This week, students made their way back on campus to start a new semester. Their arrival also marks the beginning of the 2nd half of BYU Hockey season.
It has been a rough campaign thus far for the winless Cougars. Vanquish The Foe had an chance to interview Head Coach Ed Gantt about the season to this point, changes within the program, and what to expect going forward.
In the American Collegiate Hockey Association record books, BYU is 0-15, has a goal differential of -70, with this being your first year back with the program, has this been the toughest stretch in your coaching career?
This has been without a doubt the toughest stretch of my coaching career. Other than when I coached a recreational league Bantam team (13 year-olds) several years ago, I have never had a team lose this many games, or this many in a row. The most frustrating thing has been the fact that this losing record does not accurately reflect the talent-level or competitiveness of this particular team. At times it has been a real challenge to to keep my own energy level and optimism up, much less that of the players. While we definitely had some blow-outs last semester – which is reflected in the –70 goal differential – we also had some very close games against some very, very good opponents. In fact, it was not until we took to the road in November and headed to California that we played any teams not ranked in the Top 10 in the West – and even in California we played teams ranked in the Top 15. We have yet to play a single unranked team, though we are ourselves unranked. I suspect we may be one of the only teams in the Western Region (maybe even the entire ACHA) that has had to play such a demanding schedule.
In the end, the grind of losing – whether by large margins or small ones – does start to wear on you. And, if it doesn’t, then that means your competitive juices have dried up. I am very excited about this semester, however. I think all our struggle and hardship from last semester is going to start paying off.
What unique challenges are you finding with this group?
I would say that there are maybe two challenges that I have faced with this group so far: (1) teaching to the wide range of differences in hockey experience and skill, and (2) keeping players focused, positive, and hopeful. We have some kids on the team who have played hockey all their lives, and have done so at some very high levels. At the same time, we have some players who have never really played competitive hockey before and are just now learning some very intricate and complex systems and strategies – as well as accruing some basic game-situation experience.
As to the second point, as I mentioned above, keeping a positive outlook, winning expectations, and such has been very difficult over the course of a long stretch of loses. I would say, however, that overall we have been very successful at keeping guys focused and positive, despite the difficulties and heartbreaks that piled up last semester.
What will be your approach as a coach with this team in the 2nd half of the season? Will you hit the reset button, clear the history and move on or will you try to build on the lessons, go through the process of viewing the season as a whole?
I don’t see the need to hit a restart button. The systems and strategies we have had in place are sound. I believe that the basic philosophy of the team is solid, and the culture in the locker room is exactly what we wanted it to be when we started the season. We have added some new faces for this semester, and they are providing some real talent, experience, and skill, but we are simply inserting them into the already existing structure so that our overall team execution improves.
Despite the record, comments and articles from every opponent have been about how BYU is better than their record shows, and better than they have been in the last few years. In your opinion, what has been the missing element(s) to getting over the hump?
I wish I knew the precise answer to this question. I have spent a fair amount of time so far this season scratching my head wondering how it was we didn’t win this game or that game when we clearly should have. I do know that even though our overall talent level was better last semester than it has been in some recent seasons, we still aren’t as deep skill-wise as we need to be. Also, and this is a credit to the ACHA and the rise in the quality of hockey out here in the West over the past several years, the talent level of our opponents has steadily improved over the years. Several of the teams we played this last semester were far weaker teams a few years ago (even last year), but have really developed and improved – thus, setting our bar even higher.
What have you been pleased with during the 1st half of the season?
I have been most happy with the way in which the team has come together through the adversity, the way in which they have never given up on one another but have pulled together, remained encouraging and supportive. Often when a team of very competitive athletes experiences one tough lost after another, with a few blow-outs sprinkled in along the way, the tension and frustration everyone feels starts to seep out and the blame game begins, or guys just shut-down and mentally pull away from their teammates. That hasn’t happened on this team. The boys really do love one another and have realized that the only thing they have to hold onto during very difficult times is one another. I am exceptionally proud of this team for that. In this one respect, perhaps more than any other, it is unlike any other team I have ever coached. I am truly grateful to be associated with these young men.
Last season, Chris Tuttle led the team in points. He has 3 points this season (2 goals, 1 assist). I know he has had a few injuries set backs, but what can you do help the captain make more of an impression on the scoreboard?
In my mind, the captain’s job is not to put points up on the board. Its to lead out. Mike Eruzione was team captain for the 1980 US Olympic team. He was a fourth line center and got limited playing time. He did score a huge goal for the US, of course, but he was never looked to for scoring. He was looked to for leadership, to embody the values and ideals and spirit of the team as a whole – and that is precisely what he did. Chris Tuttle is a great hockey player and has tremendous skills. Like the rest of the team, he has struggled to achieve the levels of success on the ice that he (and the coaching staff) expect. Be that as it may, he has been a tremendous leader on and off the ice. His commitment to the team, his positive attitude and vision for the team never waivers. I have had the opportunity to work with many captains over the years as I have coached hockey and Chris is one of the finest, no exceptions.
BYU has had a brutal schedule with highly ranked opponents and nearly every game on the road, how important will having a home-heavy schedule be to close out the season?
It will be very nice to hear folks cheering for us instead of jeering at us. Some of the fans in some of the arenas we have played in have been pretty brutal on us. They seem to forget that these players are just ordinary college kids. Nobody here is going to the NHL, nobody here is on some NCAA sports scholarship, there are no professional scouts in the stands. So, it can be tough to have some unruly fans from other teams cursing you and cheering like crazy when you or a teammate goes down with an injury. So, it will be nice to have a home crowd behind us, cheering us on – not because our home crowd will act like some of the one’s we’ve seen in other venues, but because it is really motivating to know that there are folks in the stands who paid money to come watch you play, and who will go nuts when you make a good play, score a goal, make a save, or finish a big hit. I think the best evidence of this is the scores and the way the team played when we played teams like U of U and USU here at home earlier in the season, as opposed to how things went the past couple of games we played in their barnes.
Coming into the new semester, you have 5 new players on the squad, who should fans watch for during the 2nd half of the season?
The team is much faster and more skilled. We added some very quick and talented players, who have pretty solid hockey pedigrees. Our passing is much better, our overall hockey sense is better, and we have far more scoring touch. I think that our fans who saw us back in October are going to wonder if this is even the same team or not when they see us on the ice this semester.
What are the goals for the rest of the season?
We have one central goal: The ACHA Western Regional Tournament. It has been our primary goal from Day 1. We feel like we are situated to really shake the rankings up this semester and make a legitimate run toward getting invited to that tournament. I know that given our record so far that this may sound like "crazy-talk" or wishful thinking, but I legitimately think we have a shot. We’ve paid our dues as a team and now we’re ready to see some results.
BYU Hockey's 2nd half campaign begins Thursday, January 8th, at 7:00 PM against #9 Utah State at the Peaks Ice Arena. Price of admission is $6 and $3 with a student ID. The Cougars also welcome #3 Utah to Peaks Ice Arena on Saturday, January 10th, at 7 PM. Come cheer our Cougars or listen to the games LIVE here on Vanquish The Foe.