Q&A: Mark Osiecki, Ohio State
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Earlier in the offseason, Mark Osiecki was named to replace John Markell as Ohio State's head coach. Osiecki comes by way of Wisconsin, where he has been an assistant, including with the 2006 national championship team. Other notable stops included his head coaching stint in the USHL, with Green Bay, and an assistant to Dean Blais on last year's gold-medal winning turn by Team USA in the World Junior Championships.
He is also from a hockey coaching family — his father has been coaching a long time, and is currently an assistant with the Minnesota women's team.
One of his moves was to name former UMD assistant Steve Rohlik as his right-hand man. The pair have been spending recent weeks settling in. Steve Brent was kept on as an assistant as well.
CHN: How are things going so far?
Osiecki: With Steve Brent being around, he can give quite a bit of insight. We'll get to know our players as quickly as we can, what they bring to the table, what their character is like. Character is a huge thing for us.
CHN: The recruiting season is obviously over for 2010, so is it all focused on 2011 now.
Osiecki: There will be the opportunity to have some (players) we can bring in, because we want to have the competition here with our current players. A lot of recruiting for the upcoing year is over for sure. A lot of times, a year from now (recruiting) is over too. It's just the way things have gone.
CHN: Will the recruiting focus be different than what you were used to at Wisconsin?
Osiecki: It'll be a different, but just from Rohlik's background and mine, it will not be drastically different. We'll get into Minnesota and recruit there. At UMD, they didn't do a lot in Michigan, so we'll do more in Michigan, Ohio and Pittsburgh. It's our backyard, so we'll try to be active. But we won't change what we do in Canada.
CHN: A great help to Ohio State, like Bowling Green and Miami, is how much more places like Ohio and Pittsburgh are producing players these days.
Osiecki: It's great for young kids, it's great for fans. It's great with Blue Jackets being in state where a lot of people can identify with home grown players. [Osiecki said in his press conference: "Obviously the brand is there. Whether you go to Minnesota or British Columbia. It's just a matter of throwing elbows at certain areas of recruiting. In Minnesota, a lot of those kids are going to Notre Dame or Miami, it's just a matter of getting your hands in there."]
CHN: It makes things that much more competitive in CCHA circles, with you guys competing for those players.
Osiecki: No doubt. There should be competition. That's what makes it better for everybody. If there's not, it's not as fun to be a part of. Whether you're in Minnesota or New England there's comeptition. It makes the league better.
CHN: Do you sense there will be much of an adjustment period for you entering a different league?
Osiecki: Obviously it's going to be a learning phase, with learning the league, the different style of play with different coaches. It's something new for Steve and myself. Obviously, Brent will know — he's played in the league and coached in the league. It will be a great head's up for what's to be expected. We played Michigan and Michigan State every year, I followed Notre Dame because my brother played there ... So there's a decent comfort level.
Especially in our league (there's a high level of coaches). Being in a place like that will humble you pretty quickly. Red Berenson, Rick Comley, Jeff Jackson, Walt Kyle, Bob Daniels — hopefully I learn from those guys. I have the utmost respect for them. And then there's Rico (Blasi) — I still consider him new and he's been around.
CHN: What kind of player do you want to have there?
Osiecki: Obviously you'd like to have a room full of Wayne Gretzkys and Sidney Crosbys, but if you don't have that high-end skill, hopefully you have character, speed, gritty, difficult to play against ... Hopefully our 'D' will be tough to play against. ... You have to adapt to the players you have. Every year, your team and coaching stlye has to change. The team won't be the same. When you change just one player off the team, the personality of the team changes. The staff has to adapt to that. So to say I'm gonna coach this way or that would be wrong. I'll have certain tendencies. But if you're a highly-skilled team, you're going to play offensive. If not, you need to do things well away from the puck. But hopefully, we'll have a team that can skate.
CHN: Do you expect any changes? There have already been some.
Osiecki: Losing players to the pros is going to happen. They're impossible players to replace at this time. That's impossible. In terms of the current roster, there will definitely be some changes. That's just the way it is. There are some guys that won't make the cut, and some that will. To be honest, it's an opportunity for a lot of guys, a fresh start. They have two coaches with no pre-conceived notions.
CHN: I'm sure it would've been nice to have the three players who left — Zac Dalpe, Matt Bartkowski and Hunter Bishop.
Osiecki: That was done well in advance. We can't change that, it happened.
CHN: Do you see any hope in stemming the tide of players leaving college hockey for junior or the pros?
Osiecki: There's certain kids that see one way as a quick avenue to NHL hockey, and might be a right fit. But that's always been the case. To the U.S. kid, there's a few more options now than the past, because of marketing and great exposure by the junior leagues. For a Canadian kid up and coming, it's a way of life. You're not going to change that. On the flip side, I think Paul Kelly at College Hockey Inc. has done an incredible job with coaches, talking it out with us. It's going to bode well for college hockey. He's on the right path.
CHN: What tangible things do you see that he's been able to do, or will do?
Osiecki: I can't say all of the things, but I know he's had great conversations with Hockey Canada, USA Hockey ... I definitely see some of the inroads he's made. It's going to take baby steps.
CHN: Talk about your time with (Wisconsin head coach) Mike Eaves.
Osiecki: You can't thank a coach like that enough. He's given me my opportunity here. From his coaching style, it was like getting a masters in coaching. You learn so many different aaspects, whether it was a small little tidbit or big picture. He's coached at all levels. I've been very fortunate being an understudy ... and have him as a mentor. Same with Dean Blais. I got to chat with him and be around him.
CHN: They're very different kinds of coaches.
Osiecki: The intensity is the same. They are very different styles. But the one thing that's consistent is the demand they have.
CHN: One thing I've always admired, is that when Mike Eaves came in, he really ran a tight ship. But over time, as he got in the players he could trust, he loosened things up — not to be more loose, but because he knew he could trust those new guys.
Osiecki: You have to recruit the right type of player. He always had the vision. [In his press conference, Osiecki said: "You can't change everything. Take care of the now. Slow down a bit. ... There's so many things you want to do, you do have to slow down. Dean Blais, Don Lucia, they said the same thing. You're not going to change the world. ... (Dean) loves the city. Dean's like a second father to me. My conversations with him go way back. No brainer when this opportunity came along. He had nothing but good things to say."]
CHN: How about an old player of yours, Adam Burish, playing right now in the Stanley Cup finals. Do you talk to him?
Osiecki: You talk about a kid you'd want to model after. He's a character person in the room. I was forutnate enough to have him Green Bay and Wisconsin. And I'm fortunate being able to talk to him on a weekly basis. He's like a player who was here (at Ohio State), Nate Guenin (who also played at Green Bay). What they are worth in your room is hard to measure.