Men’s hockey coach Greg Puhalski on Laurier’s return to the ice and his time with the Stanley Cup
“Everybody’s got high anticipation. We are really excited to get going,” Men’s hockey coach Greg Puhalski said.
Coaches across the Ontario University Athletics conference will have to adjust to a unique season this year as their teams prepare to take the ice for the first time in over 20 months.
“It’ll be an adjustment. It’s been so long since a lot of the guys have done consistent skating. We just got to ease ourselves into it and gradually increase our workload,” Puhalski said.
The Golden Hawks last played on Feb. 16, 2020, when their season came to an end during their first-round playoff matchup with the Guelph Gryphons. Since then, the Golden Hawks have brought on over 15 players through two recruiting classes and have lost a large share of their most productive players due to graduation.
Their top three scorers in 2019; Anthony Conti, Danny Hanlon and Kyle Jenkins have left the team as has captain Will Cook, who graduated after the 2019 season. The Golden Hawks signed 11 recruits last season and announced six additions this past summer to make up their roster for the upcoming season.
“I’m really looking forward to all of us getting together and starting the process of practicing again,” Puhalski said. “I know the guys are in good shape and are really excited to get going,” he continued.
Coach Puhalski is not worried about the “aches and pains” that will come with the fresh faces and a return to play as he knows teams across the conference are on a level playing field, dealing with similar issues.
“A lot of teams will be in similar situations where half of their teams are basically brand new,” Puhalski said.
“We will rely on our veteran guys to provide some guidance. We got some great leadership from our returning players and they’re committed to leading in the right way,” he continued.
Veterans such as Anthony Sorrentino, Jeremy Pullara and goaltender, Tyler Fassl who will enter his senior season are likely to be leaned upon for the upcoming hockey season.
The OUA and their member universities were able to agree on a return to play structure this past summer, releasing a unique hockey schedule. Laurier avoids an Ottawa or Montreal trip, with their furthest travel being a weekend trip to Windsor for two games after the Christmas break. The conference also restructured their divisions in order to prioritize regional travel and competition.
While the season will look different for all OUA teams, Puhalski remains optimistic, focusing on the bigger picture of OUA sports being back.
“It’s not ideal for anybody but it is what it is. The big picture is that we are able to get on the ice and play some games,” Puhalski said. “I think that in itself is what it is all about regardless of the opponent,” he continued.
Through various zoom meetings during the lost year and a chance to practice when Waterloo was in the COVID-19 “red-zone” last spring, Puhalski believes the team will be ready for the upcoming season although acknowledging the many “inconveniences.”
“Inconveniences are going to occur. In the end, they are just inconveniences and they are minor in regard to what the big picture is for us,” Puhalski said.
Coach Puhalski had the fortunate opportunity of being with the Stanley Cup this past summer and will hope some of that greatness will brush off onto his own team.
Puhalski is a former teammate and good friend of former Laurier hockey player, Steve Griggs, and current CEO of the back-to-back NHL Champion, Tampa Bay Lightning.
“We are so proud of Steve and his accomplishments with Tampa Bay, both on and off the ice,” Puhalski said.
“Griggs was nice enough to invite some of the guys he played with at Laurier, and we all played some golf and had a great day together. He was generous enough to share the Stanley Cup with us,” Puhalski said.
Finishing the season 10-3-1 in their final 14 games during 2019, and earning their first national ranking since 2010, the Golden Hawks will look to build off of that momentum from the last time they were on the ice.
Puhalski believes that the team chemistry will improve once the team is able to get together more and be on the ice.
“We are just looking forward to being together and enjoying ourselves,” he said.
While there will be several challenges to each hockey program across Ontario, Puhalski is focused on the bigger picture and a chance to return to the ice with his team.
Training camp is set to begin in mid-September for the men’s hockey team with the season opener just over two months away – a rematch against the Gryphons in Guelph on Nov. 4.