From Good to Great?
UMass Lowell hopes to follow the path laid out
by a famous business book – and head coach Blaise MacDonald
fully expects to
On a Saturday
in April, just weeks after last season ended, Father Tony Penna
had the ear of almost every college hockey coach in the country.
Several hundred people crowded in a small Florida hotel meeting
room at the American Hockey Coaches Association Convention as the
athletic chaplain from Boston College summarized the best-selling
business book, Good to Great, and discussed how it could
be applied to college sports.
College Hockey's 2004-05 season preview includes an in-depth
look at the process of building programs at different stages
in their development:
• From scratch: Robert Morris
• Rebuilding: Bowling Green
• Making the Leap: UMass Lowell
coach Blaise MacDonald was already familiar with the book –
not only had he read it, but he had each of his players submit a
written report about it as well. Still, MacDonald was transfixed
by Father Penna’s talk.
biggest thing I take from the book is that the enemy of great is
not mediocrity,” said Father Penna, who was invited to the
convention by Bowling Green head coach Scott Paluch, a former BC
assistant coach. “The enemy of great is good. The real challenge
is that when you become a good program, you get comfortable. To
make that next jump to great can be very hard when you are good.”
satisfied with his team’s sixth-place finish in Hockey East
in 2003-04, might have felt like he was the only person in the room
as Father Penna spoke. Good to Great is precisely the kind
of leap MacDonald expects from his River Hawks in 2004-05, and as
Father Penna spoke, it was an expectation he had been reinforcing
in his team since the moment the 2003-04 season ended.
is not Disneyland, or Hollywood. I'll give you an example:
I've read that I flew up the hills and mountains of France.
But you don't fly up a hill. You struggle slowly and painfully up
and maybe, if you work very hard, you get to the top ahead of everybody
—Lance Armstrong, It’s Not About the Bike
to be great is what we need to do,” said head coach Blaise
MacDonald, who is entering his fourth season at UMass Lowell.
message found welcome targets among his returning players, a group
that includes 23 letterwinners. By June the team’s goal-scoring
leader, Ben Walter, donned a Boston Bruins sweater at the NHL Draft
and talked not about skating in the FleetCenter for the B’s,
but about winning the national championship next spring at Value
City Arena with UMass Lowell.
In a world where
“managing expectations” is considered a public relations
necessity, MacDonald is aiming for the top of the hill – and
he’s not afraid to let everyone know it.
I think coaches and players are too guarded in their approach –
one day at a time, that sort of thing,” he said. “We
certainly subscribe to that, but I think you have got to shoot high.
We should be talking about getting home ice in the Hockey East playoffs.
We should be talking about who we are going to play in the FleetCenter,
and watching ESPN on Sunday to find out who we are going to play.
Are all of those things going to come true? Maybe not, but I think
you have to have high expectations.”
are usually reserved for the Boston Colleges, Michigans and Minnesotas
of the world. At UMass Lowell, MacDonald seeks to apply them to
a team that had some postseason success in the 1990s, but has only
hosted a first-round playoff series once in the last eight years.
Senior defenseman Peter Tormey is the only player to skate in a
postseason victory for the River Hawks.
to Great already on the bookshelves, MacDonald gave his team
another assignment this summer: Armstrong’s book. Each player
submitted a written report detailing what they would take from the
book on a personal level, and how its message could help the team
overwhelmed by his team’s responses to the book. Chances are,
they were consistent with his goals for this fall:
to be great is what we need to do,” he said. “If we’re
going to be great, here are some standards that need to be met.
It’s something I talk to the team about a lot – we want
to be daring here, not conservative.”
good-to-great companies built a consistent system
clear constraints, but they also gave people
freedom and responsibility within the framework of that system.
They hired self-disciplined people who didn’t need to be managed,
and then managed the system, not the people.” –Jim Collins,
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't
optimism derives from more than just determination, of course. The
biggest reason is his personnel, a group of young and talented players
that gained seasoning last year as a team full of freshmen and sophomores.
sophomores and juniors, the team seems to have the makeup of a team
that made the good-to-great breakthrough a year ago.
at the model of Minnesota Duluth,” said MacDonald. “The
breakdown of their team is not unlike what we have here.
just need Junior Lessard to transfer here and Isaac [Reichmuth]
to play goalie,” MacDonald said with a laugh. “That,
and Sandy’s [Scott Sandelin] a much better coach than I am.
Lowell isn’t the only team that could be ready to make
the leap from good to great this year. Here are three other
candidates, none of whom made the NCAA Tournament last season:
The Big Green has a group of forwards that’s just as
formidable as UMass Lowell’s, led by Lee Stempniak.
Head coach Bob Gaudet may have his team ready for a breakthrough.
A perennial upset specialist in the CCHA Super Six, it seems,
NMU enters year three of the Walt Kyle era ready to start
the season as strong as it has finished lately.
The recruiting and preparation of Rick Gotkin’s program
continues to draw praise. They didn’t get the coveted
invitation to join the ECAC, but Mercyhurst may crash the
NCAA party this year.
If the River
Hawks have a Lessard-in-waiting, it’s likely one of a trio
of juniors who are close friends and roommates: Elias Godoy, Andrew
Martin and Ben Walter. Other talented forwards like sophomore Jason
Tejchma, juniors Danny O’Brien and Mark Pandolfo, and incoming
transfer Jeremy Hall (eligible in the spring semester) support the
River Hawks’ big three.
UMass Lowell lost Jerramie Domish, the only everyday player from
last year not back in 2004-05. Returning is sophomore Cleve Kinley,
who has the potential to be a Hockey East star, and a solid, if
fairly anonymous, supporting cast.
along with youth, was expected to doom the River Hawks a year ago,
but Chris Davidson and John Yaros were both solid. Peter Vetri,
a highly regarded freshman from the BCHL, joins the mix as well.
All that talent
means that it’s not just River Hawk followers who expect big
things out of Tsongas Arena this season. Several opposing coaches
see them as a candidate for the “surprise team” role
UMD held last season.
what he likes about his players, however, and he doesn’t even
touch on their on-ice abilities.
their honesty, their trust-worthiness,” he said. “They
have an incredible ability to get along as 29 people. There are
no egos, no cliques – just good, responsible people.
very fortunate to have such a great group. I know they can handle
that kind of expectation level, and I know that they want that expectation
players respond to the increased expectations will certainly be
watched closely as the puck drops for UMass Lowell at Niagara Oct.
9. If they can put together a season like their coach expects, they
should be the best story in college hockey this year – perhaps
a story worthy of a book report.
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