Though the Bozeman Icedogs may have finished the regular season on the bottom of the AWHL standings in 2013-14 season it does not reflect what was truly a bounce back season for the franchise. A record of 5 wins, 39 losses and 4 overtime losses may not seem great but, compared to the prior season it certainly was. In 2012-2013 The Icedogs only won 1 game and lost by an average of almost 9 goals per game. They were also unable to advance a single player during the season. To see the Icedogs as a competitive team in the league again show that the Icedogs are back on the right track.
It is always a challenge recruiting players for a team that does not have a winning record from one season to the next. Players often don’t believe that changes are being made. New ownership and a new coaching staff may also make players reluctant to commit with so many unknowns. Head Coach Mark Vichorek had a different point of view, "Starting with a new owner and a new coaching staff may also give past players a new outlook on the upcoming season and a renewed hope and enthusiasm that things can only get better. New players coming in know that everyone is on the same level and will have the same chance to make the team and not have a past coach playing favorites.”
The Icedogs showed a resiliency Bozeman has not seen in some time. They more than their fair share of trials and emerged on the other side stronger for having faced them. Besides the aforementioned recruiting troubles they also lost some key players at various times throughout the year. Vichorek explained the team’s bad timing and misfortune. "Some of my 20 year old veterans saw we were a long shot for the playoffs and asked to be traded to playoff teams.” Always looking out for his players, Vichorek acquiesced.
“We also had two key injuries at the same time, really hurting our numbers on defense. Then there were a couple of players who needed to leave for home with a family issue for 5 weeks.” Said Vichorek. Add that to the fact that team Captain Chase Engdahl was called up to the NAHL during that time made it very difficult to compete with such a shorthanded.
The positives that comes from these team issues on the ice is that players that may not see the ice too often on a full roster get some experience and a chance to prove they belong. Through all of the setbacks of call ups, injuries and suspension it makes this season’s improvement that much more impressive.
Coach Vichorek believes all players have to step up through adversity and several Icedogs did. "My guys busted their butts to not only be competitive, but keep up their attitudes to beat everyone we played no matter what they went through. My first year players and younger second year guys did a great job doing what I asked them to do to give us a good chance of winning every night. Last year they couldn't win a period much less a game and this year coaches were telling us how lucky they were to steal some games and that shows that my team never quit."
To add some perspective to the difference a year makes here are some numbers: The Icedogs this season gave up 150 less goals in 2013-2014 than in 2012-2013. They also scored 40 more goals, which makes a 190 goal difference in overall goal differential within one year. That is 19 games of 10 goals per game difference. Those statistics don't lie and show a vast improvement and a better hockey team.
Coach Vichorek was thought of so highly by his coaching piers that they voted him to be Coach of the Year in the AWHL. Upon receiving the honor Vichorek had this to say: "I am so humbled by their thoughts and the way they voted. To be chosen for this honor among all the great coaches in the league is an amazing accomplishment that doesn't come lightly. For coaches that had great win/loss records and making the playoffs to choose me and the Icedog organization means we are heading in the right direction and now must continue to improve and actually do better in the future."
The Bozeman Icedogs also produced the Rookie of the Year in Gunnar Mogck. Mogck lead the league in power play goals (14) and was second in the league in goals overall (33). He was also the eighth leading scorer in the league.
Coach Vichorek had this to say about his leading scorer. "Gunnar is a hockey player that loves the game as much as anyone. He had some important aspects of his game he needed to improve on but shooting the puck in the net was not one of them. I saw Gunnar in a Pre-draft camp in Duluth, Minnesota and all he did was score goals. He led that camp in scoring and I was surprised he didn't get a better look at the NAHL level.”
Their loss was the Icedogs’ gain and Mogck made the best of it. Anytime a rookie can put up 63 points at the junior level it means he can play. Vichorek recruited Gunnar hard and it has worked out well for both parties.
He had a lot of help along the way with his team mates and line mates. Kegan Couture was very instrumental in Gunnar's success as was Ryan Erickson. The three forwards combined for 142 points on the year.
Gunnar said this about his team and teammates. "Anytime a player gets recognized for a special award like this he always has help. Playing with Kegan all year and Ryan for most of the year certainly helped [me a lot]. I am not sure I would have been so fortunate on a different team or with other line mates. Now I have to apply myself even more to move up to the next level and I hope this helps."
Coach Vichorek agreed. "I think Gunnar has the ability to play at the Tier 1 or Tier 2 level if he continues to improve and apply himself on and off the ice. He has natural ability, but like any player with talent if they don't build on it and work 100% of the time they will just be another player. I believe he has the will and the ability, now he has to go prove he belongs." Gunnar will have that opportunity this summer at a couple of camps and if it doesn't work out the Icedogs will be looking to build even further on his success.