Despite winning back-to-back Southwest Conference championships, and five of the last seven, the Marshall Tiger boys' hockey team will open its season tonight with a lot to prove to its rivals. At least according to first-year head coach Dave Coudert.
"A lot of people, I think, have written Marshall off," Coudert said. "New coach, we lost a couple great players. I think most people are saying Marshall's going to come in close to last place. So I think one goal is to prove people wrong. You can never count Marshall out. We've got the skill. Even with a new coach, we're just going to go out and take care of business."
Coudert, who is taking over the reins after the summer departure of eight-year head coach Kori Pearson, may be new to the varsity level, but not to its players.
Independent file photo
Marshall senior forward Beau Mikel skates up the ice ahead of an official during the Tiger boys’ hockey team’s Media Face-Off event Nov. 19 at Lockwood Motors Ice Arena. Mikel returns as one of the Tigers’ top scoring threats after leading the team with 26 points through the 2011-12 regular season.
Having spent several years coaching in Marshall's youth hockey association, Coudert said that his previous experiences with the young men comprising the Tigers, especially the populous senior class, have given him a head start compared to other first-time varsity coaches.
"I know most of the kids. They jumped right on board and they listen well, and they were open to any new ideas. The transition's been pretty simple," Coudert said.
"There's only two seniors that I haven't coached. They're all good hockey players; they know the game and they jumped right in. We were able to move forward with some new ideas; and because they're such great hockey players, it was easy for them to pick up."
Notable among those seniors is Beau Mikel, whose 26 points (11 goals, 15 assists) from a season ago led the Tigers. Joining Mikel in a senior class looking to improve on last year's 16-8-1 mark are Leo Zerr, Quinn Horvath and Corey Clark. Each of the four will have a crucial role for the Tigers, who are looking to open up the offense this season.
"We hope to be more high-octane, but I think they tried to spread it out as much as they could, too," Coudert said. "This class will be able to really spread it out and attack the net. Our strength is definitely our offense."
The Tigers will need that offense, and the leadership of the senior class, as they open up their season with four-straight road games and six of their first eight away from Lockwood Motors Ice Arena.
"I think the road trips out of the gate will be good, they're good for team bonding," Coudert said. "We've got some tough opponents right out of the gate on the road and I think that the guys are going to have to perform right then and there. Those number three and number four games, those are very important games. I think being on the road actually helps build a team. You're stuck with each other on the bus. I'm looking forward to it, I think the kids are looking forward to it."
The road-heavy start, which includes tonight's season-opener at rival Worthington at 7:30 p.m., will also provide a test for the Tigers revamped defense. Marshall graduated three blue-liners from last year's team, and lost an underclassmen to transfer.
The constant for the Tigers' defense will be between the pipes, where junior Mason Campion and senior Adam Cavazos will look to stonewall opponents and help smooth the transition for the new faces in front of them.
"We have two returning goalies, any given day either one of them can jump in and be a starter," Coudert said. "Then we work our way out from there.
"We're going to have four new defensemen. We're replacing quite a bit of our defensive core, but most of these guys have been playing on-again, off-again for varsity. We only have one new player back there and he stepped right in and filled a void."
Though the expectations of others for the Tigers have been tempered amidst the uncertainty of a new head coach, Coudert said the team has few reservations of its own.
"This group is no nonsense, they're on a mission," Coudert said. "We've even got some juniors that are taking a leadership role. They're all jumping on board and keeping each other in line to get to the ultimate goal, which is going to state.
A lofty goal, perhaps, but one that has long been near the top of ladder for each Marshall high school hockey team, and will remain so under Coudert's watch.
"I think the first goal is to win the Southwest Conference, the next goal is to win the section, and then compete at state," he said.