the job that is required of them. That protects everyone involved. And again, as stated above, it's one of our goals to get as many of our players as possible promoted or tendered in the NAHL.
NL: What advice would you give a player that wants to play for the North Iowa Bulls in the NA3HL?
TS: If you're a player that has identified North Iowa as possible avenue towards your development and success please don't hesitate to make contact with myself either via email or phone contact. Taking a proactive approach is the best method for prospects who are interested in our team. Understand that our goal is to be one of the Top teams in the country at this level every year so be honest with your ability and train hard to achieve your goals.
Todd Sanden has been the Head Coach in North Iowa since 2011. Sanden has been named NA3HL Coach of the year twice (2012 & 2018) and GM of the Year three times (14, 18, 19).
NL: Can you explain how your teams play? What style/brand of hockey?
TR: FAST and HARD. I think every team wants to play this way now and I have learned you have to preach it everyday in practice, especially the HARD part of our game. We do two or three drills everyday where the kids are competing HARD against each other so when game day comes they are ready to compete.
NL: You’ve moved a lot of players onto college hockey in your time as the Head Coach in Springfield. This must be a great feeling when these players accomplish their dreams?
TR: It really is what it's all about. As a coach you get emotional when one of your players makes a college commitment and he comes up to your office to tell you. Every coach wants to win but its a great feeling to see kids accomplish their dreams and you have a small part in that as a coach. I think that is what sets our league apart from others. I believe every coach in our league does the right thing for the players year after year and our commitment success is proof of that.
NL: What advice would you give a player that aspires to play in the NAHL?
TR: Have a "B" part to your game. Everyone wants to be a goal scorer or playmaker but at the end of the day teams need some guys that want to fill other roles. You can have a pretty successful hockey career at the next level if you "choose" to do the little things that are important in today's game. You also have to play with a high compete level and get involved. It is a tough league and you have to be willing to compete for space every single night.
NL: Can you describe the process in building your teams each season?
TR:I think the process changes each season depending on how many returning players you can get back. I think our staff does a really good job at identifying skilled players that can push the pace and obviously that is the way that we want to play. We also look for high character kids that are good students in the class room. Academics and character are two traits that can set you apart from other players with same skill set on the ice. As a player you have to have something that can set you apart from another and it usually comes down to academics and overall character on and off the ice.
NL: What do you enjoy most about coaching in Springfield?
TR: I really enjoy getting up everyday and going to the rink to teach. I really don't consider what I do work. I feel very lucky and fortunate to be one of a select few that can coach at our level and I never want to take it for granite. I think another thing I enjoy is watching kids accomplish their dreams while playing here. I get just as much joy watching kids commit to college hockey as I do from winning games.
Tyler Rennette has a very impressive professional playing career to back up his coaching. Rennette scored 42 goals in 65 games in the ECHL for the Peoria Rivermen in 2002-2003.
NL: You have been in the EHL as the Head Coach of the Boston Junior Rangers for 7 years. How have you seen the league evolve in your 7 years?
RD: The EHL has taken steps forward every year that I have been lucky enough to coach in it. The way the coaches and programs put the effort into each individual player to help develop them into NCAA players is second to none. We know what we are as a league and we don't try to be something we are not. We are a Division 3 NCAA minded league; no smoke and mirrors. We have been gaining more and more respect in the hockey world and I believe we are the number 1 Tier 3 league in the country.
NL: Your program seems to be in the hunt for the league championship every single season. What is your recruiting philosophy as you keep building this off-season?
RD: Our goal every year is to compete for a championship. We talk about it on day one. When I recruit, I tend to lean more towards players that have junior hockey experience. Most players going into their age-out year need a solid home and league that commits players. Since we have been gaining more and more exposure as a league, these players end up reaching out to us. We have 2 teams as well. Our EHLP team is our younger players, (they also compete for the championship every season), and we use that as a feeder to our EHL. Every seasons, 5-7 players will move up the ladder to our EHL team, We are big on character and being good teammates. As long as our EHLP team gets the right recruits, it makes the EHL team easier to recruit for. Players see the development and promotion within our teams and onto NCAA college hockey, and they want to be a part of that.
