Thursday, May 22, 2008

Vail Celebrates Testwuide's Captaincy At DU

From: Vail Daily
by Chris Freud

(left) From the "Golden Pond" to Magness Arena for new DU Captain J.P. Testwuide

Happy Mother’s Day, Janet.

“I usually get my mom some flowers or a card,” Vail’s J.P. Testwuide said. “I try to take her out for dinner or something fun.”

Known as J.P. or Jon Paul locally, Testwuide, a soon-to-be senior defenseman at Denver University changed up his Mother’s Day routine this year. There’s no word on whether Janet got flowers, but her son told her that he had just been named the captain for the Pioneers, the defending Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoff champions, for the upcoming 2008-09 season.

“She really couldn’t believe it,” J.P. said. “She was so happy.”

Not only was Mom floored, but it was a bit of history for DU’s storied program, which has won seven NCAA titles. Testwuide is the going to be the first native Coloradan to wear the captain’s C on his sweater.

“I didn’t really realize that until someone said it,” Testwuide said. “A school reporter e-mailed me, ‘How does it feel to be the first Coloradan to be DU’s captain?’ I didn’t know what she was talking about. Once I realized that I was the first, I was like, ‘Wow.’ That astounded me. There have been a lot of good players from Colorado who have played at DU. I didn’t expect that at all.”

And so the Testwuide brothers continue add letters to their respective sweaters. J.P.’s younger brother, Mike, a junior-to-be come fall, plays forward for DU’s archrival, Colorado College, and has the assistant captain’s A on his black-and-gold jersey.

“It’s fun,” J.P. said. “He got (assistant captain) before I did. He worked so hard. He deserves it.”

The announcement from DU coach George Gwozdecky that Testwuide would wear the C for the Pioneers led to some deservedly proud local reaction.

“I really think it’s an incredible honor,” said Jim Meehan, who coached both Testwuide boys when they played for the Vail Junior Hockey Association. “It shows the amount of confidence his team has in him. I’m not surprised. I thought he had an exceptional year last year. It shows the respect the team has for him as a player and a person.”

Big Role
Testwuide replaces graduating senior Andrew Thomas as the Pioneers’ captain. Like Thomas, Testwuide is a rugged defenseman. In fact, the Vail native is the ninth-straight blueliner to wear or share in the team’s captaincy.

“J.P. is the first Coloradan to serve as team captain in the 60 years of DU hockey,” Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky said in a statement issued on the university’s Web site. “J.P. has really established himself as leader with his tremendous work ethic and passion for the Denver hockey program. He is a tough competitor that will demand a lot from himself and his teammates for our team to reach its goals next season.”

Expectations will be high Magness Arena come the fall. The Pioneers finished third in the WCHA during the regular season behind regular-season champion, Colorado College, and North Dakota. But DU swept Minnesota-Duluth in the first round of the WCHA playoffs and won the conference’s postseason tournament by knocking off North Dakota and Minnesota at the Xcell Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., for a berth in the NCAA playoffs.

“We definitely played well during the last part of the season,” Testwuide said. “We came together as a team. Put it this way, whenever you go into Minnesota and beat Minnesota, it’s a lot of fun.”

Testwuide had a hunch he might be inheriting the captaincy after serving as an assistant last year. Nevertheless, actually getting tabbed is another thing.

“I’m pretty much honored just to be the captain. It’s going to be exciting,” he said. “I think I still have to play my style of hockey. I don’t want to change anything up. You’re the player the team looks up to. You just have to be yourself.”

Trick or Treat?
Testwuide started with hockey just as most local kids do with a bit of ice time and a chair to keep upright at Dobson Arena.

“Probably my fondest memory of Vail was when I started skating,” Testwuide said. “It was with the chairs and it was on Halloween. I didn’t want to leave the ice. I can’t believe I wanted to skate over Halloween.”

Passing on the annual haul of candy that year was just the beginning. J.P. and Mike both played on the Golden family’s pond. Kirk Golden’s father, Paul, would flood his back yard each winter and the Testwuides, young Golden, Colin Kingston and Spencer Ellis and others competed in mythical Game 7s of the Stanley Cup Finals for hours on end.

Meehan coached J.P. from Mini-Mites through Squirts, and even then could tell there was something special about both brothers.

“I think you can tell who is a gifted player, even at a young age,” Meehan said. “The gist of it is that it’s not only good players with certain skills, but players who have a love of the sport that shines through. Both J.P. and Mikey were always that way, terrific players.”

