Episode 36 · 2 years ago

Team of the Week (Apple Core) | Episode 36


Mike LaZazzera took over the reins for the New York Apple Core, a total of four games into the 2019-20 season. As the year progressed, his team got better, finishing the year off with a record of 6-5-2 after the January Showcase. Unfortunately the late surge was too little too late to get New York into the playoffs, but served as some nice momentum for the coach to bring with him into the offseason.

Welcome to the east show with Neil Raven. With over onezero NCAA commitments, the ehl is the proven path to college. Turn it up and learn more about the college placement leader at the division two and three levels. Welcome to the east show presented by the penalty box foundation. The foundation's mission centers around their daily motto we take care of our own as they help out all of those within the hockey community who experience the catastrophic event. Learn more at penalty box foundation dot Org. Once again, my name is Neil Raven. This episode number thirty six of the e show and the final team of the week feature of the offseason. So let's welcome in the head coach of the New York Apple Chorus, Michaels Azra. Welcome to the east show, Mike. Thanks mail great to be here. So with the final team of the week feature, that means the hockey season is right around the corner. Obviously, for you this was a chance to have a full offseason because you kind of came on board around this time this past year. So how do you feel about where things are at for you this year? Yeah, that's a that's a great point. Those a interesting scenario situation last year, coming in four games in, you know, it's kind of coming into, you know, a situation where your team's already Picktoria. You know, everybody's on board, Everybody's here, the kids are, you know, ready to go and you know there's a there's a coaching change and you know it's definitely difficult situation for both for the for the players and the coach. But I thought, you know, the kids handled a great you know, there was a really good group of kids last year, good group that, you know, under difficult sitution circumstances, handled it extremely well and it's so like you said, it's so different coming in this year and having the summer to you know, pick your team, recruit your players, bringing the guys that you want to bring in. You know, you're starting from day one the way you want to start it, you know, without anybody else's rules and your own, your own rules, your own, you know, values that you want to move forward with. So, yeah, it's been it's been a you know, a hectic summer, but crazy summer, obviously, but what's going on in the world? But but it's been great, as far as you know, the hockey end of it you know, just just putting together your own team and putting your own stamp on it is is definitely a nice, nice way to start the season and I want to get to that probably easier offseason, despite the covid it's not this summer. But to go back to when you did come on board, that first meeting with the team. Obviously you're a veteran coach, but are there any nerves? Yeah, for sure, definitely, because you know, you don't really know what to expect, you know, and they don't know what to expect a little bit. You know you've talked to him, maybe briefly on the phone or whatever, or, you know, just to kind of introduce yourself. But if for sure, there's there's some nerves there and you know everyone's little anxious they get to know one another and but you know, we're all we're all in the hockey business. We've done like you said, you know, I'm some experience here and I've been in situations like this before and whether it's, you know, joining a team in the middle of the season, beginning or the start of the season. So you get over that quickly. But yeah, that's a good point. I mean there are some nerves both ways, so the players and the coach. And on top of those nerves you're joining a franchise this past year that's really as historic as any junior franchise in our league. It's probably the oldest of all of the junior teams that are in our league. Did you feel pressure, I mean do an organization like that? Yes, yeah, I'll be the hundred percent honest with a yes. I think I this is a story franchise and New York Apple Court's been around forever. You know, if you're in hockey, if you're in the hockey world, if you know anything about hockey, you you've heard of New York apple core. It's one of the you know, predominantly, you know, best organizations in in hockey...