NL: You moved the bulk of your roster onto NCAA D III Hockey last season. What do you attribute your organizations ability to move players on to?
RD: We average around 15 NCAA commits per season. We tend to have an older team every year, so my goal is to make sure every age out player has an NCAA option. That being said, since I have been with BJR so long, our players that get to college hockey stick there and play and contribute. I have built a solid relationship with all the college coaches and I feel I have earned their trust when I call them about a player. I am always honest with the college coaches on players ability, character, and off ice tendencies.
NL: You have had players move onto the NAHL in recent years and have success at the Tier II level. Is this something that you look to continue moving forward?
RD: I am a strong believer in playing at the highest level possible. Players strive to play in the NAHL. I don't look at the NAHL as a competitor. I try to move younger players onto the next level. If I have an '02 lets say, playing EHL and he dominates the league. I want that player to go to the NAHL if he can play a similar role there. I have also built some solid relationships with NAHL coaches because I am willing to send them players that I feel could help them. That is reciprocated as well, as they send me players that may not be quite ready to play a solid role in that league.
NL: There are a number of advising company's in the game. Can you give your thoughts as to how they can be helpful to a player & family through your experiences?
RD: Yes. There are many many advisors out there. Some are great, and some are just in it for themselves. At this stage of my coaching career I have been able to weed out the bad ones. The good ones really care about the player. They don't make broken promises about what type of league or player their client is. I think the quality advisors have good relationships with junior coaches, and do real research themselves on the leagues and organizations they are looking into. I have known you (Tim Madsen-Nexlevel Hockey President) for a long time, and I know your company will be a very good one to deal with and I'm looking forward to it!
Prior to his coaching career, Rich DeCaprio played Division I for the Niagara Purple Eagles.
NL: Can you explain what a typical off-season looks like for you in regards to building your teams for the following season? Do you have camps, drafts, etc.?
DH: There really isn’t an off-season when it comes to junior hockey. We are constantly watching video, talking to advisors and highlighting players that can either help your team in the current season or the future. In a regular year we would have two league showcases one in Spring and one in Summer. We have two drafts in the NCDC, we hold a Futures Draft, this season will be for 2005 birth years, in January and our NCDC Entry Draft in July. So we are constantly looking for players that we feel would be best fit for our organization.
NL: With all of your experience of being a former College and Professional player and Coach, how would you describe the NCDC Level of play?
DH: Last season was our first year as a member of the NCDC, the league boasts some of the best players in the country and from all over the world. The skill level of players and teams in the NCDC is exceptional. You can see why every game has a number of college and pro scouts in attendance looking for players and why NCDC players are so successful at the next level. I talk to a lot of pro and college scouts who rave about how high the competition level is in the NCDC.
NL: How many players did your organization move onto NCAA Hockey last season? I am sure this is a gratifying feeling seeing players advance to the next level?!
DH: We were able to place 9 of our NCDC players in NCAA from last season. We are very pleased with that number but I know that we need to continue to recruit talented players and quality young men for that number to increase on an annual basis. It is very gratifying as an organization to get that call form a player telling you he’s made a college commitment and you have helped him realize his goal. To me that is most gratifying thing in this whole process.
NL: What advice would you give a player/family if they want to play in the NCDC?
DH: I would tell any player who is looking to play in the NCDC to focus on their effort and attitude and don’t ever let the player across the way outwork you. It doesn’t take an ounce talent to put in your max effort every night. Your attitude and body language speak volumes, don’t be the player always complaining to the refs or yelling at teammates. That is an immediate red flag to anyone scouting or watching. The top players never get outworked and are focused on what they can control which is again, their effort and attitude. We look for players to not only make our team but ones who will compete on a daily basis to keep their spot on the team because there is always a player that is hungry to take your spot.
