With the bright rays from the hot summer sunshine behind us and hockey season approaching, The Sin Bin’s Ted Warren recently caught up with Norfolk Admirals Assistant Coach Ben Boudreau.
He gave his take on the ups and downs of last season and newly appointed Head Coach Rod Aldoff. Who joins ECHL Norfolk this season after capturing the SPHL’s President’s trophy last season with the Pensacola Ice Flyers. Boudreau also speaks about his professional growth, player signings, and more in this in-depth interview.
S.B.: Since last season ended, what have you been up to?
B.B.: After the season ended, my girlfriend, Karla, and I headed back home to Ontario where I help out with some hockey camps and own a hockey school. Karla went back to work. We basically just spent the summer working and I tried to golf as much as I possibly could and take advantage of the time off.
S.B.: Norfolk had a lot of ups and downs last season, what were some ups?
B.B.: When you look from an individual perspective, some guys had breakout seasons. I thought Gabriel Verpaelst had an unbelievable breakout season when it comes to point production. He sat career highs professionally with goals and total points. I thought in the new year of 2016 after January 1st, our record as a team was above 500. I think we were 21-16-4 or something like that in the new year, so we finished on a very good high note.
S.B.: What were some downs?
B.B.: Some of the lows every team in this league has to deal with are call-ups, injuries, and players leaving for Europe if that’s ever the case, and unfortunately I thought we dealt with that at once instead of sporadically.
By October 31st, we had lost Greg Chase, Marco Roy, Alexis Loiseau, Josh Currie, Chase Schaber, Max Legault, and Nick MacNeil. These were all guys we had planned to have in our starting lineup as our best ten forwards and you lose everybody all at once due to injuries, call-ups or, otherwise, it’s very tough to replace the caliber of player there. We had to go find players that would play, but it was very hard to replace the same level of talent. So when you speak about lows, I think we dealt with all of our problems very early in the season and we got behind the eight ball and we couldn’t recover. Even though we had a very strong finish, we couldn’t make the playoffs. I would consider that the low point at the very start when we went on our losing stretch. I think it was almost nine games in a row, but it was great to see some breakout individual performances. I thought Verpaelst was unbelievable. I thought returning Admiral Steven Whitney had a great finish to the season when it came to offensive production. It was a tale of two teams really, the team at the start and the team that competed in the new year.
S.B.: Last year was your second full season as an Assistant Coach in the ECHL. How did you grow professionally?
B.B.: I think Eric Veilleux was very instrumental in helping me develop a coach’s work ethic doing more what you need to do and always being prepared. So there are things that are not necessarily required that coaches do. We wanted to treat the ECHL players like they would be treated at the American League level. Now we don’t quite have the staff support that they do. They have a video coach in the American League and the second assistant. Where I had to wear all those hats. It’s really a great tool in learning by doing so much video work, so much one-on-one work on and off the ice and after practice. I thought I took strides when it came to work ethic personally, putting in so many man-hours and not complaining about it. Just going through it. It really helped me understand the game more from a coach’s perspective. Listening to players and how they want to be coached. It really helped me out as a coach.
S.B.: Last year under Veilleux you wore a lot of hats, you were in charge of immigration, special teams, and kind of being the go-to guy for players. Will this be the same this year under New Admirals Coach Rod Aldoff?
B.B.: Yes, I believe so. We’ve spoken about that. So when it comes to special teams, the penalty kill was my forte. I believe one point in the year right after Christmas; we were ranked in the top ten in the PP and the PK, so that was pretty good. So hopefully we piggyback off last year’s early success on the special teams and we continue it for a full calendar season. I’ve already put in for the immigration for our North American players, for staff including myself, and we also put in immigration for some European players. It will be more of the same when it comes to booking the bus and the hotels and taking care of the receipts and doing video. Not too much has changed. Just a new Head Coach with a new voice and maybe a new vision. As far as duties and what I’m responsible for I think more or less the exact same.
S.B.: What can you tell fans about Norfolk’s new Head Coach Rod Aldoff?
B.B.: One thing you’re going to understand from Rod is that he is a really personable guy. There’s not a single bad bone in his body. He cares so much for every detail when it comes to winning. The great thing is that he brings a winning pedigree, having won two championships in the past three years. The SPHL is much like the ECHL when it comes to turnover and having to find players due to call-ups and injury, he’s been well versed in that. He’s coming into the ECHL having some experience dealing with roster changes that are constant and the fact that he wants to build a winning team with great character guy. Those things are reflective of his personality. The thing he constantly says is, “Be a Pro on the ice and off the ice.” This is something he wants to establish as early as possible.
Norfolk’s Assistant Coach also spoke about the following player signings:
Steven Whitney: “That’s a pressure reliever. Steven Whitney is a heart and soul guy. You’re going to get everything you can out of him. He plays every single game like it’s his last. His offensive production was very tough to match; having him back instantly makes us an offensive threat. Whether it be five-on-five or on the power play because he was having a tremendous year. We’re very excited he wanted to come back and continue to develop his professional hockey career.”
Danick Gauthier: “He was a big powerful center with skill. He can throw his body around and play two hundred feet in every zone. Those are very rare and tough to find. We’re happy to have him come back and contribute. We only saw him for a month and a half, when we didn’t have our A team. With a great supporting cast of characters, we’re excited to see what he can do with a full lineup around him.”
Alexandre Ranger: “Ranger was huge. I think his experience at the next level made him more determined to come down here and have some more success. I think it was the success he had in Norfolk which really helped him propel himself to the next level. If he comes here with the same attitude, I believe he will be an instant shot in the arm when it comes to energy. He’s such an intelligent player. Again those guys are very tough to find with a combination of talent, grit, and smarts. You can put him anywhere in the lineup. He plays way bigger than his size dictates. He’s not afraid of anything. We’re very happy to bring him back.”
Gabriel Verpaelst: “He’s a heart and soul guy. He’s willing to fight for anybody on the team. He’s had a great jump in career number. He had a couple great celebrations after his overtime winning goal that brought fans to the seats. He leads by example which is the number one thing. He does everything right as a professional and when you have players like that he often sets an example by being himself. He’s a leader rather if he speaks a lot or not. You can’t have too many of those guys on your team. He’s your all-around defenseman. I hope he continues to come down here and have success.
Connor Knapp: “Connor brings experience which goes so underrated. Last year we had Ty Rimmer and we also started with a rookie goaltender out of the Q and sometimes you find the struggle from pro hockey to junior hockey. There’s an adjustment period. Connor has been doing this a long time. He’s had a lot of success wherever he goes. We expect him to come in and contribute right away. We rely on a guy like that to be a great goaltender right from the get go.”
Aaron Harstad: “Very skilled defenseman that can skate, great character guy in the room. He’s going to influence a lot of others just by having his teammates watch the way he is a professional. His influence in the room and on the ice, you can’t put a price tag on that. He’s going to instantly come in and be a shot in the arm for our defensive production from a defense/ offensive side of production. We’re going to rely on him to run a power play and put up some points. We’ve heard nothing but great things about him.”
Boudreau will be behind the bench assisting Rod Aldoff at the Norfolk Scope come October 14th as Admirals embark on their 2016-17 campaign.