By Jordan J. Michael
GUILDERLAND –– Ed Koivula is faced with challenges as the new head coach for the Guilderland-Mohonasen hockey team. The Dutchmen have only 15 players; they are developing their skills.
With four lopsided losses in four games this season, learning is coming on a game-by-game basis, or, for that matter, a period-by-period basis.
“Winning doesn’t define our success,” Koivula said this week. The 44-year-old was a former assistant coach for both Shaker-Colonie and Burnt Hills, instructing hockey since 1997. “Small little goals define our success,” he said. “I’m looking for effort and heart from the kids.”
Guilderland-Mohonasen lost to Saratoga, 12 to 0, in its first game on Nov. 28. Last Saturday, the team fell to Burnt Hills-Ballston Spa, 5 to 1. The Dutchmen have scored two goals and given up 28, and sit at the bottom of the Section 2 standings.
Koivula knows that the scores are unbalanced, but he’s trying to key in on the positives. A scoreboard is just a scoreboard, he says.
“We need to win and lose with humility,” said Koivula, who once played youth hockey. “The kids want to win, but we need to reach for what is obtainable. Sometimes, the kids look at me like I’m crazy, but I’m trying to dissect the game for them.”
Even though the Dutchmen were blown out by Saratoga, the score was 2 to 0 after the first period. Koivula was pretty happy with that because the Blue Streaks are a top team.
As a mentor and a leader, Koivula finds more value in teaching the players life lessons. Hockey comes second.
“I want the kids to be disciplined, so that’s where we are,” said Koivula. “Very few players in Section 2 will go on to the college level, so hockey will become a distant dream for most of these guys. Learning hockey is a bonus.”
With 13 skaters and two goalies, Guilderland-Mohonasen is below average in roster numbers. The Dutchmen lost nine players to graduation, but got only five new players for this season. However, the 10 underclassmen from last season are back with the team.
“There is a good core of guys,” Koivula said. “They have a lot of heart and motivation, but they’re still learning the basics.”
Hockey is a specialized sport. It’s not easy and it’s not cheap. Also, some kids chose to skate for elite youth teams in the area because the play is more competitive.
Teams like Saratoga, Shenendehowa, and Bethlehem have feeder programs for hockey, Koivula said, but Guilderland-Mohonasen doesn’t have that luxury.
“Shenendehowa had 50 players try out for its team, but I didn’t have to make any cuts,” said Koivula. “It is what it is. There are a lot of factors that don’t make it conducive to have a successful hockey team. This is a valley instead of a peak.”
With a brand new coach, this is the start of Guilderland-Mohonasen’s development. Koivula will try to build numbers from here.
In sports, the team with the least amount of talent and the least amount of players usually has the most chance of losing. However, teams can always overcome and get better. If Guilderland-Mohonasen went into every game with a losing mentality, then Koivula would be fine with canceling the season right now.
This is not the case for the Dutchmen.
“Maybe, way back in their minds, they’re not giving themselves much of a chance,” Koivula said of his players. “They can’t look at it that way. They need to focus on our plan and point out the successes.”
Guilderland-Mohonasen is making the best of what it has, even if that isn’t very much at the moment. The Dutchmen host Christian Brothers Academy (3-3-1) on Friday at Union College.
The psychological side of hockey has presented the biggest challenge for Koivula. The communication level is different from one player to the next.
“What motivates every kid?” Koivula asked, answering himself. “Each kid sees and hears differently, so how do I change my behavior? If I can get inside their heads, then we’ll figure it out.”