NL: Can you describe the community and support your program receives? We all know in Junior Hockey, this is critical in order to have success?
DH: We have tremendous community support and passionate fan base. We have the highest attendance numbers in the league. Our players donate their time with helping local youth hockey teams at practice and go to schools to read to the students.. We also have hosted a “Pink in the Rink” game for the past two seasons to benefit breast cancer. The thing that makes our game unique is that the arena paints the ice pink and it’s a great spectacle for the fans and players while raising money for a great cause. We also held benefits for Maine Special Olympics and Military Appreciation. As an organization, we love to give back to the community. It’s something we take a lot of pride in.
Dan Hodge was a 1991 NHL Draft Pick of the Boston Bruins and starred at Merrimack as a Division I player. As a professional, he won a Kelly Cup in the East Coast Hockey League with Peoria during an outstanding professional career spanning the ECHL, AHL, IHL, & Central Hockey League.
NL: Last season, your team broke the franchise record for wins in a season. What are the keys to sustain that success in the 20’-21’ season?
CD: I think culture is the key to sustaining success. Our culture is the constant that never changes regardless of who is in the dressing room. I think as an organization we need to take the things that worked this past season and make sure not only do we continue doing them but also continue to improve on those aspects as well. Player development has always been a focal point for our staff and we work tirelessly to make sure we are improving ourselves so we can be better coaches year after year for our players.
NL: Your team also broke the franchise record for NCAA D-1 Commitments last season. This has to be very gratifying for you as the leader of the program?!
CD: We take a lot of pride in being part of the NCAA process with all of our players. From academics, to hockey to finding the right fit for each family and player it’s a cool process to be a part of. Our entire staff works extremely hard with helping players improve, communicating with college programs and every time they make their commitment it’s a special moment. The players and families invest so much with the eventual hope of playing college hockey and to see that dream come true for so many kids is an awesome feelings. It’s a major credit to our scouting staff, coaches, owners, players and parents.
NL: With moving so many players onto college last season, it’s now time to “reload” your roster for next season. Can you explain the process in building a team each year?
CD: Matt Dibble, our director of scouting, and his team of scouts spend countless hours identifying and watching potential players for our team. There are so many different things we try to identify. Character and maturity are essential for success in our program. The on ice product consists of so many different attributes such as IQ, sense, compete, speed and other skill sets. We really invest a lot of time and capital into building our roster and finding the right people to become Titans.
NL: How would you describe the “brand” of hockey that’s played in the NAHL’s Eastern Division?
CD: I have been thoroughly impressed year after year with the hockey in our division. Obviously we see our fellow division members so much more than the other clubs but the amount of speed, skill and intensity on display every weekend is extremely high end. I think our division does tend to be a little more wide open and offensive than some of the other divisions. There are a lot of high end skilled players on each roster. With that being said what I have enjoyed is the structure each team plays with and the chess match each coach and roster has to play with day after day. When you look back at how many college hockey players are coming out of the east it’s a credit to all the owners, coaches and players. The product has really improved each of the years I have been in New Jersey and I think the college coaches have noticed.
NL: What advice would you give a young player that wants to play in the NAHL?
CD: I think the biggest thing is make sure you are ready to be a hockey player and not a kid who plays hockey. It’s a league that quickly sorts out real players from pretenders. Not only do you need to have skill and ability, you have to prepare your body physically and mentally each day during a long season. How you sleep, how you eat, how you train, how you recover your body are all important. Are you willing to commit to a professional investment in your game to be successful? I think you need to be mature enough to make those commitments and decisions if you want to be a player in the NAHL and beyond.
Craig Doremus was recently named the NAHL's East Division GM of the Year for the 2019-2020 season.
NL: You spent four years as an Assistant Coach in the WHL before joining Winnipeg in the MJHL as the Head Coach. How would you describe the MJHL as a league?
