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New coach Parker looks to turn North program around

By Jesse O'Brien--Eau Claire Leader Telegram, 11/24/14, 5:30PM CST


Huskies eye a winning season

Ryan Parker's voice boomed off the aluminum walls in the Akervik Rink at Hobbs Ice Center.

The first-year Eau Claire North hockey coach was demonstrating a drill to his team. The exercise called for North's skaters to redirect three passes into the net from different spots on the ice. Parker's players were to weave around behind the net and back to the blue line before charging the goalie at each reload. As Parker glided toward the net, he issued a simple directive: "And we keep moving."

The Huskies certainly have been.

After finishing 6-18-1 (0-12 in Big Rivers) last year — North's ninth straight losing season — the Huskies have their eye on two goals: a conference win, and a plus-.500 record. To do that, they'll have to learn from last year's mistakes.

Opponents outscored the Huskies 111-43 in 25 games, but that number was just 28-15 in the first period, an average difference of minus-.52. Not great, but that isn't where North's biggest problem lied.

In the second and third ­periods, North's average goal differential was minus-1.08 and minus-1.12. The Huskies often failed to stay competitive in the later frames and small deficits became insurmountable ones.

"I think what beat us last year was somewhat (a lack of) stamina, but also (a lack of) heart," senior captain Tyler Voegeli said. "Once we got down by two goals, there was some, ‘Oh, we're going to lose the game.' But we've got to get the drive that they're trying to instill in us."

For the new coaching staff, that starts with conditioning. Since taking over for Jordan Fish, who resigned at the end of last season, Parker has been running the Huskies ragged. Conditioning drills, extended time in the weight room and a 1-mile run after each practice all are components of the new coach's method.

Parker even found a way to keep the Huskies active in their fundraising, organizing a 25-mile bike ride with a portion of the proceeds going to local food bank Feed My People. The team will hand over a check for just shy of $600 next week.

"I hear a lot that this is the hardest they've had to work, and that's OK," Parker said. "This is no different than what I've done coaching in the past. And when you look at (North's) stats from last year — outscored 2-1 in the first, 3-1 in the second, 4-1 in the third — it showed right there."

If Parker's coaching past is an indicator, the Huskies should feel good about their chances. Parker put together a 28-15-2 record in two seasons at Rice Lake and was the 2013-14 Big Rivers co-coach of the year. Before coaching at Rice Lake, he was 38-28-3 in three seasons at Altoona.

A graduate of North in 1994, Parker was a four-year varsity player, and set school records for career goals, assists and points for a defenseman. He is the first North alumnus to return to the school as coach of the hockey team.

But to turn his prior successes into a successful program at North, Parker has to start at the beginning. The Huskies return leading scorer Carson Lemanski, who scored 12 goals and notched eight assists in his freshman campaign. But record-setting goalie Bryce Kamenick graduated in May, and North will have to replace the man who stopped 4,295 shots over four years. To do that, the Huskies will look to either junior Sam Faber, or sophomore Jacob Storms. Parker wouldn't tip his hand on who the frontrunner is, but said the staff benefits from a fresh start when it comes to evaluating the netminders.

"The nice thing is that as a new staff, we don't know a lot about them, so we have our goalie coach running them through some pretty vigorous drills," Parker said. "He's pushing them to the limits, and we're leaving that open. It's a competition every day."

In Lemanski, the Huskies have a speedy young skater with a handle on the stick who can anchor the Huskies offense. When picking his first line, Parker said he tries to put together a shift that will attack the puck and set the tone each night.

"You have to be physical, you've got to come out right out of the gates physical and get in their heads," Lemanski said. "Make ourselves someone they don't want to face later in the year."