Colonel Confidential With Wilkes Coach Brett Riley
The Wilkes men’s hockey team is off to a sizzling 13-4-1 start in its inaugural season.
This week, head coach Brett Riley spoke to The Citizens’ Voice about the team’s success and confidence level.
The team is undefeated in its last eight games through Friday. What’s been the key during that stretch? I think it’s just a young team finally figuring things out and coming together. We’ve matured a great deal. We’ve tweaked our special teams; those numbers have really improved. Our power play is clicking at 22 percent now. I think all those things just take time. It’s a young team, obviously, and we were still figuring ourselves out the first half of the year. We still are now, but we’ve come a long way.
Is there one element to the team that has been most surprising? I think we knew when we went in the recruiting process, we tried to assemble, not just find really good players and really good people off the ice, but assemble a team kind of like a puzzle. Different guys playing different roles. Not just a bunch of “steady Eddie” defensemen, or a bunch of goal scorers. Probably, our biggest surprise is just the depth. One or two can come out of the lineup, and we can put two guys in without batting an eye. We’ve played a lot of the season like most teams with guys coming in and out, and I don’t think the depth has been exposed.
The team has shown the ability to come from behind in a lot of games. Do you think situations like that will help later on in the season? There’s a really good belief, like we came from behind against Lebanon Valley in Hershey last week down 4-0 going into the third and we won 6-5. We trailed Elmira late, and found a way to tie it and win in double overtime. We talk about having resiliency and the resolve of the group, and I think it just stems from confidence. They believe they can do it. At the beginning of the year, we were a team questioning if we could win, learning how to win. I think there’s a quiet confidence to the group. They don’t take anything for granted, and they know maybe we’re shifting gears from being the hunters to the hunted, and they welcome that challenge.
What has the support from the school students and faculty been like? The school has been unbelievable in welcoming our guys. We’ve got guys from 14 states and Canada, kids from Alabama and Georgia that normally wouldn’t come to Wilkes, and this feels like a second home for them. It all starts at the top with great support from President (Patrick) Leahy to our Director of Athletics (Adelene Malatesta) to everyone in between. Everyone at the rink, (Penguins CEO) Jeff Barrett and (Toyota SportsPlex General Manager) Jason Jarecki. When you start a new program, that’s kind of your one concern — will our guys fit in here, will they like it here? ... I think our guys are fitting in very well and we’re finding great crowds.