GB: The MJHL provides young adults an opportunity to continue to develop as players and people as they continue to pursue the their passion. Our situation in Winnipeg is unique to the league as our roster is young compared to the rest of the league. We want to give younger players that have the ability to play junior hockey, those who would otherwise be playing midget. We feel this model provides players an opportunity to get more exposure to the teams they want to move on with in their hockey careers, whether that be the WHL, NCAA, or Usports.
NL: What advice would you give a player who wants to play in the MJHL? What steps does a player take to make it known he is interested in the option?
GB: The 1st step for us is the Draft of Manitoba born players. Then we have a listing process we go through. If you are from out of province and want to come to the MJHL, I would start with doing your homework as to which teams interest you and reach out to the organization. Most teams hold a camp in the Spring that you will attend to showcase yourself to that organization. The league puts on a camp in the USA as well, which is a great option for American born players to show they want to play in the MJHL.
NL: You’re a Canadian that played NCAA Hockey in the United States. I am assuming you get a lot of questions from Canadian players regarding NCAA Hockey in the US?
GB: Yes, a lot of players at the Junior A level want to look at NCAA hockey as an option. Using my own experience as a player and a coach at that level, we help guide our players through that process. With the age of our team we have many NCAA coaches at our games and our players have garnered a lot of attention from NCAA schools.
NL: What is your process in building your teams? What is the draft like and how many players are allowed to sign cards?
GB: We sign players every year. New and returning players, that process starts as soon as the season ends. Then we focus on the MJHL Draft and signing players from previous drafts that are on our list. We carry 23 players all year and we don’t make any trades, that is not typical of teams in Junior A. Most teams will carry 25 up until the December 1st deadline when teams have to get to 23 players. Many teams will continue to make trades right up until the January 10th trade deadline.
NL: You were a defenseman in the NCAA & Pro Hockey. What would you say your top-3 teaching points are to young defenseman in Junior Hockey?
GB: I get asked this question quite a bit, but generally speaking I break it down into 3 important skills:
First and most importantly, young players need is paying attention. The game changes so much as you move up levels. A lot is being asked of you as far as systems, habits, and details. If you aren’t paying attention to what the coaches are teaching, you will not be able to do it on the ice.
Secondly, passing and understanding the importance of making good passes. Without the ability to make tape to tape passes consistently, it is really hard to do anything else.
Third is the ability to work the puck off the wall effectively and efficiently to make the next play. So much of the game is played on the wall today. Players with this skill will excel in today's game.
Gordon Burnett Captained the St. Scholastica Saints NCAA team prior to a lengthly pro career. No stranger to the penalty box, Burnett racked up 200 PIMS with the Colorado Eagles in 2012 in the ECHL.
NL: Before last seasons unexpected early ending, your team was on pace to have the most wins in the history of the franchise. How do you build off that success for the 20’-21’ season?!
KM: I think this past season was very big for our success moving into the upcoming 20-21 season. In order to build off of that I believe comes down to continuing to raise our level expectations on a daily basis. I think knowing we’re capable of success was half the battle and with the way this past season ended, I do believe that for everyone coming back it left some unfinished business in terms of our goals for the season.
NL: With last season being your first as Head Coach in Kenai River, what did you enjoy most about coaching in the NAHL?
KM: This past season in Kenai was a blast, and I was fortunate to have a lot of great experiences. I think what I enjoyed the most from this past year was the relationships that were made throughout the season. Not only with players, billets, fans and supporters up in Alaska which are some of the most passionate and loyal I’ve ever seen but also with coaches throughout the different levels of hockey who were all very willing to provide help during my first year in the league.
NL: How many players did you move onto NCAA Hockey last season? This must be gratifying for you as a coach?!
