Michigan Tech starts their 86th regular season against their biggest rival, Northern Michigan, this weekend. Head coach Jamie Russell (JR), is going into his fourth full year as the head coach and is looking to continue the Huskies' climb up the WCHA.
Michigan College Hockey's MTU writer Andy Bourdeau (MCH) was able to sit down and ask the man behind the bench a few questions.
MCH: The coaches poll for the WCHA has you at the eighth spot. Who do you and your staff see as the team to beat in the WCHA? Where do you see your Huskies finishing this year?
JR: I am not a big believer in polls. They are based on last year and last year is over. I feel North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin will have good years. I really like the way our team is shaping up. We have great leadership and our team chemistry is the best it has ever been. We will surprise a lot of teams and make another move up the WCHA ladder.
MCH: Besides more from the two senior captians (Lars Helminen and Mike Batovanja), who do you see stepping up this year as a leader of the team?
JR: Tyler Skworchinski is a player that has improved each year and is poised for big senior campaign. We also have a large junior class with many on and off-ice leaders.
MCH: With two quality goalies on the team, how do you keep them both happy? Who will get the start for the first NMU game? How about the second?
JR: I have a lot of confidence in both Michael-Lee (Teslak) and Robbie (Nolan). Competition is a healthy thing and they both want the team to be successful regardless of who is playing.
MCH: With all the new freshmen coming in, who do you see giving the team the biggest impact the soonest?
JR: Phil Axtell at 6-foot-6 and 248 pounds will make an impact in more than one way! Eli Vlaisavljevich will also step in and contribute immediately.
MCH: You have played at MTU, so you know the rivalry with NMU, so how do you approach this series so early in the season? What advice do you give the team before a game like this?
JR: I absolutely loved playing in this series. It is among the fondest memories of college hockey I have. It means so much to both communities and Universities. In terms of advice, I tell the team to enjoy it. Both buildings will be packed and it embodies college hockey from start to finish. There is not a lot of need for 'rah rah' speeches. If a player isn't up for this series, they don't have a heartbeat.
MCH: Would this series be easier coming later in the year?
JR: In the future this series will become best of three as we will play a two-game series just before Christmas and UMD and Tech will play NMU and LSSU early in the year.
Thank you Coach Russell for taking the time to answer a few questions for us here at Michigan College Hockey.