Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Coach's Mailbag

With BU's magical 2008-09 championship season — and its "UNBELIEVEABLE" (thank you, Gary Thorne) finish — now in the rearview mirror, Terrier Head Coach Jack Parker has provided his responses to your questions in our third and final Coach's Mailbag of the season. Thanks to all who submitted questions.

Q—Two months have passed since BU won the national championship. During the regular season, the team frequently won with ease, but never won a game in overtime. Only twice did the team fall behind by two goals, then come back to win or tie. But in neither case was BU down two in the final minutes. With all the one-goal post-season wins, and so many of them comeback wins, what does this say about the character of the 2008-09 team?

JP—I’d say two things: First we were not playing our best hockey and we were getting the opponents’ best game. Secondly, and most importantly, we had the talent and leadership to "find a way" to get it done.

Q—Besides the final minutes of regulation and the overtime against Miami, what moments and achievements from this season stand out for you?

JP—There were so many, but here are a few that pop out at me:
►three goals in 44 seconds vs. BC in the HE semi-finals;
►the power play goal vs. Vermont to tie the game at three in the second period of the National semi-final;
►the short-handed goals vs. Northeastern in the Beanpot finals; and
►the almost-perfect game we played against UNH at Agganis Arena in mid-January.

Q—Do you expect the team's upcoming White House visit will be a bigger thrill than firing a pitch from the Fenway mound?

JP—Absolutely. I would be ecstatic to shake hands with President Obama, a president I respect and admire.

Q—In last September’s mailbag, you discussed the need for a “new formula” to prepare the team for a faster start and noted that previously you had “broken the team down and then built them up again.” The team’s 6-1-0 start shows that your new approach worked. So, what was done differently?

JP—We started with a different approach to "Team Building". In the past we would do outside activities such as Outward Bound course on a Boston Harbor Island or Trust exercises and rope courses, etc. with outside instructors. This year we had former great BU Hockey players talk to our team and discuss what it should mean to be a "BU Hockey Player." As coaches, we tried to be more positive in our approach with the team and with individuals, and we also let the seniors "own" the team more.

Q—Can you spell out those qualities that make someone a "BU player"?

JP—A BU hockey player is…
►a great competitor;
►a leader;
►a good teammate;
►a good guy;
►unselfish; and

Q—How might you alter that “new formula” for a team coming off an NCAA championship?

JP—We are currently planning our approach for this season. It will retain some elements, but there also will be a different focus because our team and situation is different.

Q—You also spoke last September about changing the team’s mindset to perform better at home. The 10-7 home record in 07-08 was improved to 16-4-2 in 08-09. Was the improvement due to mindset, talent or both?

JP—Both for sure. We were more experienced and talented and we were determined to get off to a good start. Since we had a number of home games early, it translated into home wins. However, we were fabulous on the road all year (Kieran Millan did not lose a road game all year) and that was a huge factor in our confidence level.

Q—With so many lineup slots to fill due to graduations and Wilson’s departure, do you expect next season’s freshman class to have as big an impact—outside of goalie—as this past season’s rookies?

JP—I hope so. With the loss of Strait just recently, we will have two freshmen defensemen in the class and both will have the opportunity to log significant minutes. Up front, we lose five of our top six forwards and we are only bringing in three at present. So the returning players discussed in the following question will have step up as well. The younger players will be “thrown to the wolves” a little bit earlier than last years’ pups needed to be.

Q—The depth of last year’s team limited the playing time of several younger players and Ryan Ruikka was injured much of the year. Which of these players do you think will step up and challenge for regular lineup spots?

JP—I think all of the players who did not get a lot of ice time last season were capable enough to play regularly. Other guys just played harder or were more productive. The question is who will be next years' Zach Cohen and the answer is any one of them. Someone will produce the effort and focus necessary to be a "BU Hockey Player."

Q—Has winning the 2009 National Championship impacted your recruiting efforts yet and do you expect it to be a factor moving forward?

JP—It certainly will be a factor in the future. Our classes for Sept '09 and Sept '10 were already somewhat locked up, so not much immediate impact.

Q—Is recruiting for 2009-10 complete or are there more slots to fill?

JP—Everyone is set for this September.

Q—You’ve said the 2008-09 team had the best leadership group in your tenure at BU? Strait and Shattenkirk both have been captains in their pre-BU careers. Do you expect similar leadership from them next season? Will there also be an assistant captain? [Note: question posed prior to Strait’s departure.]

JP—Well for starters Co-Captain Brian Strait has signed a pro contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Therefore, we have an adjusted leadership situation. Kevin Shattenkirk will be the Captain and we have appointed Nick Bonino and Eric Gryba as assistant captains. All three of these players will be good leaders and teammates, but it remains to be seen if they and the other upper classmen can approach the bar set by the outgoing captains and seniors.

Q—There was plenty of competition for most improved player on this year’s team. What do you think were the keys to Zach Cohen's dramatic improvement this year?

JP—Effort and focus. Simple but not easy.

Q—What is your assessment of the first season with 2 referees and 2 linesmen? Is there any particular rule change you would like to see down the road?

JP—I like the system and hopefully we will move more toward the NHL “standard”' that makes this system effective. I’d like to see the "catchable pass" rule discarded. It is not good for the game or the refs. [Editor’s note: this refers to the rule that allows the ref to whistle off icing if an outlet pass from a defenseman in his own zone is near enough to a teammate over the red line—even if he doesn’t catch it—and then goes beyond the opponents’ goal line.]

Q—This past season, I noticed that penalties were called by a referee who was far removed from the play, even though another referee was just a few feet away from the action. Is the thinking that the referee further away from the action has a better perspective than the ref who's on top of the play?


Q—Do you anticipate returning to a goalie rotation for 09-10?

JP—I hope so. We have plenty of skill and depth there; hopefully we can take advantage of that.

Q—You are always quick to recognize the contributions of your assistant coaches? What are the individual strengths of your assistants that make them so valuable to the coaching staff?

JP—First and foremost, they are good recruiters. They both (Bavis & Quinn) are good evaluators of talent and very dedicated to outworking the competition. All three are excellent on ice coaches as well, so our players get plenty of individual attention. And possibly their best contribution comes when they are pushing me to be more focused or getting me to change my approach to team or individual interaction.

Q—What does it take for a player to earn a paw sticker for his helmet? Is it different for forwards, defensemen, and goalies?

JP—Goalies only get paws for shutouts. Everyone else earns paws for things that don't ordinarily get recognized such as blocked shots, great defensive plays, assists on shorthanded goals and one paw for the best "Hit of the night."

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