Dean Strong is a senior center and captain for the Vermont Catamounts, who has 107 points in 154 career games. The well-rounded player led the Catamounts as a junior with 28 points and was the runner-up in Hockey East voting as the league’s Best Defensive Forward. As a senior, he is one of 10 finalists for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award.
INCH took time to talk with Dean about Vermont’s season, their success at the regionals last week and looking forward to the Frozen Four.
Joe Gladziszewski: Let’s start by talking about your linemates, Colin Vock and Wahsontiio Stacey. How is it playing with those guys?
Dean Strong: With both Colin and Wahs, I’m pretty lucky playing with those guys. Colin is one of the more skilled guys. He passes well and shoots well, and is good in the defensive zone. Wahs, is pretty much the same. He’s real creative with the puck, and he’s a great passer. I kill penalties with him also, and he sacrifices his body more than anything.
INCH: How was your team’s attitude during the week off during the Hockey East tournament in Boston? We you angry? Refocused? What did the coaching staff do with you guys that week?
DS: The first couple days were pretty negative. You don’t want to see anybody, you just want to stay in bed, but the coaching staff got us refocused and positive, and we had some good practices starting Tuesday of that week. Some of the guys watched the games in Boston, but we didn’t think too much of it. It would’ve been nice to be there definitely. The second week, we got hungrier to play and you just wanted to get out there and test yourself.
INCH: Tell me about the win on Friday against Yale. How was it from your perspective?
DS: The start of the game was very intense, for the first 13 minutes or so until Petey (Peter Lenes) scored that goal. Both teams were riding high, and there was tension on both sides but that goal helped us get our nerves out. It let us take a big deep breath, and then we started playing out a bit more, playing our game without all the hype. We just played a regular game and didn’t give them a chance to get playing their game plan. We kept chipping away, got a goal and didn’t let off the gas.
INCH: Air Force beat Michigan right before your game against Yale, and then you played them Saturday. What was your reaction to that?
DS: It was shocking, but there are only 16 teams in tournament and they’re the best 16 teams in the country and everybody’s pretty darn good. We never assumed that Michigan would lose, and we didn’t take it for granted (playing Air Force). We knew that they took down one of the top teams and they could knock us out. They really threw a wrench in our plans. They are a great skating team in great shape, and it was tough to get anything going.
INCH: Your team’s game-winning goal was reviewed on video by the referees and allowed after it was shown that Dan Lawson’s shot went through the net, but there was quite a lengthy time before play stopped and it could be reviewed. Did anyone on the bench know that it went through? What were you guys talking about?
DS: Initially, three or four guys on the bench said to each other, “Did you see the net move at all? No.” Somebody said they thought they might have, but didn’t know. It was only speculation. Once it went upstairs, there wasn’t too much talk on our bench about did it go in. It was just making sure that everybody was ready when the ref came out and said no goal. We didn’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves and wanted to be ready to play the next shift.
INCH: You’re originally from Mississauga, Ontario and played in the Ontario Provincial League with Milton, then spent a year out in the British Columbia Hockey League with Vernon. Tell me about your journey to Vermont.
DS: I had a half-decent year and was getting some interest from some teams, but I was very interested in Vermont. It’s a long haul for UVM guys to watch games out in British Columbia, so I had some friends, some people try to put in a couple of phone calls to them. I don’t know if I got a response right away, but I tried to contact them and made a connection, right in the middle of when I was making my decision. If it was a couple days later I don’t know what would’ve happened. Fortunately they thought I was a half-decent enough player to get me out here.
INCH: That might be a little modest, considering that you’ve played every game in your Vermont career. Obviously the coaches thought you were half-decent enough to trust you with that responsibility.
DS: I think any hockey player would play every game if they could. The coaching staff put enough trust in me to play, and I was fortunate that I’ve never had any serious injuries to keep me out of lineup.
INCH: What are your thoughts about heading to D.C.?
DS: I’m really looking forward to the first game. That’s going to be the biggest game of my life probably, so I’m looking forward to getting that first shift out of the way and playing some hockey.
INCH: You guys beat Boston University on back-to-back nights in the early part of the season. Obviously it was a long time ago, but can you take anything from that right now?
DS: It definitely gives us some confidence. They’re such a good team and obviously have been at the top of the rankings most of the season, so you need to be able to draw on anything you can find. We know they’re the number one team in the country until proven otherwise.