By Еvan Osentоn
There are a number of truisms Dinos men’s hockey fans have learned to accept.
Every year the Dinos put together an impressive regular season, have at least one conference all-star, suffer a late season setback, rally heroically in time for the playoffs, crush those slack-jawed yokels from Lethbridge and then get carpet-bombed in the second round by the University of Alberta Golden Bears.
Well, not anymore. According to brand-spanking new Head Coach Scott Atkinson, this defeatist mentality stops right now.
"I’m tired of the idea that all roads to success lead through Edmonton," he said. "We don’t put them on a pedestal. We respect them, but if you expect to fail, you will."
Atkinson comes to the University of Calgary from Mount Royal College, where he sported a winning percentage (73 per cent) that would make Greg Gilbert salivate like Pavlov’s dog. When he started at MRC, the Cougars were in a situation similar to where the Dinos are now.
"We came in as a third-place team, and showed people we were committed to excellence," he said. "Bottom line, we didn’t expect anything less than our best."
The Atkinson approach worked like a charm at MRC, as the Cougars rattled off three Canadian College Athletic Association titles, in 1998, 1999 and 2001.
Atkinson hopes to take what he considers a good Dinos squad and help them realize their potential through better mental preparation, conditioning and teamwork.
"We have to make a commitment to doing well," he said. "This team is close-knit and we need to up the expectations."
Former Dinos bench-boss Tim Bothwell was decent–he won CIAU coach of the year in 1997–but his teams never seemed to be able to take it to the proverbial "next level" and he now rides the pine with the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers. Atkinson’s attitude and winning history means Dino fans should consider his hiring an upgrade.
The Dinos will be hurt by several key retirees, but the situation is under control. Forwards Matt Holmes, Judd Casper and Scott Fukami and defenceman Mike Laplante are among last season’s regulars who won’t return this year. However, the high-scoring Ryan Geremia and Colin Embley and workhorse Trevor Segstro are returning to lead the offense, while Dallas Fallscheer will anchor the defence in Laplante’s absence. And while the Dino’s defence is relatively young, they have a year of experience under their belts.
"We’ll be in good shape," Atkinson said. "We have a lot of extremely talented kids overall."
The battle for goaltender should be interesting, as Scott Rideout, Tyler Nilsson and Aaron Baker have all played brilliantly at varying times.
Sources close to the Gauntlet hint that the U of L Pronghorns, with few graduates, are much improved this year. The U of A Bears, on the other hand, are a shadow of their former selves following the off-season departure of… well, basically, all their good players.
With Atkinson at the helm, the Dinos are in a good position to shake off the ghosts of their recent past. If their goaltending situation stabilizes, they stave off injuries a little better and they recruit some offensive depth, look for the Dinos to hold off the surging Pronghorns and take first in their division this season.