...and junior hockey. It's, you know, whatever you want to compare it to the Toronto Maple leaves, the Montreal Canadiens. You know, we've been around the longest. There is there is some added pressure, for sure. You feel it a little bit. You know you want to produce, you want to uphold the name. You know when you walk in this arena, here we have a great facility, Bruce Ter eice arena. You walk in the front doors and you see all these banners, hundreds of banners hanging down, these little banners or about, I don't know, three feet by two fee wide, and all the names of the players that played here, that went out to college, that went out to pro hockey, and you know, it just sets a tone right when you walk into the rink. It's a great feeling, it's a great atmosphere and but along with that goes a little bit of pressure for sure, and here you do feel it, though. You know you do. You do want to perform at the highest level because you know of the franchisees history and you know it's a great point you bring up, but you know, proud to be part of it. I'm very, you know, happy that Steve and you know thought enough of me to hire me and bring me on board and bring me back for another season and yeah, I'm just happy to be big part of this. So let's keep working chronologically through this past year, you mentioned you come in four games in, there's nerves, you're getting to know your team, they're going to know you. What point of the year did you wake up and say, all right, I feel better, it's my team now. I don't have to watch over my shoulder as much, but it's actually my team now. That's a that's a great question, because you come in, like you said, and you know, I had one two and a half hour practice with the team, one two and a half. I've never had a two and a half hour practice ever as a coach, and I've been jloing over over thirty years. I've had one two and a half hour practice and then we played three games in a showcase. So I got to see these kids, you know, right right away, kind of throw them right into the fire there and see how they perform in a game. If they didn't have the name plates on the back of Your Jersey's nail, I wouldn't have I would, you know, I'm like, you know, I got numbers on my roster sheet, but I'm looking at their name plates like, thank goodness, there's name plates. And so you're throwing lines out there, you're throwing deep hairs out there and in your you know, making adjustments as you go. But I think the point where the question, the original question you asked, is a point where I felt comfortable, like where you're like, okay, this is your team now, you got you know, maybe you weed it out some players that just didn't fit into your philosophy and you brought some players in. I think right after the break, right after Christmas break, I feel like we started playing actually our best hockey as well. We started, you know, going on these short you know we struggled a little bit, be honest with you. I mean you know we struggled right right off the bat. You know, for numerous reasons, I you know, just everybody getting to know one another, you know, coaching changes, and but after the Christmas break I felt like we started, we came together, we kind of knew who everybody was. We we had our lines set, we had our dpairing set, our goalie situation kind of solidified. The number one goalie roast at the top and it you know, where we we could definitely see a starter, a backup, and I just feel like it was then what we start. We went on like three game win streaks. You know, maybe whose one, and then then win one, tie one, and but we were playing our best hockey and at the end of the season, you know, if I wish we had a couple more regular season games and we're kind of fighting for that last playoff spot mathematically and it was. It was just the best part of the season where we were really clicking on all cylinders. We were playing our best. I thought we had the line up that that should have been there. You know, that was producing the best and giving the best effort, and so I if I had a pin point of time, I would say right right about them. Yeah, right after Christmas break. Oh, that's a funny how as your answering that question, I'm...'re giving me the answer. I'm reading all the notes that I have in front of me for my next question, because you went six, five and too after the January showcase. Obviously the two losses in there are over time or a shoot out, but the other five regulation losses are all by Ugal or two goals. And then, like you said, the six wins. Did you truly feel like if you had two or three more games, you may have had a chance to get into that last playoff spot? By a hundred percent, one hundred percent, I felt like if we just had we just ran out of time. That's what I felt like, like if we just had a couple more game, like I would say probably a good five, though, if we had fight more regular season games, and you just that's a great point. Six, five and to like I feel like we could have won three or four out of those five and put ourselves in a situation where now we're legitimately, you know, battling for that last playoff spot. I just wish we had, you know, season was a little bit longer, but you know, everything happened how it happened. But yeah, I for sure thought that that was the case. We would we would have been a contender, absolutely. And then you look at it, if you do get that six seed, anything can happen. You look at the way the junior flyers got past that right riders in that series. Obviously, the one thing that I hear about when teams their