At Hockey East Media Day last week, WRBB had the chance to sit down with Jim Madigan. He reflected on the last few years and looked ahead to what’s in store for Northeastern hockey.
WRBB: Looking back to when you first started in fall of 2011, what do you wish you could tell yourself back then?
Jim Madigan: “I wish I could tell myself that it’s more about the process than the outcome. And by that I mean building the foundation from the first day we started right through each season, and then building from year to year and we didn’t have that foundation, and we didn’t focus on that process until more (until) after our second year. And I wish if I could have gone back…we’d focus on the process more than the outcome.”
WRBB: From an outsiders prospective, as well as you’ve played the last two years, you’ve been very streaky at times, inconsistent, and the last two years have ended much quicker than I think anyone on the team or around the team anticipated. How are you guys approaching that this year to avoid that sudden let-down at the end of the season?
JM: “I would say two years ago we weren’t that streaky, we just had a disappointing end to a season. Last year certainly was streaky where we struggled early in the year then had a good second half, then unfortunately the season abruptly came to an end so we’ve already addressed it day one, we’ve got to win in March. Our season has been what it is and when we reach the end of the year, we have positioned ourselves to take advantage of playoff opportunities and haven’t been able to advance. Whether it be two years ago when we had a first-round bye when we lost in the best-of-three series, or it was last year when we were home for the first round and then lost two overtime games, so we’ve had disappointing losses in overtime in the two playoff series and there’s no excuses. And what makes me think this year is going to be different is we’ve got juniors and seniors who’ve had that taste, that poor taste, that bad taste and don’t want to taste that again, and wanting to make a difference in making this a memorable year.”
WRBB: Kevin Roy returning for his senior season, named captain this year, probably a leading Hobey Baker candidate coming into the season. What does his decision to return this year mean to you guys as a team, and did that take you by surprise? What kind of input did you have on that decision?
JM: “It didn’t take me by surprise. Kevin, we had a couple conversations and I knew the opportunities that Kevin had in front of him. And Kevin’s a real mature young man and Kevin, with the advice of his mom and dad and his advisers sat down and said ‘you know what, I want to graduate from Northeastern, I want to get my degree.’ He wants to be here with his brother and both of them graduate at the same time, but also from a hockey perspective, Kevin wanted to lead Northeastern to a championship. We have not had a championship. We’ve been close, and we’ve been as close as anything in the Beanpot the last three years in the championship game, but the last two years…we haven’t advanced a round in the playoffs, (and) we felt like we had a team to do so and make some hay and get into the NCAA tournament. He’s a competitive guy and he wants to lead this team to those areas of success. And with him coming back what’s it mean for our team; it means an awful lot. We’ve got one of the top players, if not the top player in the league coming back. Offensively he’s gifted, he’s dynamic and he’s going to get his goals, he’s going to get his points, but what he also does is he takes the burden off other guys on the team, he wants to shoulder that responsibility, he wants to assume the leadership role. It’s like a number one pitcher in baseball, I’m the ace of the staff, he’s the ace of our team, he’s the ace of our offense and in his own quiet way takes on that responsibility and makes it easier for our other players, our other skilled players. They can just play their game because he’ll assume the responsibility plus the other teams will pay special attention to him freeing up some other guys.”
WRBB: How did (Belfast) come about, and what do you think it will mean to the team and program?
JM: “It came about through Peter Roby and the athletic director at Lowell (Dana Skinner), about 5-6 years ago when there was an opportunity between Lowell and Northeastern to go play there. And Mr. Roby, our athletic director, went and visited Belfast, and was there when the Bruins played an exhibition game and we were hoping it would come about a little bit sooner, and then things shifted and people moved in different directions and the opportunity came back up again two years ago. And these things just don’t happen overnight, it takes time to put them together, and Peter was contacted which was great and then contacted me and I jumped all over it right away. And what it means is Northeastern is on the forefront of any unique opportunity and that’s what we want to be. And it was through Peter Roby’s leadership and his support allowed us and our hockey program to get there so I think it’s great, I think it’s unique our student-athletes can get to play in a different country, in a different venue. We’ve had the experience of playing in Fenway two of the last four years. Anytime we can take our team on the road outside of Massachusetts I think it’s great, whether we go to New York City, maybe get the opportunity to play there, whether it be now in Europe…it’s unique and an experience our kids will be able to have for the rest of their lives. And the other part is the educational component. We’re at a university so the ability to provide some education to our kids and understand the trials and tribulations of what happened in Northern Ireland over the years and our kids get a better understanding of that I think is important. And to know that they’re using hockey as a way to bring the two groups together, the Catholics and the Protestants, and learn more about their culture is important to our players and one that we’re ready to embrace.”
