BOARDMAN, OHIO (Monday, September 24, 2007) - After going 14-16-2 a year ago, and with Friday's season opener looming, Youngstown State Hockey head coach Rocky Russo is poised for a big season.
"The team looks real good," Russo says. "We've got some good leadership coming back and a real good group of freshmen coming in. I think our strength is going to be in defense and goaltending.
"We brought in two quality defensemen from the Junior B ranks in Josh Wolfe and Cody Parker. We have the ACHA Rookie of the Year back in Mike Poljak. Zac Kusek is making the move from defensemen to forward. He scored 40 points as a defenseman last year, and I think he's going to do big things up front this year."
The American Collegiate Hockey Association just released their pre-season rankings, and the coaches voted YSU into the 29th spot in the country. But, Russo says, the team already had loftier goals in mind before the rankings even came out.
"We obviously want to finish better this year than we did last year," said Russo. "We want to win College Hockey Mid-America, get the automatic bid to Nationals, and see what happens from there."
The Penguins opened training camp four weeks ago just trying to get their legs back into shape for the grind of the season. Now, after a month of practice, the squad seems to be coming together.
"The development in the team has come along big time," said Russo. "First, we worked ourselves back into shape. Now, we are working on power-play, defensive zone coverage, breakouts and a bunch of different forechecks. There is a wide array of teams we play, and it seems like everyone brings something different - so we have got to be ready."
Youngstown State will begin their season Friday night in Wooster, Ohio versus Bowling Green at the Battle of Ohio Tournament.
"Bowling Green is tough because they are a quality Division II team," Russo says. "That sometimes has the make-up of an upset, because the boys might walk in taking them a little lightly. So, we've got to be ready."
The winner of the YSU vs. BGSU game will take on the winner of John Carroll vs. Kent State in the Championship game on Saturday at 8 p.m. The Youngstown State University Hockey Team is based out of the Ice Zone and is sponsored by the B.J. Alan Company - Phantom Fireworks, located in Youngstown, Ohio