From Rochester University Warrior Athletics
Walk into Big Boy Arena at 6 AM on a weekday and you’ll be greeted with a blast of cold air, which will definitely wake you up. Take a turn to the left and you’ll begin to hear the sounds of skates shredding ice and hockey sticks colliding. Walk up the first set of stairs and you’ll see players donning the Warrior red and white chasing the puck like a swarm of angry hornets with players on both benches cheering them on.
This is a sight that spectators wouldn’t have been able to see a year ago. A year ago, only eight Warriors shared the ice, which made for an incredibly challenging season for head coach George Dritsas.
“It was really crazy. The returners know what they went through,” Dritsas said. “We were going two minutes into games and already worrying about injuries.”
With a sport as physically demanding as hockey, having a deep roster is vital to the success of a team. However, when seeking out a recruiting class to fill out the roster, Dritsas wasn’t only searching for talent and size. He was searching for something even more important to him.
“I wanted accountable players,” Dritsas said. “Talent is important, but I will stress your desire and your accountability. Going to class, doing the right thing, and being a good person.”
The players understood and got behind Dritsas’ approach right away. With over half of the current roster being freshmen, this young squad knows the importance of those qualities and what it means relative to team success.
“In past seasons, it hadn’t felt like we established a true culture in the locker room,” senior goalkeeper Anthony Carlier said. “Changing that culture as a whole is a huge thing for us this year.”
To make that change, according to Carlier, staying positive and picking up other players while down were the main focuses of the upperclassmen and coach Dritsas.
“The better a culture we have, the closer the team is going to be,” sophomore defender Ben Haas said. “It makes the game much easier to play at a higher pace, when everyone’s on the same page.”
To work on building culture, the Warriors also emphasized spending time together outside of the rink. Because of that change, working on tactics and game skills have come much easier for the Warriors. With a full roster this time out, the team feels that it’s much improved.
“Drills are a lot more team-involved in practice,” Haas said. “We’ve been doing less one-on-one drills and more five-on-five stuff, which really translates over into our games.”
That said, tactics aren’t the primary reason that Dritsas loves coaching the game. To him, there’s much more to it than that.
“I look at hockey as a way to release tension,” Dritsas said. “You build long-lasting relationships. I’m 64 years old and I have people that I know from hockey. That locker room is your family.”
Players like freshman forward Cole Gratton share that sentiment.
“Whenever you have a tough week, you enter that rink and like my old coaches always say, ‘Here, it’s just hockey’,” Gratton said. “You don’t have to think about anything else, you can just play the game.”
Even with its fast-paced nature and intensity, Dritsas is a coach that likes to bring some levity to practices and give his players freedom to express themselves through their love of the game.
“I like the fact that he just lets us play hockey,” senior forward Kyle Banks said. “He’ll hold you accountable for your mistakes, but he’s not going to kick you will you’re down.”
The players are also holding themselves accountable outside of the rink.
“Being a Warrior hockey player means representing well on campus,” junior defender Henry Horton said. “You’ve got to do well in class and be respectful to your professors and peers. That’s how we build a face on RU’s campus.”
With a full roster and a season ready to begin, Dritsas and his players have fully bought into a Warrior mentality.
“For us, it’s all about bending and not breaking,” Carlier said. “We’ve seen adversity on top of adversity. For us, the biggest thing is being able to stay positive and overcome that adversity. We’re not just here to play hockey, we’re here to be better men. Playing for this program has made that possible for all of us.”
(Originally published at https://www.rochesteruwarriors.com/article/1680)