J.P. played one year at the Midget (high school age) level in Vail before heading to the Northwood School in Lake Placid, N.Y. And yes, his home rink was the site of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice.”

Testwuide then spent two years with the Waterloo Black Hawks of the United States Hockey League, the American equivalent of Canadian Juniors before DU came calling.

After the tough transition from Juniors to big-time Division I hockey, Testwuide got his spot and hasn’t looked back since.

The Rivalry
As J.P. assumes the role of captain at DU, while Mike continues at Colorado College, the rivalry becomes more fierce than it already is. By all accounts, J.P. and Mike are the first set of brothers to play on opposite sides of the rivalry.

Within the Testwuide family, it’s been a good-news/bad-news scenario. Mike and the Tigers hold a 6-1-1 advantage over J.P. and the Pioneers during the two years the brothers have suited up. (For the record, Janet wears halves of DU and CC sweatshirt sewn together to the rivalry games in the interests of impartiality.)

Looking ahead to the schedule, DU opens against NCAA runner-up Notre Dame Oct. 11. Next are two games at Magness against Wisconsin, the team that eliminated DU in the first round of the NCAA playoffs. Two weeks later, J.P. and DU and Mike and CC meet in the first of two-home-and-home sets.

“It’s such a fun rivalry,” J.P. said. “I think both teams will be the teams to beat (in the WCHA). I can’t say anything about CC because it’s not good karma. Whenever the two teams play, it definitely a battle. Both teams bring their best to the table. I wouldn’t expect anything less.

“We’ve pretty much played against each other our whole lives. It just makes it that much better. We’re pretty much best friends off the ice, but we love to battle each other.”

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

WCHA Coaches Catfight Over Verbal Commitments

(left) George Gwozdecky & Gophers Coach Don Lucia don't see eye to eye on the issue of verbal commitments

From: Grand Forks Herald
by Brad Schlossman

There was a time not long ago when a player would verbally commit to a college hockey program, and soon after he would be pressured by other coaches to rethink it.

“Yeah that happened. Absolutely. I’d just have to go back as far as Zach Parise,” Denver coach George Gwozdecky said, referring to the former UND player who played from 2002-04.

And there are some coaches who believe those days may return.

At the American Hockey Coaches Association meetings last week in Florida, a small group of coaches pushed eliminate the “gentleman’s agreement” that was put in place a few years ago.

The gentleman’s agreement is that coaches will stop contacting a player once he makes a verbal commitment. This agreement is not bound by NCAA rules — coaches are technically allowed to recruit until a player signs a letter of intent, which can’t happen until an athlete is a high school senior.

But in the last four years, recruiting has become younger and younger. A handful of 14-year-olds have made verbal commitments. Fifteen- and 16-year-olds committing is the new norm. And this trend is a concern to almost all coaches.

Some believe the way to curtail the current trend is to ignore verbal commitments. Others feel that recruiting committed players would lead college hockey down the wrong path.

While it appears that the gentlemen’s agreement will remain in place this year, it might not stay that way for long.

“It’s kind of a mess right now,” Western Collegiate Hockey Association commissioner Bruce McLeod said. “It’s a highly debated topic. Emotions are pretty strong about it.”

Minnesota’s Don Lucia is one coach who has publicly stated that he wants to do away with verbal commitments.

“And he’s got a few allies,” McLeod said. “It’s not a majority. But the problem is that the three or four guys talking about (recruiting committed players) are the leaders, the more veteran coaches. That’s what has caused a commotion more than anything.”

Lucia said that some Hockey East schools pushed a new gentleman’s agreement that would allow schools to contact verbally committed players until May 1 of their junior year. The thinking is that the recruiting age would go back up under this type of system.

“The whole issue here is ninth- and 10th-graders,” Lucia said. “What’s going on right now is not good for the players, colleges or anybody. It shouldn’t be a race to see who can first discover and get a ninth-grader.”

Gwozdecky, the most veteran coach in the WCHA, is on the other side of the issue. He says he’d hate to see the day when coaches are recruiting committed players.

“I don’t want our sport to become like basketball or football,” Gwozdecky said, “where once a young man decides to verbally commit, that’s when the recruiting starts. I strongly feel that once a young man and a school have made a verbal agreement. . . . that is recognized by me as something that is an obligation both parties have to respect.”

UND coach Dave Hakstol says there were very good talks on the subject, but he’d like for the gentleman’s agreement to remain in place for now.

“It’s been something that’s unique to the hockey world,” Hakstol said. “I think it’s served us well. Are there ways to change it and make it better while still honoring the verbal commitment? I think that’s something we’ll talk about over the next year or two.”