KM: We currently have 8 players from last years team committed to NCAA D1 schools, 4 committed to NCAA D3 programs with a few more coming here shortly. In addition we were able to advance 3 players onto the USHL during the season as well. This is extremely gratifying as a coach. As much of the job is perceived to come down to winning games, the purpose of this level is to help players develop and advance to higher levels of hockey. Seeing the drive and the work these guys put in on daily basis, it is extremely rewarding to watch it all pay off.
NL: You played NCAA D-1 Hockey and Professional Hockey as a goaltender. Do you think being a former goalie allows you to look at the game differently than other coaches who played F or D?
KM: I think to some degree playing goalie has definitely helped in certain areas when it comes to coaching. As a goalie you spend a lot of time watching the game, seeing plays develop both on the offensive and defensive sides of the puck and constantly identifying all the players on the ice. Ultimately I feel that, I learned a lot more on the coaching side of things from the people I’ve had the opportunity to coach with or against over these past few seasons.
NL: What advice would you give a player that wants to play in the NAHL, but doesn’t know how to get there?
KM: I think the best advice I can give a player looking to play in the NAHL, comes down to the willingness to put in the hard work and being consistent. I think a lot of players do themselves a disservice looking to far into the future. No matter what level your at continue to work hard to become a dominant player at the level, take advantage of your time to make yourself a well rounded player that is able to play in all situations and can be counted on to do it ever game not every once in awhile. People will take notice and you will be better prepared when a opportunity presents itself.
While playing in the USHL for the Lincoln Stars, Kevin Murdock earned a Division I scholarship to Lake Superior State. Murdock played in the ECHL & SPHL prior to coaching Gilmour Academy & North Iowa in the NA3HL. The first year Head Coach made a big name for himself with the turnaround in Kenai last season.
NL: Your franchise is right in the hockey hotbed of the New England Area. We are some things your players do in their free time when outside of hockey?
BE: Obviously we are very lucky to be in the thick of hockey. We have so many options for the boys to do. A lot of Boston Bruins games, a lot of Providence Bruins games and of course with so many Division 1 and Division 3 programs our guys get to see past teammates play a lot going to college games. A fair amount golf as well and go to Red Sox and Patriots games. Great area.
NL: With so many NCAA Programs close by, co you have a lot of scout-traffic through your building each weekend?!
BE: It's a great area. We get guys at all of our games but also get some of them out to practice. On an off day it gives them a good excuse to get out of the office and come see how guys they are interested in compete on a day in and day out basis. We routinely have 7-10 D1 schools at any given game and about 3-4 NHL scouts. And countless D3 schools come. It's great as our players and staff get to develop nice relationships quickly.
NL: What do you enjoy most about coaching in the NAHL?
BE: I love the challenge. The kids are very talented but they still have so much to learn. As do I. So getting to Coach against and scout other teams and Coaches is great for me. I love how much time we get with the players on and off the ice to be able to create that lifetime bond that you don't always get in other situations. And of course being able to play a small role in watching these young men fulfill life long dreams is something that is hard to quantify.
NL: What advice would you give a player that aspires to play in the NAHL?
BE: Outwork everyone. It is the easiest way to get noticed. We tell players all the time that you need to work hard all the time. Not just at hockey but in school, at work, at home. Working hard is contagious. Everything comes down to tiebreakers. Send a Coach a great email, talk politely, be respectful. Do anything that will help you win a tiebreaker against the kid next to you. Simply being good enough at a tryout isn't good enough. You need to stand out. And you can do that with your body language, work ethic and the respect you show to yourself, your teammates, your opponents and the staff.
NL: Can you explain your process in building a team each year?
BE: Great kids are the number one thing I look for. I don't care how good a player is if he isn't going be a fun person to be around. As a Coach we are away from our families for long stretches of time and we want to win, but also have some fun. It is so important that the chemistry in the room is excellent. And that starts with great Captains. We've been very lucky to have had incredible young men enter our program. We start at the top with our leadership group and look to support the players with talented great kids. There is no magic formula, but looking forward to coming to the rink each day as a player or as a coach, knowing that everyone else is focused on the same mission, is a great place to start.
