KLUB HOKEJA NA LEDUMEDVEŠČAKZAGREB
ICE HOCKEY CLUB
For the first time Medvescak Zagreb will start the season with a returning head coach. And also for the first time, more than half the players from last season's roster have returned to the Den.
After finishing training camp with a string of six wins and just before the season starts, Gordie Dwyer shared his satisfaction on the team's progress, the changes that have been made, what he expects in his second season with the Bears and what the focus has to be on for the team to be successful.
“We have a lot of returning players who know what's expected of them and who helped us get the new guys to buy in to the systems and our team identity, the identity we want the Bears to have this season,” Dwyer said in the opening note of the interview.
Will our identity be any different compared to last season?
Team identity and buying in to the systems is the key to our group’s success, just like last season. We have a lot of different players from 12 countries. We're a team that's built a certain way, a team that's going to play fast and aggressive. We're a team that has a lot of character guys and they will do anything for each other and are going to stand up for each other.
How much has having half the team return helped you to accomplish what you set out before training camp?
The ground work of what we've laid out last year was very helpful. We are fortunate enough to have a lot of guys returning, and those are the players we've identified as good character guys who fit our system and how we want to play. Every guy on the team has a purpose, a specific role to fill. Once you start from that point on, it’s about identifying players who will fit those roles and players who can help our group as well.
How happy are you with filling those roles?
I'm happy with the team we put together. Of course, it's a process and the first games will be a real test for us, but when you look at the players we brought in and our line-up today, the depth is much bigger than last season. There is strength in our line-up down the middle and in our D we have guys who will help us play a faster paced game a faster paced game.
When you look at Giroux, he's a veteran player who we feel can score goals for us and be an offensive treat. He's got a history of doing that. Pare is another example. He has a fast, aggressive style we want to play with, and based on his experience in this league, we've identified him as a player who can be at his best with our club.
We have centermen returning with Brule, Mertl and Bolduc who will give us strength and with them some very versatile players who can play in different positions.
New D-men will be the key to our transition game and help get the puck to our forwards. Those are the guys who will help that side of the game for us and allow us to play for our strength.
During training camp, did the team come together and how satisfied are you with what the players showed?
We worked on a lot of areas and guys filled all expectations. We know where guys fit in our roster, so there were no surprises, but there are a few guys who stepped up. I don't want to name any names because our success comes down to our team structure and how our group plays collectively.
Our goaltending was excellent with Taylor coming back and Hovinen and Gaiduchenko joining us. We're happy to have them to start the season. Out of the players from whom we didn't know what to expect, Mahbod came in as an unknown and played extremely well in training camp. He was a factor and an offensive presence for us. We’ll be very curious to see if he can keep it up at the KHL level. We also have a new player, Bobby Butler who only trained once with us, but we’re excited about his addition to the line-up.
Does all this mean the training camp was a success?
Absolutely. We’ve accomplished what we set out to do – to work on our group, to touch on all of our systems and to be comfortable with it. We've worked on conditioning and plays on the ice, but we also worked on getting that team identity and teambuilding. Being away from Zagreb and basically living together for three weeks certainly helped bond everyone. Training camp was a success, guys got to know each other and have created a true team spirit.
Wining six games in a row must have helped that.
You play games to win, there’s no doubt it helped. Although for us it wasn't about the result, it was about the process of putting the team together. We feel good with how we played, we were able to find a way in every game. I like that we paid attention to detail and that we focused on our team system and how we have to play to be successful. The wins helped our confidence and environment, but at this point they're less important. The next few games will be a big test for us.
Speaking of the environment, how's the looker room feeling before the first game of the season and the first road trip?
It’s a positive atmosphere, we're excited to start the season. We felt good about the camp and what's most important - we’ve been able to progress everybody healthy in to the season, which is huge. Starting the regular season with everybody available is a positive for our team.
We talked about the changes in the team, but not the ones in the coaching staff. Connor Cameron and Alex Westlund joined the team, and Dylan Beston has returned. What do you expect of them?
I'm happy with our staff. It was a process during summer to find the best fit and it will be a strength for our organization. All three of them deserve to be here. Connor coaches with great detail and knows how to break down plays and present them to the players. Dylan took a big step this year, he’ll be given more responsibility. The players gravitate towards him and I look forward to his contribution. Alex will take over the goaltending. He has an appreciation for the game, not just coaching. He’s just a year removed from his playing days and has great insight. Alex is a new addition for us, but he’s familiar to the city and the club.
The biggest change in the League is the addition of the 29th club – Red Star Kunlun from Being.
This is an exciting time, not just for us, but for the league as well. It's great for hockey that we're able to go to new markets. On our part, we look forward to going to China.
Free agency was a busy one this summer. How do you view the current landscape of the League?
There was a significant amount of player movement throughout the league this year. The league will be ultracompetitive again. The parity in the league last year was one of the strengths of the league. On any given night any team could win. It will be the same. We’re in a tough division and we’ll have to be at our best and be competitive and consistent throughout the season. Our goal, like any other season is to get into playoffs. That’s what every team wants. It’s a push for the playoffs. Take it one step at the time.
Those steps start on the road and after a short stay at home, you will be traveling for almost the entire month of September. Will it be easier to get rid of the big road trip so early in the season, compared to last season when the season in Zagreb ended in mid-January?
The month of September will not be easy for us. We had the training camp on the road and we immediately go for a big road trip. It will be a challenge for us, but we’ll be ready and we feel that there are team in that period we can battle with.
Last year we had some success early in the season. We were at home mostly and were able to get a lot of points which led to a great start for our hockey club. But when we hit the road later in the season it proved to be tougher.
It’s an inverted schedule this time around. It will be nice to get rid of a major chuck of the away games early on. We already look forward to coming back again and playing in front of our fans.
During December and January we have ten home games in a row, with a one week break for Christmas and New Year’s. How will that affect the team?
It will be nice. We’ll have a lot of travel behind us at that point, so it will be good to be home for a while. In this league it’s about managing the travel and everything that goes with it. We’ll do whatever we can to make sure our players are ready to compete at the highest level. This home string will give us a chance to rest up and recharge for a late season push in January and February.
There is one novelty, we will have two back-to-back games. We haven’t had that last season, so what’s your opinion of it?
Both games will be at home, so it will be a quick turn-around for us. We have a lot of players who are used to playing back to back games, so it shouldn’t be a problem. We’ll have to adapt quickly, but it will energize our group. We’ll have two nights to play in front of our fans and if we get to a good start in the first night, I’m sure the support will push us further in the second one.