There were two incidents in the past season where a coach contacted a committed player and asked if the athlete was content with his commitment, McLeod said.

“Both young men were true to their word,” McLeod said. “It was one phone call, that’s it. And it’s not like they were sneaking around. I know in one case, for sure, the coach called the other coach in advance and told him he was going to do it.”

That might be the norm in a few years.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen right now,” Lucia said, “but we’re not far away from it. I think we’ll be able to make some type of compromise.”

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

DU Assistants Hit The Road To Recruit Players

From: DU Clarion
by Brooks Kirchheimer

Life as an assistant coach is no easy job. You don't just sit next to the coach on the bench and help lead the team.

The job of involves much more than coaching. It is scheduling practices, keeping tabs on student's grades and classes, breaking down game video, organizing and scheduling trips and, most importantly, time-consuming recruiting. It is the 365-day job that surrounds every coach.

Recruiting in college is what helps bring in talented and successful athletes year after year. Recruiting is more than just showing up at high school or, in hockey's case, junior hockey games and picking an athlete you like.

Recruiting is about making connections with high school and club coaches, building a solid program that athletes will want to join and having a facility that an athlete will want to practice and compete in.

For the DU hockey program, assistant coaches Steve Miller and Derek Lalonde spend hundreds of hours a season traveling the globe looking for the athletes that will be the right fit as a Pioneer.

"It's a 365-day process that starts years in advance of when the kid shows up on campus and sees us travel to many places," said Lalonde.

The NHL collective bargaining agreement, which is a contract between team owners and the players association and was most recently agreed to on July 13, 2005 after the cancellation of the 2004-05 NHL season, greatly affected college hockey and recruiting.

The agreement reduced the age of unrestricted free agency in the NHL to 27, which forced teams to start signing players at a much younger age so they had more time to develop them.

This greatly affected college hockey and has seen in recent years numerous players leave college earlier. Most notable for DU are Paul Stastny and Matt Carle who are both currently playing in the NHL along with Ryan Dingle, Geoff Paukovich and Brock Trotter who spent the season in the minors.

"I think the NHL teams are more determined than ever before to get the players out of college as early as possible and get them into their organization and see what kind of players they are and give them a chance to develop," said Head Coach George Gwozdecky. "You are a free agent at the age of 27, and the more you stay in college, the less the team has to develop you."

With more and more players leaving early, recruiting is starting at a much younger age.

"Nowadays you start looking at players when they are 14, 15 or 16. Coach (Gwozdecky) and I went to look at the top 15-year olds in the country a day after the WCHA championships and already got a couple verbal commitments," said Lalonde.

After and during every season these days it is almost becoming a norm to see at least one or two players forgo the rest of their college careers to pursue their dream, the NHL.

"I don't think they know. I think many times they don't want to leave, but then they are convinced to leave by a family member or the team that wants to sign them, and then there are other times when they want to leave because they are ready, it varies," said Gwozdecky about why players are leaving.

With the collective bargaining agreement came a change in the salary cap, allowing teams to sign players for much less than they used to receive.

"The money is not as big as it used to be. Prior to the new collective bargaining agreement money was millions; now, it is only hundreds of thousands. It is a lot of money to us but not a lot of money to a professional franchise," said Gwozdecky.

It is money that might have lured Dingle and Paukovich away from the college game and has seen them play a full season in the dreaded minors.

"I have talked to both of the guys, and they are not really happy with their situation. I have heard from many of the guys that have left or graduated and they say playing minor league hockey is not a lot of fun," said Gwozdecky about Paukovich and Dingle.

Dingle spent the season up and down between the Anaheim Ducks AHL affiliate, Portland Pirates and the ECHL affiliate Augusta Lynx, while Paukovich spent the season with the Stockton Thunder of the ECHL.

"It is a struggle because you have guys that come from different environments, you have a mixture of guys that have a whole different agenda," said Gwozdecky about minor league hockey.

The recruiting process is becoming a win-loss situation for the Pioneers.

Instead of signing players and thinking they will play for four years, the top athletes are quickly leaving for the NHL even if that means time in the minor leagues.

With the collective bargaining agreement came more work for Lalonde and Miller who are now at task to find last minute recruits to fill the spaces of Pioneers who decide to make the step to the NHL.

It is a recruiting process that includes trips like Lalonde took during his time as a coach at Ferris State, where on a four-hour drive to Northern Canada only one radio program was available, bingo.

As more and more players leave college early the recruiting process becomes more important than ever for assistant coaches everywhere.