USHL Team Set for Historic Road Trip
Wednesday August 1, 2012
Waterloo Black Hawks prepare for 2012 Junior Club World Cup in Omsk, Russia
Just a little over two months ago, the Waterloo Black Hawks were competing in a thrilling Clark Cup Final series. The focus has shifted to the 2012-13 hockey season, but before the puck drops on another USHL campaign, there will be Black Hawks hockey in August.
The Black Hawks will participate in the 2012 Junior Club World Cup in Omsk, Russia from August 18-26, the first USHL team to compete in a major international tournament first held last summer. The short offseason got even shorter for the Black Hawks, but you won’t hear anyone in Waterloo complaining.
“We feel like our guys are ready to go,” said P.K. O’Handley, Head Coach and General Manager of the Waterloo Black Hawks. “Obviously we are not anywhere near being in game shape, but the nuts and bolts of our team – we have them in place.”
Things are in place, but this time they are in place a month earlier than years past.
Teams in the USHL face a large turnover each summer as in most cases over half of the roster will depart to begin careers playing NCAA Division I hockey and beyond. New faces come into the League and have to make the adjustment to a lifestyle and brand of hockey they have never seen before. Last summer, the Black Hawks for the first time hosted an orientation camp in August for the 2011-12 version of the team as a way of creating a smoother transition to the rigors of USHL play. With the upcoming trip to halfway around the world, Waterloo needed to begin the orientation a few weeks earlier.
“The key to the camp is letting our players understand what it means to be a Black Hawk, what their responsibilities are as it relates to being a Black Hawk, and what the Black Hawks expect from the player,” said O’Handley who is entering his 11th season with the team.
The camp concluded with “fan fest” on Saturday as it gave the Waterloo faithful an opportunity to see the 2012-13 edition of their club, take a tour of the Black Hawks locker room, and watch the team compete during an intrasquad game wearing the special uniforms that they will don overseas.
Excitement levels are high in Waterloo as the Black Hawks welcome back a group of players that were one victory away from capturing the Clark Cup in May, led by USHL Rookie of the Year Taylor Cammarata, forward Vince Hinostroza, who was selected by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2012 NHL Draft, and defenseman Ian McCoshen, a top prospect for the 2013 NHL Draft. Incoming at camp last week include Zach Stepan, who was selected just over a month ago in the 2012 NHL Draft by the Nashville Predators.
Aspirations for another successful season in the USHL have become the norm in Waterloo, but the players are excited for what lies ahead in late August – and their coach likes what he sees already from this team.
“I think the kids have really embraced the fact that they are representing our league. That is utmost importance,” said O’Handley. “Equal to that, we are representing the United States of America. The kids have grabbed that wholeheartedly and there is a general sense of excitement.”
While new players were getting accustomed to Waterloo, the Black Hawks staff has also been learning some lessons about planning a trip of this magnitude. Even for a coach who has won 464 regular season games in the USHL (fifth most all-time) and surely seen just about everything, O’Handley admits to being in uncharted waters for this overseas adventure.
“Logistically, we knew it would be an undertaking with a large group going to Russia, but I am not sure any of us had any idea of the planning and the amount of detail work that needs to take place and for our trip,” O’Handley explained. “Getting flights, coordinating passports, arranging visas – it has been an education, that is for sure.”
One advantage the Waterloo Black Hawks have is a coaching staff that has experience in international competition. O’Handley has been on the staff for multiple U.S. teams, including as head coach for a USHL-dominated roster that won gold at the 2009 World Junior A Challenge. He was also on the coaching staff for the Select Team that won gold at the 1997 Four Nations Tournament in Fussen, Germany. Associate Head Coach Shane Fukushima has recent international experience serving as assistant coach for the U.S. Select Team that won bronze at the 2011 World Junior A Challenge. Black Hawks trainer Todd Klein has also drawn multiple assignments on staff for Team USA on the international stage.
“I have been afforded the opportunity by the USHL and USA Hockey over the years to have been involved with teams that travel abroad,” said O’Handley. “From a hockey side, the experience gives me a chance to say the Russians do ‘X’ or Sweden does ‘X’ with their style of game from an international scope. That part of it will hopefully prove valuable. Also, I have an idea of some of the challenges of visiting another country and the positive experiences of traveling abroad.”
In a few days, the Waterloo Black Hawks begin their travels to the Junior Club World Cup, an event that features teams from ten countries. It will no doubt be the longest road trip in team history as they get set for contests with teams from Czech Republic, Belarus, and Norway. The fourth game in their Group A schedule features another set of “Hawks” as the Cup host, Omsk Hawks, will be the matchup that could determine whether Waterloo advances to the semi-final round. The Omsk Hawks come into the tournament as the defending Russian junior hockey champion.
The Waterloo Black Hawks look forward to the trip and the experiences that lie ahead both on and off the ice. A journey that will be fun and provide lifelong memories, but the team isn’t viewing this as a summer vacation.
“All of hockey will be looking to see how we perform and we are going to be the barometer for the USHL,” said O’Handley. “Our goals all tie into the same message – represent our league, our country, our community, and our team. All of those things are equally important and we have the opportunity to do something very special for all of those things. That is a pretty high standard. We have some unknowns in terms of our competition, but we will stick to our goals and hopefully that involves getting into the final game of the tournament.”
For now, the players have the opportunity to return to their hometowns before reconvening in Waterloo on August 8th. Following a few more days of practice, the team will then board a plane for their international destination. A trip that their veteran coach describes as “a once in a lifetime chance for our team and players.”
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrated its 10th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2011-12. With 28 picks during the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and over 280 players already committed to NCAA Division I schools this season, the USHL has emerged as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent. For more information, visit us on the web at www.USHL.com or visit the League’s social media platforms, including Facebook (www.facebook.com/ushlhockey), twitter (www.twitter.com/ushl), and YouTube (www.youtube.com/ushlinteractive). Fans can also watch USHL action all season long, live or on-demand via FASTHockey (ushl.fasthockey.com).
It’s not just hockey. It’s the USHL.