Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Beginning of the Season's End...

"Back at the office": January, 2014.
As the end of the hockey season approaches, there are a few memories circling in my head when I think of where I hope the EKU Hockey program goes from here. And it is for this unlikely reason, Mats Naslund, Lou Holtz and my friend Paul Brower have somehow become interrelated.

In 1986, before the specialization boom when athletes still spent their summers doing other things, I remember amidst the championship excitement of watching Mats Naslund getting interviewed by Hockey Night in Canada’s Dick Irvin in the celebratory dressing room in Calgary. When asked how he was going to celebrate the Stanley Cup, Naslund told viewers he was going to celebrate by taking a couple of weeks off before getting back into shape.
No matter what, we need to continue working hard in the off season.

The second thing I recall is reading Lou Holtz’s book on the Notre Dame 1988 Championship season and remember noting immediately how the book began right after the Irish lost in the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day… 8 months before the season began and what the book’s 4-month season and main narrative was about. Recruiting, off-season conditioning, and scheduling… these are the things that build successful programs.

Finally, in a more recent memory, I remember losing with Paul Brower with our Nichols tennis teams in conference play and immediately hitting the recruiting websites. Now it’s four years (yet many life lessons and stories) later from those interesting days and I now know that his efforts have been well worth it as he continues to find top 25 recruiting classes at Nichols year in, year out. No matter what time of the season, we are always building for something better.

I have been so grateful for the return to hockey this year and in particular, some of the great players I inherited with no chance to recruit anybody. There are many practices and games where I would sit there amongst a challenging schedule, often taking one on the chin (with the idea to remind myself for later on when things improve to still remember) and say to myself, “Isn’t it great that you at least have (name of player)!”. There’s no doubt this season has been both humbling and rewarding.

We are 5-9-2 (with the “2” my non-“TBH” way of erasing losses by labeling an overtime and a shootout loss as "ties") and I am still loving the battle despite the unusually frigid temperatures in Kentucky. A year ago, not so sure if I was looking long term here in Kentucky, and frigid days like this one would have made it even worst. I have obviously discovered in the education business, you really never can be sure.

However, despite my still missing the Florida temperatures from my great Christmas holiday and the losing record, today is still a day to be grateful for. I have 7 commits for next year, many of whom have played the game at a decent level already (including some great young talent), a group of guys who want to work hard, and an acceptance to present at NASSM for the first time since 2009 just arrived by email today.

This coming weekend is an "off-weekend" (after Appalachia State cancelled) to reflect… and maybe find a frozen pond to go play some outdoor hockey. As always, the cycles of hockey and life, each with their own memories of championships, life experiences, and hopes of landing the next big recruit, go on in my road less traveled...