From The Daily Emerald
By Dylan Conway
Two years ago, Oregon club hockey head coach Rylee Orr and assistant coach Christian Vivian traveled to Las Vegas for a showcase to scout players.
There, the coaches met Hunter Voyles and Jimmy Gagen, a promising duo of recruits from Boston.
Two years later, Voyles and Gagen made their debuts as Ducks. They had an immediate impact. In the Ducks’ home openers on October 15th and 16th, Gagen scored twice, and Voyles filled in for an injured player, helping the Ducks secure two wins over a talented team in San Diego State.
“[They’re] two guys that just stood out to me right away and played like guys who have been here for five years already,” Orr said.
Keeping connections with players from across the U.S and Canada is key for Oregon to bring in highly skilled recruits.
“You definitely have to cast a wide,” Vivian said. “Sometimes you will start talking to a kid and, three years later, it finally materializes.”
After a year was taken away from Oregon hockey due to COVID-19, the team is back in action and off to a hot start. The Ducks (8-0) are looking to make another push at regionals and, ultimately, compete for a national championship. An active recruiting network across both the U.S. and Canada is at the heart of the recent success. This recruitment strategy sets the stage for the team’s goal of winning a national championship and moving up to D1 level hockey.
It wasn’t easy to get the team back to the playing level they were at in early 2020 — when they won back-to-back Pac-8 championships and qualified for regionals.
With many players either graduating, retiring or moving to play hockey somewhere else, recruiting has been a top priority for the team to grow the program in the past few years. The Ducks are starting the season with 15 rookies which include nine recruits and six walk-ons.
Recruiting can be a strenuous process, requiring an extensive network of friends acting as scouts assisting Orr and Vivian. Throughout Canada, those friends actively attend games and talk to players on behalf of the Oregon coaches. If a player appears interested, they are put in contact with Orr, who takes over from there.
“It’s kind of a long process, which can be frustrating at times, but can be very rewarding at the same time,” Orr said.
It’s a year-round process as there are nonstop showcases and games across North America.
When searching for potential recruits, Orr and Vivian are looking for quality hockey players who are good people off the ice, but an undying passion for the game is just as important.
The team travels on most weekends. And the early morning practices can take a toll on the players.
“When you’re doing that for months on end, that can be pretty grueling,” Orr said. “So having someone that loves hockey is definitely something that we look for as well.”
Orr and Vivian pride themselves on selling what the program is trying to accomplish.
“We sell what we’re trying to do here; we sell our vision and we sell our passion,” Vivian said.
The vision: Win a national championship. Moving up to American Collegiate Hockey Association D1 level hockey is also vocalized by Orr as one of the main goals for Oregon hockey in the near future.
Ducks hockey is undefeated, but the team is still working on building chemistry on the ice. With 15 rookies on the team, there hasn’t been much time to build those on ice connections. Before their home opener, they only had six practices under their belt.
“If you look at our first weekend vs Cal, we played pretty simple and didn’t try to do anything too much on the ice because we didn’t have the chemistry quite built up,” Gagen said.
Keeping it simple has been the in-game mindset so far while the systems and chemistry continues to be a work in progress.
Winning this early in the season is a great sign for the team as the squad will only mesh better with time. Orr believes this team has a legit shot at nationals, which takes place next March in St. Louis.
With nine recruits playing their first season, gelling and boosting chemistry is of the utmost importance. Early wins shows that the skill is there, but in order to make that next step in competition, the systems and chemistry need to be strong.
“We will go to regionals, and we should make it to nationals,” Orr said. “I truly feel like, if this team keeps gelling, I think this team could win a national championship. I really do.”
(Originally published at https://www.dailyemerald.com/sports/nonstop-recruiting-paying-off-for-ducks-hockey/article_c73aed1a-3b40-11ec-abb1-c759b1fa6f80.html)