DENVER - The University of Denver held its annual hockey media day today in the press box at Magness Arena. Head coach George Gwozdecky and senior captain Andrew Thomas met the media. Gwozdecky and Thomas shared the following with the Denver media:
Head coach George Gwozdecky:
Opening Statement: Ladies and gentlemen, it’s great to be back for our new season. It’s nice to see all of you here. I will basically mimic what Erich said about our new partnership with AM 1510 Mile High Sports Radio. I think it’s a great partnership and it’s going to allow us to be on the air on a consistent basis, not only with hockey but with our basketball program and also our continued relationship with FSN Rocky Mountain, which has been so successful in the past.
Probably like every coach and every team at this time of the year, we are looking forward to the start of the season. We’ve had an opportunity to play one game and that was on Sunday night against the University of Calgary. We saw some good things happen and probably more importantly we got a chance to view our freshman for the very first time. We have a number of freshmen on our team, as you’re all probably aware. Almost half our team is made up of freshmen due to not only successful graduation rates, but also because of the early exodus of some of our players to the professional hockey ranks. Just to think right now that Paul Stastny would have just been starting his senior year at Denver if he were still with us, but we’re pleased to see Paul and many of our other players moving on to their pro careers, whether it’s in hockey or otherwise. The one thing that I’ve told our team since day one when we came back to school here is that our biggest goal is to become a team.
On Goaltender Peter Mannino: Peter Mannino is going to be carrying the mail, and we have some young guys backing him up. Marc Cheverie is a very talented young goaltender. It will be very similar to a few years ago when Adam Berkhoel was a senior and Glenn Fisher was in his freshman year. Peter is going to mentor Marc very similar in many ways as what Adam did for Glenn. That is a position that we all know is the most crucial on a hockey team, and we’re very pleased to know that Peter is going to be with us. He is the most talented and potentially the best goaltender in not only the WCHA but the country. And we know that as skaters, if we make a mistake, Peter will be there to cover up for us.
On the Blueline: Our blueline will be led by preseason All-American Chris Butler who is back for his junior year, along with our anchor, our rock on the back of the blueline in senior captain Andrew Thomas. They will really be the key guys to run the show on the blue line.
On the Forwards: Up front we’re going to rely on our underclassmen similar to last year. Rhett Rakhshani, Brock Trotter and Tyler Ruegsegger were the three guys who really gave us a boost last year. When they went well, so did we. They kind of got fatigued down the stretch, especially in the month of February. When our opponents learned how to play against Denver and started to shut down our freshmen, our consistency wasn’t as good as it had been. Our success was a little bit more challenging, but there’s no question that those three guys are going to be bolstered by some other people.
On the Maine Series: We’re looking forward to having the University of Maine here, not so much because of the 2004 National Championship game but in 2005 we had to travel out there and start the season off with a series in Orono. It did not go very well. There were a lot of conditions that worked against us, but nonetheless, we remember those two games and the outcome of both and hopefully we get the chance to turn the tables on them this weekend. We are certainly looking forward to playing against a national power like Maine and a well respected team like the Black Bears.
With so many new faces, does it change your approach or what you expect out of the guys heading into the season?: There is a lot more teaching going on with individual and skill instruction as well as systematic instruction, which is keeping us busy. I think our captains also realize the work that needs to be done to bring this group together as a team. There is a lot of building of a team that has to be done.
Impact of "older" freshmen, was that a plan?: Age rarely is a deciding factor in who we recruit and how we identify players. I think sometimes age may be a factor with guys who blossom late or develop early, but no the age level of a number of our guys had nothing to do with us recruiting them. It was dependent on their skill level and their academic status and if they were the kind of character that would fit into our program.
Compare this team’s raw talent to previous teams’: We had a much larger senior class both in 2004 and 2005 than we do this year. Our senior class has four players, three of which have played on a regular basis. Tom May, Peter Mannino, Andrew Thomas and Zach Blom make up our senior class. The real difference in the leadership is that we had so many more seniors in those two championship teams, which really offers a greater advantage, especially when you have the amount of talent that those two senior classes had.
Senior captain Andrew Thomas:
Opening Statement: First of all I’d like to thank you all for coming, you guys do a great job in supporting us all year long, and I think that if anyone saw this past Sunday it shows a lot of promise. Having 12 freshmen this year, our biggest challenge this year, as coach said, is getting everyone acclamated, getting everyone on the same page, so after four weeks of Captain’s practice and obviously this past week, having the coaches on the ice, it’s been a challenge. But, it’s also really exciting because we’re starting to get guys really used to the routine and with having 12 freshman is something nice to see. Being an Eastern kid I’m excited for this coming weekend, having Maine coming to town, maybe a little redemption from a couple years ago when we went up there to visit them.
Andrew could you talk about how much of a rock Pete (Mannino) could be in the nets, based on his experience? Well Pete’s a gamer, and I don’t think it’s a question of him changing his play at all, I think it’s just keeping it up. I think our responsibility and the pressure lies in the defensive corps and rests on the forwards in really supporting Pete as much as we can because he’s our rock, he’s going to be our go-to guy this year, but like I said the emphasis is definitely put on us.
Do you feel old, now with so many kids around you, in terms of both age and experience? Well having been a freshman at 18 and only being 21 now, it is strange looking around the locker room and seeing so many freshmen faces. I don’t think it’s a question of age having Tyler Ruegsegger as sophomore assistant captain, I think that in itself speaks miles. Age just really hasn’t been a factor for us the past couple years. Like Coach said, we throw freshmen right into the fire. I was one of them three years ago, but we’re excited, regardless of age, freshman are freshman, they still have some learning to do.
What kind of captain are you going to be? I mean you had (Matt) Laatsch as a freshman, (Matt) Carle and Gabe (Gauthier) as a sophomore, and Adrian (Veideman) a year ago, what kinds of things have you drawn from those guys? Playing off of what Coach said, the richest tradition we have at Denver is always that put forth by the captains, all the way back from Keith Magnuson to Cliff Koroll who have influenced me a great deal. What I’ve noticed is that none of them mimic each other, they all established their own identity as a captain. I think that with the support staff that I have with Chris (Butler), J.P. (Testwuide), and Tyler (Ruegsegger), I think that makes my job a lot easier because they can delegate responsibilities. I can delegate the pressures that are put on a captain. Thankfully I have them there, but I’ll do anything I can to help the team: on the ice, off the ice, helping freshman with any questions they have, but really carrying the load when I have to, putting it on my shoulders and saying "follow me, this the direction we’re heading."