By Chas Johnson
Special to D3hockey.com
Ashland, Wisconsin-One wouldn’t think that a 5-6-1 record coming into the holidays would give one a reason to be too optimistic but in Ashland, Wisconsin and on the campus of Northland College, it gives a glimmer of hope. The Northland men went into the holidays headed in the right direction, and that’s about all their staff could ask for.
“It’s taken a little longer than we would’ve liked but it’s been positive and it’s moving along,” Head coach Seamus Gregory said.
Gregory was hired at Northland in July of 2014. When he arrived to campus the program had 11 players left from the former staff, with school starting in less than 50 days, things had to happen pretty quickly.
“I guess you could say it was a hot summer,” Gregory said after the Jacks brought in 19 new players in less than 2 months. “It really comes down to support and that’s what we have here, the program at the time was struggling, the numbers were low but there was hope and the administration was fantastic in giving us the tools we needed to be more of a mainstream faction in Division 3 Hockey. Let’s face it, it’s all about the support of your administration in any sport, at any level.”
The administration went all in with hockey. They remodeled the current men’s locker room, added Women’s NCAA Hockey, hired Kelly Rider to lead the new program, constructed an addition/new locker room facility for the women, and added two assistant coaches one for each program.
Fast forward to today, a cold day in mid-December with -18 wind-chill off Lake Superior and there are measurable, positive results to that support. The Jacks have 5 wins before the holiday break for the first time in program history. Gregory gives a lot of credit to his assistant, and former 'Jacks captain Michael Lennon for helping with the transition.
“We’ve become very close friends, he’s loyal and he loves it, says Gregory. “He puts a lot of miles on tracking players that we need to be relevant, he played here and is passionate about where he wants our program to go”.
The Northland staff has a roster of thirty one players with twenty five underclassmen. They have just one player, Senior Captain Anthony Stempin, remaining from when Gregory took the reins.
“We do an awful lot of talking with our players about working hard, how hard our competitors work and ultimately how hard it is to win college hockey games. I’m most definitely partial to west division three hockey but there are no easy games anywhere in the country. Any given night, it’s any ones game. I truly believe it comes down to your compete level, outworking your opponent and being mentally ready to do the job to its finality”. That’s what the difference has been for the young Jacks, they do work hard.
When asked what the second half will bring, Gregory chuckled.
“As far as coaches go, everyone has their own ideas and philosophies, for me - yesterday means absolutely nothing. I mean yes, of course we respect the past, we will take the little moral victories and its good momentum but it’s all for naught if we don’t continue to move forward. You can lose 6 or 7 straight real quick out here and we are no way close to where we need to be to compete on a regular basis with top half of the league but maybe someday soon”.
As for Gregory and the Jacks, baby steps will hopefully turn into some big leaps in the coming years for the budding program and hopefully, a bit more sleep at home, where he has two young daughters.
“Win, lose, or draw, the girls don’t care," Gregory said. "Hanging with them after a bad weekend or game definitely puts it all in perspective”.
Northland will square off with NCHA and former MCHA rival, Marian University January 6th & 7th in Ashland, WI to start the second half.