season and sooner than the frozen finals, if you will, it's a chance to start the offseason sooner, which for you it did come before all of this covid upbret really took place. But your offseason begins. How quickly, you know? Did you turn the pays and say all right, yeah, I'm disappointed that we've finished just out of it, but now I can start the offseason. How quickly did you turn that page? Immediately? And you actually mentioned the the rough riders playoff series and I was there. I was there for all three games against the Philadelphia junior flyers, looking at players for next year, looking at possible apple COREP players. You know, it's it was our closest playoff series and in regards to location, to brewster here, and so I went to all three games, you know, took some notes, took notes on players that I'm both teams, because not every player, you know, likes to go back, sometimes at the same organization and they're looking for new teams, a fresh start or whatever, especially the Philly team, you know, with them moving their franchise. So yeah, it starts immediately. It really literally does start immediately. You want to get get off on that recruiting start, you know, and then you're going to other spring showcases, like in New England Sports Center. They always have showcases going on, and so you're getting right back on the horse, so to speak, and you're not wasting any time. Yeah, there was a couple days there, you know, where we had our exit meetings with our players, but then you're right back at it and I didn't want to pass up that opportunity to, you know, go see a playoff series that was that close and see some players in our league that you know and see how they perform in the playoffs. So yeah, you get going right away and I'm sure if you and if you've asked that question other coaches, they'll say the same thing. You can't. I mean there's an offseason, but there's really no offseason. It's just you know, you start your work right away. And what's funny, as I think he actually were texting me about the schedule for the next round and in the back of my mind I'm like, man, this things about to get canceled here in a day. So I don't know what to tell this guy. But right, I was. That's right, I remember that. That's absolutely right. But for this next question, what was interesting, as I'm going to put you in different shoes now because I've asked almost everyone this question and obviously for you it's a little bit different because you weren't in the playoffs. But if you were on the playoffs in the season gets canceled, would you have rather have gone through your first round series and been eliminated, or would you rather have been still playing and then the cancelation happens? Where would you rather be? Wow, that's A. that's a great question. You know,...'s just ask the question. I asked the question because the variety of answers that I've received have been really unique and, yeah, perspectives that coaches have had towards it. That is a great question. I'm going to say, though, that I would rather be playing only because that means you're winning. Yeah, and, and, and that's what we're here for. I mean not. Well, you know, we're here to develop, you know, young young men and to make them better people, make them better hockey players in that order, and you know that's that's something that we're here to do. But I think if we're still playing and the pandemic happens, you know, and in the season's canceled up, but it means we're still winning. So I would I would have to choose that. One of the two choices. I would say I would rather be playing and have them cancel it then rather be, you know, eliminated and just kind of like, okay, we gave it a shot. Yeah. So now you you flip this grip, though, you begin this clean slate offseason, which I know as a unique one. Obviously recruiting must have been totally different, but you touched on it before, how you get to kind of set things up the way you want to. Can you give us a few two examples of what that means to a coach? That means the world everything, like it's just, you know, the way you your mark on the team, your culture, and culture is the big is the big word. They're like you know you you start saying, you like just my team meeting, like we had our, you know, our first team meeting before we even went on the ice. You talk about everything. You talk about the locker room, you talk about dress code, you talk about curfews, you talk about how to handle yourselves away from the rink, at the rink. You set all those things in place right at the first meeting at the beginning of the season, and that means the world, because now you know you don't have to come in and change the culture. You just you make the culture as opposed to changing your culture. So it's it's just, way, way better. You feel like you're already have a leg up, like on things when you're doing it your way from the start. You know, it's just you don't have an Amat saying anything bad about the previous coach, but he has his ways. I had my ways and you know when, obviously, if I'm here, I want to implement my ways. So it's you know, as you got to go through that change, you got to go through that process. Well, we did this, you know, with the other coach. Will now we're going to do it this way and you know, and so there's, you know, hundreds of examples. As you know, you can go through with situations like that. So to have the ability to start right from fresh with your culture and what you want to a complished and what the message you want to bring across, it's just a hundred