Q&A: George Gwozdecky
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
It's been an interesting year for Denver. Right near the top of the pack in the Pairwise, the Pioneers have also seen a top player get a major injury (Tyler Bozak), had their coach George Gwozdecky suspended for a game, and been amid an interesting year for Colorado college hockey as a whole, thanks to Air Force's intriguing start (it was Denver that snapped the Falcons' long season-opening win streak).
The latest is a one-game suspension to defenseman Patrick Mullen for a slashing incident that occurred at the end of the game against Minnesota-Duluth last Saturday. It was team-imposed — which was also the case for Gwozdecky's own suspension, after he was kicked out of a game, then proceeded to communicate with the bench via headset, in violation of NCAA rules.
Mullen will miss Friday's game against rival Colorado College, as Denver tries to wrap up the "Gold Pan" for the year, emblematic of the season series winner between the two teams.
CHN: What is happening with Mullen?
Gwozdecky: We suspended him for one game. A player is responsible for his stick and his careless actions warrant a suspension.
CHN: So this is something you levied on your own?
GG: If you look at the WCHA and the philosophy on that, most of the time, the WCHA will look to the schools to make the decision first. If they agree with the school, it goes along. If they don't, they'll add or change (the suspension).
It was a pretty hard swing with the stick. The action and the intent are two things you have to look at. If you look at what Patrick did immediately after contact was made — if he was looking at injuring (UMD's Mike Connelly) he would've stood there or went after him. But immediately he sprinted down the ice, knowing only a second or two was left in the game. ... No question his intent, as he said, was to deny Connelly from getting the puck. He went about it the wrong way, but the one thing that was probably in my mind, (the intent was) not worth any further suspension.
CHN: Is it a good idea for the league to leave it up to teams to impose their own discipline?
GG: I don't know if that's a good idea or not, but that's the way it's always been since I've been here. I don't know where it's written as a policy. You'd have to talk with the commissioner about that.
CHN: We've seen a series of fighting or fight-like on-ice incidents this year in the WCHA. Is that something to be concerned about?
GG: We're in different times, and I realize everyone is more sensitive to these things. But every year there are — because of the game itself and the fierce rivalries — issues that are going to have to be looked at, penalties to be handed out based on the actions involved. I really don't think there's anything new or different. ... I'm not saying I condone issues that don't bring a good light on the league. It's a physical sport, and it's up to schools, coaches and administrators to make sure it hasn't gotten carried. The only difference I see in the league is that there's a lot more parity this year?
CHN: Is that just because the league has lost a lot of top-end talent recently?
GG: The league continues to bring in top-notched talent, but they're very young and inexperienced. ... That is probably one of the main things that has caught up with this league.
CHN: Do you take that into consideration in recruiting? And has anything changed over time? For example, the most recent championships won by yourself, Minnesota and Wisconsin had a lot of four-year players on those teams, and then they become somewhat of a victim of their own success, bringing in blue chippers after winning, but they don't stay.
GG: When we recruit, we recruit based on talent, character and academic profile. A lot of things have to fit. But if you can predict to me which guys will be four -year players, which guys will be two-year players, which will be three-year players — if you can predict that to me I'll hire you right now. There's certain things you think you have a handle on, but you have no idea. Who knew that two years ago that Tyler Bozak would be one of the most highly touted free agent in college hockey?
We don't look at talent. It's all about the character and what the young man wants to do. That can change based on outside influence. We certainly try to get good players, obviously. It's easy to say we want to recruit guys who will be here four years — take the top 150 recruits and forget it, we just want 4th line and 5th line players. But, if I did that, I wouldn't be here four years either.
We have lost interest in quite a few very talented players, not because they were one- or two-year players, but because they didn't have the right character.
CHN: Well, speaking of Bozak, how are things going for him?
GG: He's no longer on crutches, he's no longer in a brace, he's walking around. He's going to be allowed to go on the ice and glide around. He's on schedule according to what doctors and trainers said — if we advance a few rounds in the postseason, he could be back.
CHN: You guys have done a good enough job out of conference this year where it seems like you are in good shape (for the NCAAs). Do you feel that way?
GG: I have stopped thinking about when you're in good shape and when you're not, and stopped trying to project it like in the past. Just when you think you have a good handle on it, you win a game or lose a game, or someone else wins or loses a game, and it really affects you. I hate to sound like coach-speak, but right now, we just want to win the Gold Pan. It's there for the taking if we win Friday night.
CHN: What do you make of Bemidji State's situation right now? Would you like to see them in the WCHA?
GG: I know Bemidji State, I coached against Bob Peters' teams when they were in Division II and we were in the same conference at (Wisconsin-)River Falls. They were powerhouse at that level. Hockey has a long, strong proud tradition there. They've won championships. It's their flagship sport. I'm personally very supportive, and I was supportive of the league lifting the moratorium (on expansion) so that further discussion and presentations could be made.
CHN: The only shame in the CHA going away is that there would not be anywhere for another team to go if they wanted to come into Division I. But I'm not sure if you think that matters or not.
GG: You've got some schools who have dabbled at Division I. Maybe they saw the pot of gold, I'm not sure why. But when it didn't happen, rather than really supporting it and being patient, when it became — when they started seeing the costs, they got rid of it. And there's been a number of those programs. But I don't think those schools ever were wanting to push for a good program.
Then you have Bemidji. They have a huge alumni following, they've been in it for years. We don't know what might happen. There are other options if a new program wants to come in to college hockey.