HANCOCK – Since being rehired by Finlandia University in 2016, men’s hockey coach Joe Burcar has had in mind the kinds of goals many college coaches want: to win games, to make the playoffs in your particular sport and win a national championship. Now in his 15th season at the helm, and those goals seem more distant than they have been in either of his tenures with the team.
The Lions are mired in a five-game losing streak, including a weekend against the St. Norbert Green Knights, who claimed a 9-1 win last Friday and a pair of shutouts since that loss.
That’s not to say the Lions are throwing in the towel on the season, just that they need a break, and for players and coaching staff, having a weekend off isn’t a big deal. bad thing.
Burcar has just one word to describe how the team feels as they took the time to celebrate Thanksgiving this week.
“I think there is extreme frustration” he said. âI think those next four days off is just the best thing we can do right now.
âWe only have two games to play after the break, but mentally, and more so physically, which is what we need to break away. Frustration is justâ¦ frustration, and we have to break, mentally.
After being outscored 14-1 by the Green Knights, the Lions traveled to Minneapolis on Tuesday and lost 2-0 to the Hamline Pipers. Worse than the loss on the scoreboard, the loss of second-year forward Cameron Conover at the end of the first inning. Conover’s injury was significant enough to stop gambling for about an hour while paramedics arrived on the scene.
The loss of the Fenton, Mich. Native is just the latest in a string of injuries for a hockey club that has faced a two-pronged attack on the program in injuries and a tough schedule. Burcar doesn’t think that’s a fair excuse for the team’s overall record of 1-9 or their 0-4 record in the NCHA game. Four of six opponents the Lions have seen are ranked or garnered votes in the latest USCHO poll.
“I don’t want to use excuses” said Burcar. âWe played a very difficult schedule. Four of our five, four of our six opponents, they are the best teams in the country. But, no excuses, we put it in place for that reason to prepare ourselves, and it hasn’t worked in our sense, but we just need to be better, at the end of the day. There is no excuse; there is no excuse.
Burcar believes players like second-year winger Tyler Perkins are a prime example of how close the team is to taking that next step. Perkins had a breakaway chance against the Pipers which Burcar saw him close in practice, but not yet in a game.
“He had a 2 on 1, he was on the power play, he probably had, honestly, three quality scoring opportunities”, said Burcar. âTyler Perkins in a breakaway is the guy you want in the breakaway.
âHe really has a knack for scoring. I mean, I say that, but then he doesn’t score. We all go through this. He’s a great boy to train. He is an easy child to train. He likes to be here. He is an important part of our team. He just has that offensive ability to make the people around him better too.
While Perkins is still chasing his first career goal, another player has continued to take a big step in a leadership role for the Lions, senior center Tyler Watungwa.
Watungwa, who struggled to carve out a niche in freshman roster, has taken the team on his shoulders for the past two seasons, and he continues to show every night why he is the team’s captain. . He leads the team in scoring with team highs in assists (five) and points (six).
For Burcar, Watungwa’s success on the ice comes down to one simple concept: work ethic.
“We tell this story all the time” said Burcar. âHere’s a guy who barely cracked in the lineup, a fourth row guy, where he was in the stands. Over the year, his work ethic has allowed us to keep him in the lineup. He continued to move up the depth chart, again, simply through his work ethic.
âTo talk about the model of consistency, to be good is to be consistent. Tyler, for four years he only did everyone’s job. His work ethic is top notch. He is close to a 4.0 student on campus, on the ice, in the gym. It’s just incomparable.
Watungwa’s work ethic is rubbing off on players like senior winger Sheldon Brett. Brett scored two goals and five points in eight games this spring season after being transferred to Finlandia. This year he has scored four goals in 10 games and has become the team’s most consistent threat in the attacking zone.
“They’re online together,” said Burcar. âI also know they have a great connection off the ice. I can see this. Sheldon himself this summer, he’s been spending a lot of time in the weight room and cardio and whatever he’s been asked to do in the offseason. You can see him paying for him now. He’s definitely just watching what Tyler is doing, and that has definitely rubbed off on him. “
Burcar was delighted this week to see the local players on the roster donate their homes and families to teammates who couldn’t make the long journeys home. He and his staff believe this will only strengthen the bond the team has forged on the ice.
After the Lions return from their vacation, they will prepare to travel to Lake Forest, Ill., Where they will face the Foresters to complete the first half of their season. They will then have a month off before heading to Ashland, Wisconsin to face Northland College.