Mike, when you deal with back-to-back weekends against rivals, do you have to work a little harder as coaches to get your guys to find their, I believe you call it their ideal-performance state, to keep them within that and not try to get, you know, too worked up for the series?
"Well, especially with a young team. I think that’s always a challenge. And I think Saturday night was a classic case of us not playing well. Friday, sitting down looking at the brutal facts and coming out and focused on the heart, and the heart was there, but we were probably over the edge in our preparation. But that’s okay. That’s part of forging yourself as a good team, is going through weekends like what we just went through. We’re going to be a better team because of last weekend. So it’s a balancing act, and hopefully we’ll be better this weekend."
Mike, do you have a problem, perhaps, with the notion that you look at the rankings and you’re up there and it’s all well and good, but do you think it gets lost in the fact that you’re still a pretty young team, that the expectation level maybe for people outside is a little bit higher than maybe yours is right now?
"That could be true. I don’t think our players look at that and are focused on that. We meet every Monday with our captains and we talk about a whole bunch of issues. And I think they’re pretty realistic about where we’re at, where we need to go and how we’re getting there. So for people outside in their expectations may be high because of that, but when you’re with us week by week and you talk to our players, I think they’re pretty realistic and that’s probably the most important thing right now."
Did you ever get a satisfactory answer from either of the Shepherds, I guess, on the penalty shot and whether he looked at it and . . .
"Oh, he looked at it and he thought, in his opinion, it was a good call, and I disagreed and we moved forward. There’s nothing we can do. We can’t control anything so we move forward."
Mike, it seems Joe Piskula is developing himself, is a pretty good stay-at-home defenseman. Would you agree? I mean, he seems like he’s made some progress here the first few weeks.
"He has. And it’s been fun to watch. Joe is a big man. He’s a legitimate 215-pound athlete and moves very well for a big guy. And I think that with the help of Coach Ward and Osiecki that he’s learning somewhat, I think he’s not had a lot of coaching in terms of the details, the intricacies of being a big-time defenseman, and he’s starting to get some of those. And what we’re seeing, he kind of has this mentality where he doesn’t get rattled. He keeps playing. He plays to his strengths. And as a result of all those things, he’s taking steps forward and it’s been fun to watch that growth."
Mike, it’s probably not fair to compare your situation when you took over here to what Dave Hakstol took over at North Dakota, but are there similarities that you, similar experiences that you think you might share with him?
"I’m sure there’s some . . . because you’re always, when you take over a program one of the things that you want to do is put your culture in place, or maybe Dave has the same culture as Blazer [Dean Blais], I don’t know. But every situation’s different until we sat down and really talked about things. We could find the similarities and the differences, but there would be both. And because coming into a situation, there are always things that you have to deal with that you didn’t know existed, even though you were an assistant coach. You have to deal with things. So there would be things that are similar and different."
No Dak’s always known for its offensive punch, but defensively they’re a little underrated, aren’t they?
"Defensively? Oh, they’re, I think that’s one of their strengths. They’re not that much different from last year. They’re big, strong, mobile, aggressive, and that’s the earmark of their team. I think if there’s a difference in their team it’s up front in terms of the people that have magic in those moments of truth. You lose a Zach Parise, a Brian Bochenski, those are guys that they make something happen out of nothing. So I don’t think they have as much of that this year, but their defense is, I think is exactly what it was last year in terms of their personality."
North Dakota’s always known for its offense, but right now it’s one of the lower-scoring teams in the league, its power plays. It’s very uncharacteristic of a North Dakota team, certainly the last couple of years. Is that, do you think, entirely on their youth? Obviously they lost pretty good people from a year ago . . .
"It’s a byproduct of the people they lost. I really believe that. You can’t, if you go back and watch those games last year with Zach in there and Bochenski, they scored goals that only they could score because they have that innate ability to make something happen out of nothing, a tip-in, something that hits them in the fanny and goes in the net, the puck finds them at the side of the net. Now why doesn’t it happen to everybody? Well, they just have that sixth sense of knowing where to be. So their power play numbers are a direct result of the people they lost."
You mentioned that, about the penalty shot, that the coaches, you know, looked at it, move forward, just go on from here. Is that one of the challenges, especially, as you mentioned, for a young team and there might be some of those hangovers? Whatever the obstacle may be in this case, that that’s another challenge that this week, they have to put that and the whole weekend behind them and move on?
"Well, I think that stems from what the leaders as players do and what the leaders as coaches do. And if we have stated, hey, we’re moving on and our actions back that up in the terms of the way we practice, we don’t talk about it any more, then I think they’ll be fine and that’s the way we’re going to react."
Mike, who’s the best all-around athlete on your team, and why?
"You know what? I haven’t seen these guys do a lot of things away from hockey in terms of, last year had you asked me that question I would have said Dan Boeser because I’d seen Dan shoot a basketball and hit golf balls. But on this group, I’m not quite sure. I think there’s several candidates, but I couldn’t readily tell you that at this moment."
How close do you consider the rivalry with North Dakota to the rivalry with Minnesota?
"Same par. I think it’s right up there. I mean, you take a look at history, I don’t remember the last time we had a bench-clearing brawl with Minnesota, but I think everybody remembers the last time we had it with North Dakota. So it brings something different to the table."