His mind finally idol for a brief moment, first-year Edina Lakers head coach Joe Long can’t help but exclaim what he’s waited an entire summer for.
In short, drop the puck already.
“We signed up to play hockey,” Long said. “Let’s get it going.”
Months after being hired to fill the vacancy left when Kasey Yoder took a Tier II coaching job with the North American Hockey League’s Austin Bruins, Long will finally get his chance.
Edina opens its season at 7:05 p.m. Friday, Sept. 9 in Maple Grove against the expansion Energy, where the Lakers will be helping to inaugurate the 2011-12 Minnesota Junior Hockey League season by taking in part in the first official game of the year.
For Long, it will bring to the close to a nearly five-month stretch in which he had to build his first team at the Tier III level, perfect the balancing act of coach and recruiter, and master the paperwork pile that accompanies the start to every Lakers’ hockey season.
“It was a long summer, but it’s been a good experience for me,” Long said. “At this level, there are a lot of things that go into this that you kind of figure out as you go along. It’s nice to have it all done and behind us, so now we can just focus on getting this team ready to play.”
Getting to that point may take some time as well. The Lakers return just five players from a team that a year ago finished 21-20-4. Anton Martirosian (Eidenberg, Austria) has the most experience, having played in 40 games in 2010-11. He scored three times and finished with 11 points. Justin McLaughlin (Rochester, Minn.) had three goals in 21 games, and Jonathan Smolders (Rochester, Minn.) finished with three assists in 15 games.
That, however, is about it in regards to contributions from the group that returns.
“It’s going to be a different team, no question,” Long said. “First, we are pretty small. We don’t have a lot of guys that will run you through the boards. But we have defensemen that can move the puck, and all of our guys can fast. We’ll get up and down the rink pretty good.”
Most of that speed will come from a group of first-year junior hockey players in need of some time to adjust to the rigors of the Tier III schedule. Fortunately for Edina, the start to the Lakers year provides just that.
They play in the very first game of the MnJHL’s 2011-12 season, but will take the ice for just five total games in September – only two of which will be played prior to Sept. 24.
“It’s a chance to get our feet wet,” said Long. “I think it will help the new guys, and us as coaches as well. We’ll get a chance to see what we look like, and then tweak what we need to tweak.”
Edina fans will get their first opportunity to see the team inside Minnesota Made Sunday, Sept. 18.
The Lakers’ are not charging admission this season, making good on their promise to dedicate themselves to the community they play in.
The team would like to do the same. Long last watched an actual Tier III hockey game during the national tournament in Rochester this past April. That, not-so-coincidently was the same week he was hired to coach the Lakers.
The national tournament will return to Rochester in what will seem like a few short months. Long would love to go back, but not as a spectator this time.
“Like every team, our goal is to play for a national championship,” he said. “There a lot to be done to get there, and the first thing we need to do is really gel as a team. The way the guys work together off the ice is just as important is what they do on it, but it already seems like we have a good group that will get along pretty well. I’m interested to see where it can take us.”