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Rutgers Men’s Ice Hockey: New Faces, New System, New Culture

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Northwestern vs Rutgers Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not easy for a first-year Head Coach to step into a new role, implement a new system, and somehow manage to compensate for losing 13 seniors last season but that’s exactly what Rutgers Men’s Ice Hockey’s D1 Head Coach, Joe Dickson, is doing.

One of the most difficult aspects of being head coach this year is implementing an entirely new system, one that’s more focused on defensive zone (and neutral zone) play, sending more pucks to the net, and overall just playing better team defense.

Dickson didn’t change the system when he took over in January but did at the beginning of the 2017-18 season in September. Talking about the change, he said, “In terms of game play, we’ve changed up the way we play, in terms of defensive style and offensively. Everything’s been changed from top to bottom from last year.”

And what he’s trying to do with the team is speaking to the players and Captain Griffin Privitera thinks so as well. When discussing the system, he said, “We’re definitely running a new system since this September but when he [Dickson] took over in January, it was kinda tough to change the whole system so we kinda just stayed with what we were running but this year, there was definitely adjustment in September but I think everyone is all bought in to the system we play.”

It’s starting to translate onto the ice but there have been bumps in the road. This year is a rebuilding year (the team lost straight six straight games to start the season with an 0-5-1 record) and one of the rebuild’s most difficult aspects is trying to replace the seniors who graduated last year.

Dickson elaborates, “We graduated 13 seniors and basically my top two lines so in terms of replacing them, it’s been a little bit tough this year. We have eight new freshmen coming in, breaking into the system and playing right away. And that’s not generally how it goes. A lot of times, freshmen will sit, learn the ropes a little bit, and go from there and they’ve been forced into action a little bit sooner than I was hoping.”

But it hasn’t been all bad. He continues, “It’s been rewarding. The boys have answered well. Boys have been good. They responded well. I’m very happy with their development so far this season.”

With a new coach came a new culture in the locker room and that has been evident on the ice. When asked about the differences he’s noticed between this season and last season, he said, “There’s a little bit more camaraderie with the boys. I thought last season’s team was not together, not as close as it should have been. I think this year’s team is very close, they support each other a lot more, and everything just seems to be a lot smoother, in terms of behind-the-scenes stuff. Everything behind the scenes is smoother. The boys are getting along with each other. Everyone’s buying into the system that we want to run. Everyone seems to be happy this year and last year... I’m not sure that was the case.”

And Privitera has something to do with that. Dickson goes on to say that, “His leadership has been outstanding. Without him, I’m not too sure where we would be, room-wise, culture-wise. I’m not sure where we would be without his leadership this year. He’s been outstanding for us.”

When asked about the culture in the locker room, Privitera says, “This year, our team’s way more united and we play as one. Everyone likes each other and gets along... everyone’s pretty much on the same page.”

Even when the team got off to a rough start, he tried his best to keep spirits high. He says, “Losing the first six games of the year, it’s pretty tough and it’s really hard to stay positive and I just keep trying to tell the boys to keep their heads up and we just have to buy in as a unit, come together. I try to get the team together off the ice just for some team-bonding and just to stay positive. I think we’ve done a good job of fighting through and not giving up at all.”

And despite all of the adversity that the team and the program has faced (and will continue to face), there is a future for this program. Dickson envisions the team being Top 15 in the country within the next two years (more on that soon!) and that starts with a new and improved system, and a good culture in the locker room.

The D1 Rutgers Ice Knights currently sit at 5-10-0-1-0 and will host Syracuse University for two games this weekend at ProSkate Ice Arena; puck drops at 7PM Friday night (December 1) and 3:00PM Saturday afternoon (December 2). They won’t play again until they return from winter break, when they’ll play seven of their eight remaining regular season games on the road.

(Editor’s note: Rutgers hockey is a club level team and not affiliated with the NCAA)