The West Virginia University Division 1 men’s club hockey team is just little more than a week away from their first regular season game and head coach Kyle Richards is still facing some difficult decisions when it comes to his starting lines.
A majority of the time, not knowing who is going to play with so little time remaining in the offseason is a negative thing, but Richards feels optimistic about where his team stands entering his second season at the helm of the Mountaineers.
Indecision about a lineup normally stems from a lack of depth and uncertainty about who fills out the bottom lines, but Richards has noticed his roster will go very deep, after just three on-ice practices.
"With much improved depth from last season, each game will present a challenge to the coaching staff on finalizing lineups," Richards said.
Although the team’s top players are beginning to separate themselves, one major question Richards and his staff are still looking to answer is: who will start between the pipes on Sept. 11 for the season opener against Alabama?
"I feel like Urban Meyer at (Ohio State University) with his plethora of options at quarterback. We have four very capable goaltenders, but no decision has been made on who the starter will be," Richards said.
Of the returning players for WVU, Richards points out forward Kyle Dolly and defenseman Nick Burt as two standout guys who will be team leaders on and off the ice.
"Burt has really shown he is going to be a leader on this team from the back end already. Dolly has shown that if he plays a power forward game, he can be dominant," Richards said.
Dolly will be one of the Mountaineers’ top-returning scorers after tallying 19 points in 32 games.
A power forward’s job is rarely glamorous and often requires clearing a path for the flashier and quicker skaters whose job is to put the puck past the goalie.
Dolly has shown a scoring touch, which, if combined with his size, could make him one of the most dangerous players in the American Collegiate Hockey Association.
Richards has also found himself lucky with an impressive group of freshmen entering the program.
Despite having no experience playing hockey at the college level, he feels guys like JP Sawyer, Riley Horvath, David Polinski and Eric Keefe are talented enough to make an immediate impact on the ice.
Richards is looking to instill his style of play into the younger names on the roster early, so by the time they’re seniors, it will practically be second nature.
"We want to be a team that comes at you for 60 minutes every night," Richards said. "So far, the men have responded quite well to practice, and their attitudes, on and off the ice, seem quite excited for the opener."
Richards said the style his team will play is similar to the way he played his senior year of college and is comparable to two successful NHL systems.
"We are trying to mold our style after NHL teams such as the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning. Up and down, puck possession, fast and in your face," he said.
WVU faces Alabama on back-to-back days, Sept. 11 and 12 at Morgantown Ice Arena to open the season.