percent better that, you know, you come in and do it that way, for sure. And the rosters obviously going to be totally different this year, whether it was age house or guys that could come back, whether styles of players that you wanted to bring back. I'll give an example. Obviously Danilo Morose the he himself, but was that the title of player that you wanted to go out and try to try and find another guy like that for this year? Yes, for sure, and I brought back I didn't bring back a lot of guys, but I did bring back a court group of guys that I thought would help us moving forward and guys that, you know, I liked as far as characters, as far as on ice off ice, just just nice young men first again, you know I like to say that first and foremost, and then good hockey player. Second. Well, guys like Michael Carducci, Michael Leave, Jason Riskowski, you know, bringing those guys back and starting a team around those three core guys from last year. You know, those are three veteran guys that are going to age out this year, but all solid people, all sow at hockey players and you know, if the season, you know, goes as scheduled this year and they have they're going to have great years. I know they are. And they're going to have their choices or another choices of colleges, division three colleges, because they had books, they had a lot of looks last year and but they all said they wanted to... another year of junior hockey. So starting with that core group of three players, you know, we're just trying to build a team around them. And you know, off of that last year you're you're taking on a roster that isn't your as I you were saying, but I got better as the year went on. was there a part of you that said, I have other pieces that I want to bring in, but I want to write it out with these guys. How did you weigh that battle in your head? That was a tough one. That's a that's a great question as well. That's you. You want to give an opportunity to, you know, a fair opportunity to guys. When you come in in a situation like that, you know it's you don't want to, you know, take the entire season You don't just like making a valuation after two games or even five games. To be honest with you, I wanted to give a good Sol at ten games. I want to see these guys for ten games. I feel like that's a good number, especially with a forty six games schedule season, twenty five percent of the season. And then you make it. You make some strong evaluations like is this a guy that I want to move forward with? Is this a guy that just isn't fitting into our culture or our philosophy as a team? And you got to can make those hard decisions. And so, yeah, we got rid of some players. We traded them, we brought in some new players that, you know, fit more of what our style was wanted to be like and move move forward with those players. But it's you got to give the kids a chance, you know, and I coaching, like you said, I've coached it a lot of different levels and I feel like at the pro level they sometimes just don't give players enough of a Chit. They'll give them like two or three games and you know, if you're not on and those games, it's a tough goal to get back there and get that opportunity again. So at junior hockey, you know, we have we played forty six games and I just thought ten was a good number. I'll give these kids ten games and see what they can do. Give them all types of situations, you know, special teams, powerplay, penalty kill, five on five, for and for situations. See what see how they handle it, see how they handle practice. You how hard they work both on and off the ice, and you know, kind of go from there. But you got I just feel like you owe it to the players that were here. You know, they were here for a reason. The other coach thought they were good enough to be here. So give them a chance, give them a fair chance. You know, if I was in their position or if I was in their place, I'd want a fair chance. So give them that ten game kind of tryout period and and kind of move on from there. And I'm so that ten game number came from, as you mentioned, or Thirty Years of coaching experience. Yes on. I don't want you to have to go through the entire journey, but it's obviously mentioned. There's been a few stops along the way on their handful that I've really stuck out to you that you feel the lessons you learn there you still bring with you to this day. Yes, hundred percent. There's a couple coaches I love to mention as well, just at the NHL level, working with Teddy Nolan with the New York islanders just, and it might sound crazy the things I'm going to tell you of what I learned, but you know, it's when you're at that level and you see these pro guys, I learned how important rest is and all that sounds crazy, but it's. It's like teddy knew when to rest the guys, when to go hard, when it was time to push guys, when it was time to, you know, back off guys and I just learned so much from him watching how when to give a day off, like just get a feel for the team, like if they're really grinding it out in the stretch where you know you've gone ten or twelve days in a row, and maybe give them two days off or have have an activity off the ice, like. I learned so much from Teddy in that respect. Kevin Denine and the American Hockey League when I was his assistant, learned, you know, he's a pros pro like just how to treat players and how to talk to people with respect. And not that I wasn't talking to people respect, but that's all players want. They just want you to be honest and respectful to them. You know what,...

