The Illinois State Hockey team kicked off their 2015 season on home ice last weekend at the US Cellular Coliseum. It was a big weekend for the team, who was experiencing a myriad of firsts. It was their first game under the direction of head coach Mike Marquardt. It was their first game as a Division I team in the ACHA.
Marquardt came to ISU before the beginning of the 2014 season, stepping on as an assistant to the DII team. A defensive player his entire life, Marquardt brought a new look to the Redbird defense. With the retirement of Coach Brian Corley, Marquardt found himself the leader of the DI squad.
The Redbirds went from a DII and DIII team to a DI and DII team. The switch was nerve-wracking and exciting for coaches and players alike.
“It’s exciting,” said Marquardt. “ I won’t lie there was a little bit of anxiety and nerves before that first weekend, before tryouts, the first practice and everything like that, but I believe the team is buying into the culture we’re trying to set as a coaching staff.”
“I think we just need to keep improving throughout the year,” said captain defenseman Steve Wrzala. “It’s tough, having made the jump to the DI level, new for all of us, but we’ll keep getting better every week and hopefully meet our goal of being in the top twenty at the end of the year”
Although the Redbirds dropped the first two games last weekend, they were not discouraged. They took DI opponent Western Michigan to overtime both nights, and came away with two points in the ACHA.
“The results didn’t go where we want to be,” said Marquardt. “But it left us as the coaching staff with a lot of optimism. We came away with two points, it’s unfortunate that they got four, but we’re very optimistic. The challenges and issues we saw were just from having a young team.”
Maybe more important than the points was the team determination to not let leads slip again.
“I went into the locker room and I say ‘Guys, pick your heads up. You went out there and did what we said, you committed, and you put in the hard work’,” Marquardt told us. “And the whole team said ‘Coach, that’s not good enough for us’. That’s exactly the response we need.”
“Finishing is the big thing,” said Wrzala. “Being a new DI team we can’t afford to give up points, so giving up those two leads last weekend was really tough. We just have to put it behind us and get after Indiana Tech this weekend.”
The team is looking to make a splash as the newest DI team in the ACHA. With trips to nationals at the DI level the last few years, players have no doubt that it could be in the books for this season.
Marquardt has no doubts about his team’s chemistry. He emphasizes that hockey is the game and the real benefits lay in the bonds formed.
“I’m very early in my coaching career,” said Marquardt. “But after last season it showed me it’s just a game, but those relationships mean more than anything. My goal is to have an impact on their lives so one day I’m invited back to a wedding, or a life celebration because of that relationship we built.”
Players also trust in their coaching staff and their upperclassman leaders. Coach Marquardt knows leaders like captain Steve Wrzala will keep the team motivated and in check.
“I’m just trying to lead the guys the best I can,” said Wrzala. “They’re a great group of guys to be able to lead. They show a lot of respect and always put their top effort forward. I’m just going to do whatever I can to help them in anyway and contribute to the success of the team overall.”
The team took points away from the Western Michigan games to improve on throughout the season. This weekend they travel to Indiana Tech. No matter the level of opponent, the team has concrete goals in mind and the determination to improve.
“Hard work, dedication, commitment and consistency,” says Marquardt. “Those are those are all things that if we can focus on them as a team, the results will work themselves out.”