Bryan Erikson was name the NAHL GM of the Year for the East Division in 2017-2018 and NA3HL GM of the Year in 2019-2020.
NL: How would you describe your first season as the Head Coach of the Walpole Express in the Eastern Hockey League (EHL)? You had a .650+ win percentage, so it certainly looks like you had some fun?!
CC: This year in Walpole was extremely enjoyable and I learned a lot about myself. Fortunately, we had a great group of kids that consistently wanted to work and we built a ton of trust within our group. Because of that I think everyone was able to grow, learn and accomplish some personal goals, myself included.
NL: Your team moved 16 players onto NCAA D-III hockey last season. What does that mean to you?
CC: That is what I am most proud of from this past season. College hockey opportunities aren’t just handed out. We had guys commit to helping each other earn NCAA commitments. That’s what junior hockey is about, advancing your players to college and as an organization we are so proud of having one of the highest in Tier III junior hockey.
NL: You also had a player sign a tender agreement with the Janesville Jets in the NAHL. Is this something that you want to become a common theme moving forward?
CC: We want our players to advance, period. If a player has a goal of advancing in junior hockey prior to college, we support it. I have a network in the NAHL from previously working in the league so if I feel the player is capable, we are going to work to make that happen. It’s no different than putting a player into college.
NL: You won Coach of the Year honors in your FIRST YEAR as a Head Coach in the EHL. What did that award mean to you?
CC: It was obviously humbling to win that award because it’s voted on by the coaches you compete against all year long. But at the end of the day our players are more responsible for that award than I am. They are the ones who put in all the work and executed all year long.
NL: Describe your recruiting philosophy and how you like building your teams. Do you want to be big and tough? Small and fast? Older? Younger?
CC: We want players that can fit into roles within our culture. We want size, we want skill, we want speed, we want experience but ultimately, we want people that are going to fit into our culture. We do as much research on players personalities as we do in their skill set. The way we do things isn’t for everyone so it’s important for both the player and team that it’s the right fit.
Cody Campbell starred in the USHL in Fargo and Cedar Rapids before earning a scholarship to Niagara university in 2011. Campbell was named EHL coach of the year in 2019-2020.
NL: You have moved on 16 players to NCAA Hockey last season. What does this mean to you?
RR: We moved twelve current players to D1, two Alumni also committed D1, and we have two D3 commits so far. Our goal is always to recruit young men committed to being Student-Athletes at the NCAA level.
NL: You have a reputation of being a great recruiter. What is your philosophy when building your teams?
RR: We focus on high character individuals that believe in the same philosophies that our culture is based on. Academics must be considered when recruiting a player for our organization, as our goal is to do all we can to move our players on to the NCAA ranks.
NL: What advice would you give an aspiring player who wants to play in the NAHL?
RR: A player that is aspiring to play in the NAHL needs to make the commitment to all aspects of development if they want to achieve their goals. Make sure their priorities are in order, Family, School, Hockey, social life must be kept in line. Take your off-ice training just as seriously as you do the ice. Be a student of the game.
NL: As your chosen profession, what is the best part of coaching?
RR: Watching the development of players, and the overall improvement of our team throughout the season, is extremely satisfying. I love to see the players and team grow and mature together. It’s exciting helping players in the recruiting process and seeing them commit as an NCAA Student-Athlete. It’s great seeing these players achieve their goals.
NL: You coached Team NAHL in the Sirius Junior World Cup 2019. How would this experience stack up against your other coaching experiences?
RR: Coaching at the Sirius World Junior Cup was an incredible experience. The talent on the international stage was extremely impressive. Aatu Raty is the #1 ranked prospect on the 2021 NHL Draft list, and he played for Karpat in the event. The professionalism of our Russian hosts, and the opportunity to meet coaches from all over the world, was something I won't ever forget.
Rocky Russo was named Coach of the year for the NAHL (South) in 2018-2019 with the Amarillo Bulls.