...they're not always going to like what you say as a coach, but they're going to respect you if you're honest with them. You're not, you know, just giving them a bunch of fluffs, and you can tell a player that look, you're just you're not cutting it, you're not up the bar whatever, and they're going to respect that more because you're being honest with them. Then oh no, you're doing fine, you're doing fine. And then you're not giving am ice time you know, and I learned that from Kevin Denine at the American Hockey League level. And one other coach that I I just want to mention was Gerard Golan. When I was on Ted Nolan staff, Gerard was an assistant and he was most recently with the Las Vegas Knights as the head coach. Another one just just a players coach like he. He just knew how to, you know, you respect the guys, but he knew when to push them, you know, and him and Teddy working together was actually a good mix because they're just both guys that knew how to push the buttons of a player and knew when to push them. And you ask any guy that's played for Gerard glant and he'll tell they'll I'll tell you the same thing. Just a guy they respect, a guy that you can you can have fun with Joe Ground with off the ice, but when you're on the ice it's time to work. He knows, he knows when the push you, he knows when to, you know, get on get on your case and push you to be a better player. And guys like that. Just being fortunate enough to work with the coaches like that in my career it's been a blessing. Well, that's funny because I had said, can you talk about any individuals that stood all all on those stops? That was my next question and I had I had jotted down a few that I thought that you may mention. One of the ones that you didn't mention there was Sean Wallace up at Uman. And what's funny about your timing at you Maine. I'm not sure if this is a source of subject or what it is, but well, you got there a year after you. Maine went forty two, one and two. That was left. They're team like. That was the Dream Team and they star a little lot the next year that you were there, obviously, and in winning seasons you can learn a lot and losing seasons you can learn a lot. What did you learn from a guy like seawn Wallis that year? And I'm for remiss. I guess I didn't want to like only because of the way you preface the question. I didn't want to go into like all these coaches, but Sean was the next coach I was going to mention. Okay, Sean Walsh was the most attention to detail coach I've ever worked with. He had practiced down to the minute. It was unbelievable sitting in the same room with him and making a practice plan and going over the drills, and every drill had a purpose and had followed another drill for a reason. He just didn't throw random drills on a practice plan and say, okay, this is what we're doing today. You know we're going to do this two hundred one, or we might do this three on two. He did everything for a reason and his practices were more chaotic than any game we ever played in. And he did it for a reason. I know it and I every time you tell people that they get, I get this a reaction. But he was the type of coach that wanted games to be easier than practice. He wanted you to be able to think in a game like if we're doing a drill and practice that was just like your head spinning. In a game it's going to be like in slow motion. And and he did it. It was just you know, we're right, it was a tough year. That year. We didn't have a great we were above five hundred, but we struggled. You know, it wasn't a forty two one and whatever to record. They from the year before. But you know, we still had great players, we still had Paul Korea, we had the Feraro brothers, we had snow done them like. We still had great players, but it was just to see him the detail and practice. Whether you're winning forty games or you're only winning twenty games, nothing wavered with him. It was the same style, the same way, that discipline, the tension to detail, stopping drills, you know, thirty seconds before because you knew he had to stop watch if the drill was going to end in thirty seconds and they didn't do it right, start the whole...