WRBB: When you take a look at the schedule though, (Belfast) is right after a trip to Notre Dame, [and there’s] a trip to Minnesota over the course of the first 6-8 weeks of the season. On a hockey level, are you guys concerned about the effects of travel early on?
JM: “It’s early in the year. And early in the year the kids are excited about the season and we’ll go to Minnesota, and it’ll be early in the year and we shouldn’t have any weather issues delaying us hopefully. Notre Dame is a Thursday-Friday, so we’ll come back on a Saturday, so we’ll get that extra day rest on the back-end so I think we’ll be okay. Then we moved the BC weekend back a game instead of playing Friday-Saturday, we’ll play Saturday-Sunday so that gives us a day longer so, these are kids, and they’re in great shape so we just have to plan and prepare ahead of time, give them the proper rest leading into those trips.
WRBB: Taking a look at the team and the roster and how it’s coming together this year, I think the thing that jumps out at us right away is goaltending. I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s an open competition and then whoever steps up is going to take the job. Is that accurate?
JM: “I look at our goaltending situation and it’s similar to what it was two years ago. People the last two years would go ‘how good’s Clay Witt, we don’t know’ and they’re saying ‘how good’s Derick Roy we really don’t know him’ and I would say this: Derick Roy has played more games and is further ahead than Clay Witt was two years ago in terms of games played and league games played so I have confidence, and we had confidence in Clay Witt two years ago and it proved to be warranted. And we have confidence as a staff in Derick. He was goaltender of the month in January, he went 4-0-1, league wins, non-league wins, on the road and at home, he played at UConn on the road and had a big win there so I see Derick Roy taking the lead. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t. But we have confidence in Jake Theut who returns and we have a freshman goaltender (Ryan Ruck) that we recruited who’s played 70 games in the USHL who’s a good goaltender. We’re always going to play the best players…but I can see us using more than one goalie during the course of the season because I think competition is healthy, but if at some point someone emerges, that’s what we’re going to run. But we’ve got the confidence in Derick based on how he responded this year during the season.”
WRBB: One of the weak points for you guys last year was the penalty kill, I know we’ve talked about that ad nauseam. What are you guys doing to improve upon that, was it an execution issue or a strategy issue or what kind of things are you doing to make the adjustment there?
JM: “There was a combination, it was for sure poor execution. And whatever system they’re running, you have to execute it. We executed very poorly. We’ve switched a little bit of the system around and the strategy around how we’re going to approach killing penalties. Personnel becomes an issue too, I think we’ve got more personnel to work with there and then execution, and we’ve got to create an identity to our penalty kill like we did on the power play, like we did in other parts of our game and that’s a focus we’re going to have ready from day one. We need to win face-offs in our own zone, every time there’s a man down, the face-offs in your own zone. If you can win a face-off and clear the puck that’s killing off 20-25 seconds, we haven’t been able to do that.”
WRBB: Taking a look at the incoming recruiting class, one at the guys who stands out is Sam Kurker, coming over from the USHL after starting off at BU, some Hockey East experience. What can he bring to this team with that Hockey East experience, and playing for a team like the Terriers across Boston?
JM: “Any time you get a transfer who’s played in the league like he has, and in his case it’s for a year and a half, you get an experienced veteran player who understands how to go through a college regiment and program. Being at BU and not having the success he wanted, and he went to BU at a young age, and now he’s determined being a local guy, determined to have two real good years. So you’ve got someone whose got a little incentive, a little motivation to do well. He’s got a great attitude, and he brings a year and a half of college experience plus two years and winning a championship in the USHL…he brings that type of experience with him, and he knows the routine every day, what it takes to compete, being in the weight room, going to class, practice, he knows the grind of the schedule. He knows how to put forth the proper effort in practice each and every day to get better, so those are things that unless you’ve gone through it, you don’t know and he’s gone through it for two years which is good so that experience will be valuable for him, and that’s what separates him from any other freshman coming up.”