A Hockey Life: Part 3
Behind-The-Scenes With the Wilderness on Gameday
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“Minnesota is a hockey hot bed and there’s a lot of talent here.”
Corey Millen knows his role as head coach of the Wilderness.
“There’s a lot of different levels of play, a lot of different levels of understanding as hockey players,” Millen explained. “So you’re trying to give them the best opportunity, and the most they need to learn to get to that next level, and that’s the college level.”
A role that he doesn’t take for granted, as he believes his team is the perfect age group to be coaching.
“They’re old enough to understand some of the concepts and some of the ideas and things that I’d like to coach, and they’re skilled enough to actually make it happen,” said Millen.
He has taught his boys the meaning of being a part of this team.
“Winning the games, scoring the goals,” said Niklas Lehtimaki, Wilderness forward.
It’s game day at 11 a.m. and the team loads the bus, their bags all packed, and settles in for the ride.
Halfway into the four hour trip, the team stops for lunch to carb up. Then back to the bus, playing tag, a team tradition.
At 4:30 p.m., the team arrives at Riverside Arena, home of the Austin Bruins.
At 5 p.m., it’s time to get the blood flowing and warm up the feet, with a friendly game of soccer.
With forwards in one locker room, and defensemen in another, the team pads up to take the ice for 15 minutes of warm-ups.
Then it’s time to get serious.
“Complete focus here. I mean we’re going to need complete focus,” says Coach Millen in his pregame speech.
He gets his team in the zone, and with the playoffs in sight, coach knows it’s all or nothing.
“We want to be super aggressive. We want to put them under pressure. But let’s keep it a five on five hockey game. Right now we’re in the business of everybody giving your best effort, and if you’re not going to do it, you’re probably not going to play. I think that’s fair.”
“It’s a good night to have a good night,” he tells his team. “Big night. Big points. Let’s react the right way.”
And just like that, it’s game time.
It’s the coaches job to call the shots, get his team fired up, fight for his boys when calls don’t go their way, and during intermissions to adjust the game plan accordingly .
“They’ve got some big defenseman that can’t handle the puck, keep it in their hands,” coach explains to his team. “Draws. We weren’t sharp there in our 1-2-2, at all.”
This game went to overtime and after five minutes still tied at two, there’s a shootout. The first shootout win for the team all season.
“When it’s all said and done, you’re hoping that they can grasp some of the concepts and some of the things that they’re going to need to take it to the next level,” Coach said.
That next level being collegiate hockey.
“No matter what I’m going to play next year,” said defenseman Tyler Hart.
A dream that becomes a reality for players, as they get approached by scouts after each game.
Meaning Coach has successfully done his job.
“When you get guys the opportunity to move on, and then you see their growth and their success, that is why we do this, and that’s the beautiful thing about it,” Millen said.
Then it’s back home around 2 a.m. and tomorrow, back to work.