Coach Walt Kyle: looking ahead to new opponents with new faces

North Wind Staff

   Following a season with a majority of games away from home, the Wildcats accrued an overall record of 15-19-4.

    With a career record of 208-186-49, NMU head coach Walt Kyle has spent all of his 22 years of collegiate coaching experience at Northern Michigan University, leading the ’Cats.

  During the team’s Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) career, Kyle has led the team to a record of 136-135-37.

With a switch to a new conference, the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA), Kyle said he expects the same things from his team that he has always expected from the guys in the past: leadership and consistency. 

     Kyle sat down with Cody Boyer, editor in chief of The North Wind, to discuss the team’s goals for the season and lessons the guys have learned from a season on the road.

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NW: How do you feel about the upcoming 2013-14 hockey season?

WK: Well, we weren’t happy with our year a year ago. I think that that’s probably common with a lot of teams.  I think every time you don’t advance to where you want to in the playoffs, you are not happy.We had a long summer and we are anxious to get going again. I think it is a team that is probably very much in transition. We have a lot of young guys. However, we do think our talent level, the depth of our talent and the depth of our play-makers are deeper than they were a year ago.

 

NW: With nine incoming Wildcats this season, freshmen and otherwise, how is that gelling with the returning players?

WK: Right now, we are under NCAA restrictions under practice time, so we really have not had a ton of on-ice practice time. The first official day of practice is Saturday (Oct. 5), which is our first game so, until then, we are allowed a couple of hours a week and we are getting three or four 40 minute sessions a week while they are weightlifting and stuff. As far as developing chemistry, I think they are doing a good job with that.

 

NW: In terms of going into the new season in a new conference, what are your goals for the overall season as you move forward?

WK: I don’t think your goals change but we would like to win a championship. I think that everyone always says that and it’s not always realistic. You have to see how the season progresses but I think, going in, you always have to set the bar there and work from there or you are really not giving yourself a chance. That’s our goal but the reality is I don’t ever really take a real long look at it. We have the Wisconsin series and the Nebraska-Omaha series before we get into league play so we have a couple of weeks before we really get into that. Once we get into the new league play, there are so many teams that we are just unfamiliar with; we don’t know their personnel. So I don’t really know right now where we fit. One thing I do know is that it is going to be a really competitive league and it’s going to be very, very good hockey. Where we fit in there, I think I’ll think it through the league once to kind of see. I don’t have any idea about Bemidji or Mankato or Alaska-Anchorage. I don’t really know those teams.

NW: After losing the seniors from last year, how do you feel about the leadership this time around?

WK: I think our leadership is pretty much intact. We lost Scott Macaulay last year who was a leader. After that, I think the leadership in the room is pretty much intact. [CJ Ludwig] has become a very good captain. He’s been one of our ultimates during the last year or two here. He’s emerged simply as the go-to leader of the team and he has good support in his fellow classmates, [Reed] Seckel and [Stephan] Vigier. Luke Eibler is a transfer student who, as an older kid and an upperclassmen, is experienced in another program and he does a lot for his wealth. I think those guys will all go out there and do a good job. The key to any leadership situation is not only those guys but the leadership that comes from within the group, too. It’s gotta be much better as a group than it was a year ago.”

NW: Is there any difference between Macaulay’s leadership style and Ludwig’s?

WK: Any new people in those positions are always different. I think Scotty did a great job. He was more of a quiet leader. I think Luddy’s much more comfortable. If he needs to get in somebody’s face, he’ll get in somebody’s face.

NW: After losing Jared Coreau last year to the Detroit Red Wings, how do you feel about the current situation in the crease?

WK: I think a year ago, going into the season, if Coreau had the kind of year he was capable of we could lose him. One of the things that we did going into last year to prepare for that was we brought Mathias Dahlstrom in. Mathias wasn’t eligible to play last year but we brought him in and gave him a chance to get used to college-level shooters. Joe [Shawhan] had a chance to work with him for the entire year. We think Mathias is a guy that is a new face in our lineup this year that we think is very capable. Michael Doan, I thought, as the year went, he made it into about five or six games and played pretty well in all of the games except for the Michigan Tech game. He’ll be pressing for that job, for sure. We introduced a new freshman named Derek Dun, who also looked good during the little bit of practice time that we have had. I think it is going to be a really competitive position. Those are big shoes to fill after Jared but certainly that will be one of the keys to any of the success we have. I don’t think we could be any good at all without a quality goaltender. If one of those guys emerges as the go-to guy, we will go with the go-to guy.