...drill over again, and it's just it was amazing working with him in this well, and I picked his brain anytime I could that we had a moment where I would just hang out in his office and just ask him questions. It was it was a guy. Was a great experience as well, and you learned so much in these coaches, right, but from the players as well. Do you ever feel yourself telling stories about how hard a guy like Paul Korea worked to call team us? Yes, I tell I tell guys I reference Paul Korea probably more than any other player I've ever coached, just because this kid worked harder than anybody I've ever ever coached. He was amazing, like his his work ethic on the ice and off the ice matched, and that's that's really hard to do. You know, he took an dry land workout or a gym workout just as serious as a practice on the ice. So it was just it was a pleasure to work with him and see his the way he handled himself. He was a pro at eighteen years old, just like you know, in the respect that his work ethic and watching him, it was like a man with with boys, you know, in the locker room. Honestly, it was just I remember one time sports illustrator was looking for an interview and it was after a game and it was a Saturday night. So you play Friday Saturday night in college hockey, and so usually the boys, you know, I'm not going to say they did anything illegal, but they would have some fun on Saturday night. So we're looking for Paul Korea because the sports illustrated reporter wants to do an interview. So I call his dorm room and he answers the phone and I said, Paul, what are you doing? He says, I'm studying from Monday's exam and I'm like, we just want a big game against be you, like I probably our biggest rival back then. Privae still is main and do you and I'm like, Paul, you studying in your dorm room right now. You See, I got a big test on Monday. I mean that's just that's just the type of kid he is, you know. And and one quick other story nail. I just because the type of person he is. Years Later, I'm coaching in pro hockey and we're playing the and I'm ducks and I see him and he's in an interview. He surrounded by reporter, like literally ten reporters surrounding them, and I just I was standing off to the side. I want to talk to I just want to say hi. He sees me standing there, he stops the interview, tells reporters he needs five minutes, comes over and talks to me, shakes my hand, gives me a hug. Well, as how's it going? How you've been good to see you here coaching? You know what's catch up? Here's my number, and then he goes back to the interview with these NHL reporters. But that that's a type of person. Those are the type of people I like to be around and when I keep saying, you know, I want to we want to develop players and people first and then hockey player second. Paul Korea is the best example of that. Well, selfishly I brought it up because there's two main jer he's behind me and I'm from me. But, as I mentioned before we started this podcast, this is the final team of the week feature. So the fun question that I've asked every single guy all summer long and I haven't had a consistent answer. I've gone, okay, I've got I've gotten seventeen unique individual answers throughout the summer is you've been in a lot of different ranks because of your different coaching jobs over all the years. If there's not one, that's fine, but let's hear a few ranks that really stand out to you that have been special when you can't wait to get back to those rings. Oh my gosh, at all levels. Whatever. One stand out to you if you want to say if you want to say Alfa on arena, I'll take that to you know what I'm I'm going in chronologically, for sure. For sure, Alfonderina. That was just special to coach there the atmosphere, the you walk in on the mezzanine level and you're above the ice when you walk in. As you know, it's, you know, in the rinks, kind of lower, a little bit lower when... walk in the main inch. I just that arena is incredible. It's incredible to coach and it's incredible to play. The fans, you know, I was when I was there, it was the Ian Sky and I'd go on the bench in the third period, sitting up on top of the luxury boxes on the end of the rink for the first two periods watching that, watching a game there, if and then going on the bench. It was just it was awesome. I mean Alfond arena for sure's in that is in that mix. Toronto, you know, kind of moving forward to the pro hockey. That's just just a feeling when you're when you're playing in you know, well, what is it called? Now? I know it's I think it's, I don't want to coach, a bank or something like that. Now, yeah, I don't. I don't want to use the wrong yeah, for sure, but there. I know, however advertising is but Toronto just because of the you know, the history in Montreal. For sure Montreal that although it was the new building. But being a Massachusetts Guy, I'm going to say that the TD Bank Center in Boston, just because my dream growing up, you know, being you know, being a Bruins fan and a bobby, your fan. But I would be remiss, and I'm going to say one more if I didn't say this, only because of the history of it, Madison Square Guarden, whenever we play the Rangers, just, you know, being in Madison Square Garden, being part of that atmosphere. It was pretty cool. We really was just, you know, sharing those those experiences at that level, to being in a you know thinking about the history that's happened in some of those buildings, specially Madison Square Garden because it's been around the longust. Well, there you go. It stays consistent. I didn't have the same answer given twice aw summer long, so I love that. I appreciate that. Obviously a very unique offseason, but a good one for you, a chance to let this cy clean and start a new year this upcoming year. So it's going to be an interesting season. We're going to grind, we get through it, but I want to wish you the the best of luck here in the start and hopefully we'll have you on the podcast here shortly after the season gets under way. Thanks mails pleasure. Thanks for listening to the show. Learn more at Eastern Hockey League Dot Org and follow us on Facebook, twitter, instagram and Youtube. Also, be sure to subscribe and get notified when next week's PODCAST is released.

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