NW: In terms of the rest of the team, what lines should be watched for this year?

WK: Seckel and [Erik] Higby played last year with Matt Thurber, so we have to try to find someone to try and go in between those guys. That was a very good line last year. We’d like to keep Seckel and Higby together. Vigier and [Ryan] Daugherty also played together a year ago. We’ll need to find someone who can play there. We are going bounce guys around a lot until we find good chemistry. We have a number of guys up front that we think are capable. I think Darren Nowick is a guy that really came out in the second half of last year. I think he had six goals after Christmas and he played most of the year. We have really high expectations for him. Justin Rose is really looking good through training camp. I think he’s making ready to step up. There are other guys that we wait to see what they are going to do, along with a bunch of new faces that we are waiting to see what they do.

NW: In terms of the new faces, is there anyone there we should be watching out for?

WK: The guys that I can tell you right now are Shane Sooth and Dominik Shine out front and both of them are looking very good. They are soon to be in our top nine guys somewhere. Where that is, I don’t know right now. I think we have another kid, Sami Salminen, a Finn, who has to sit out for the first five regular NCAA games. After that sanction by the NCAA, he’ll get in and he’ll be able to take a regular spot in our lineup, as well. He transferred from Finland where he played with professionals. For every game you play with professionals, you have to sit out a game here.

NW: How does the schedule look this year? Is it more or less difficult than it was last season?

WK: “I don’t think there is any difference. The big difference is people have the tendency to associate good hockey programs and name-recognition with schools that have Division I big football powers or basketball powers. The reality is people always look forward to us playing Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan State or Ohio State. The truth is there are a lot of small schools that have great hockey programs that we played last year. For instance, Michigan State was not near the hockey team Ferris was, for example. So I think, competitively, people need to understand that it is going to be every bit as competitive although, within the league, you are not going to have those David and Goliath-type games anymore. There is no other sport here in Marquette where you have had the chance to play and beat Notre Dame here or Michigan there. We are not going to be able to do that in our league anymore but, competitively, we are going to have teams that are every bit as good as those teams were.

NW: Last year’s schedule had the team on the road frequently. How is this season looking in terms of games on the road?

WK: Are travel is not going to be very great this year. We are actually in a much better spot within our league for league, but, this year and next year, we got dealt a tough traveling hand. We have to go to Alaska twice this year and we have to go to Alabama-Huntsville, as well, so we have all three of the big trips. That will happen again next year as it is a kind of a five year scheduling rotation and you get the big trips twice and we have it for the first two years. It is what it is and I have no problem with it. I haven’t done it before. Everybody talks about how difficult it is to travel to Alaska twice during the year and I’m sure there is something to that but it doesn’t matter because we have to do it.

NW: Although you said there won’t be any big name schools that the team has played in the past, will there still be matches in this conference for people to watch for?

WK: Oh, absolutely. A couple things that it does is, number one, it is going to enhance our rivalries with our Upper Peninsula schools. Having Michigan Tech four times a year and having it all be league contests is going to make that rivalry grow and continue to be strong. Lake Superior [State University] is going to still be in the conference and those rivalries will keep growing between us, Lake State and Tech, so i think that’s there. The other thing is, over time, there is a tremendous degree of parody in this league. With the exception of Bowling Green, they are all Division II schools with Division I hockey. I think, over time, you are going to see that not any given year, any team is going to be able to compete for championships here. I think, when that happens, it gives each fanbase and each city an opportunity to be excited about their team. I think you are going to see that parody and that excitement. Sometimes, in the past, that has been tough to find. Every year like that, it seems like there are powers at the top and Notre Dame wins it or Michigan wins it or Miami wins it. This year is going to give us a chance to compete for a title.

NW: Do you seen any new teams of this conference and this season becoming rivals like Michigan tech and LSSU?

WK: “We have a history in the WCHA where we won our national title back in 1991. Some of these schools are schools that we played and competed with before. Really, Minnesota-Mankato was in the NCAA Tournament last year and is supposed to be one of the top teams in the country this year. I think it is great that we keep it the same with Ferris. They are a very good team and that could become a very big rival with us. I think Bemidji State could become a very big rival with us. They are seven-and-a-half hours away, so there is some very good proximity and similar schools with good hockey towns, so I think those are some schools that could allow the rivalries to grow.