Crash Course: Head Coach Matt Adams on SJSU's chances at Regionals

Matt Adams, SJSU's first year head coach, on the bench during a game versus the Denver Pioneers. - Austin Hill

Before the #5 San Jose State Spartans (23-7-2) teams faces #8 San Diego State in the first round of the ACHA West regional tournament this Saturday, I wanted to get a look at how they were preparing. I had the chance to sit down with first year head coach Matt Adams after practice this week to discuss some of his thoughts on the team.

Obviously, Fear the Fin is primarily a Sharks blog. So, for the readers benefit, I'd like to ask a couple questions about some of the concepts they're familiar with at the NHL level. Here at the college level, how much do you put in to player deployment or trying to match lines against other teams?

With the better opponents, we did do that. So, we were playing the Utah State game, we matched big time. We wanted to make sure we had our better players out there against [Brian] Gibbons and their top line, and obviously it worked. I don't mean to say we won just because of Aaron and I, I think it helped the cause. It was a good team effort, it was a well-coached game. So I think that's something that going into this weekend - I'm going solo this weekend - I'm going to have to do: to pay close attention to it. And for me, it's key to stay even keel. Aaron gets much more emotional, gets up and down, gets pissed off. I have to stay even keel, otherwise I start making mistakes mentally and not calling the right lines. People say I'm pretty stoic, but I'm into the game. I'm just trying to make sure I'm making wise choices.

Back at Fear the Fin, a lot of people highly value Joe Pavelski. He may not put up giant point numbers, but he does the little things and drives the play back to the offensive zone. Is there anyone on the SJSU team that you think contributes in a similar manner?

You know your top six guys are pretty easy to pinpoint. After that, I think a guy who can easily slip in there and kind of be a Pavelski-ish type of guy: Kraw, Schuyler Krawczuk. He's a guy who has actually got very deceptive speed. Actually, I coached Kraw when he was a first year Midget 16, so about 4-5 years ago. Kraw was just a great kid: he listened, he paid attention, he did what he was told. He's not the biggest kid in the world, like Pavelski, but he's not afraid to go into the corners, he's not afraid to get dirty. He's not afraid to go in front of the net, he played the front-guy on the powerplay for a few games there. He's a centerman, he likes to dish the puck. He's not selfish. So, if I had to pick anyone on the team, I'd say Kraw would probably be the most similar choice.

Moving on to this weekend, how are the guys feeling in preparation for the San Diego State game?

I told the guys at the end of practice, there were a couple drills that the guys were a little apprehensive about today. There were kind of some weird looks on some of the guys faces. So I pulled them in at one point, and I'm like 'Guys, we have to pick up the speed a little bit, pick up the tempo.' Wanting to get them more into game-speed, game-shape. 'But also we've got to have fun. This is a game.' I'm so lucky I get to work in a field revolving around a game. They play this game because it should be fun. So regardless, practices, good games, bad games, tough opponents, weak opponents, they should be having fun. And I think they play the best hockey when they are having fun. These are big kids playing hockey. Yeah, they're adults, but these guys are not too different, in some respects, from my little '03 kids. My little '03 guys are just a little smaller and a little goofier.

If you had to put one key above everything else for this weekend, other than winning, of course, what would it be?

Positive mental attitude. Three words - one thing. That was one of a couple things that bit us in the ass in the first semester - the guys would get down on themselves. That was one of the things I noticed when I first joined the team. Any bad bounces or things that didn't go our way, there were a few guys, or just overall, the emotion on the bench would just go down horribly.

So that was one thing I really tried to work with off-ice, just kind of nonchalantly with the guys. Matejovsky - he was a kid who would just lose it. He has a temper. And that passion is awesome, but it has got to be channeled the right way. So I spent some time with him on the Utah roadie, spent some time with him here. When the game's going, when I see him start to get to that boiling over point, I always go over to him and grab him by the cage a little bit - you know, not yank him. But I tell him 'We need you in this game.' To make sure he understands that. Artie [Arias] is very hard on himself. He is his biggest critic. So getting him to stay positive and keeping his mind-frame right is key. And again, the whole team in general, keeping them positive. Guys who do a great job at doing that: Dino [Christian Rendino] is awesome. I love Dino. He's a young guy, I think he'll be a captain in a year or two. He's a young freshman, about 18 years old, I think, but he's got great leadership skills off the ice. He'll definitely be a leader on this team.

The way this regional tournament works, you know you've got SDSU set on Saturday, but a possible game two is open. And it depends on who else wins on the first day. How hard is it from a coaching standpoint to prepare the team when you don't know who your second opponent would be?

Part of that is hockey players are creatures of habit. You get into a rhythm, even if its a two-day trip. You still get into a rhythm in those days. These guys are used to it. This may be their fifteenth, sixteenth roadie, maybe more for guys who have been on the team a while - Doots [Kyle Dutra] and [Sam] Cimino. That's one side of things. That being what time we play, what time we don't play. As far as from an opponents standpoint, I touched on it today. I told the guys 'Prepare to fight on every shift. Prepare to fight for every goal. You're going to earn your ice time out there. You're going to have to battle for every inch of ice. You're going to battle in the corners.' And I think if they have that mentality going into this weekend, regardless of who the opponent is, I think we'll be okay.

With San Diego State, they were stretching the ice quite a bit to Vaughan's little brother, every single time he was on the ice. So that's one thing that we know going into it. We told our defense what to be mindful of. We've played most of the teams in the West. There are a few we haven't played. I'll watch a few games this weekend to pick up some things here and there. But ultimately, any good coach can change things up on the fly. And there's enough things on our team for me to worry about or keep my eye on. But I think if we go in, and prepare to fight, we'll be okay.

So would you prefer playing a team you've seen like Weber State or Utah, or a team you haven't like Northern Arizona?

Weber State, I think is very beatable. Weber State played with an edge. They play with sandpaper. They were shit talkers, trash talkers. I was getting upset on the bench because I wanted to get out there and punch somebody. I'm not saying we want to go away from that, but the guys did seem to shy away on the Colorado roadie a little bit.

Utah, we beat them obviously. But they're going to have a little chip on their shoulder. They're going to be pissed off, on their home ice. We swept them in the three times. Either one. I'd probably prefer to go with Utah. Just to give an opportunity to really prove it to them. You know, we stomped on you all season long, let's do it one more time just to make sure.

I'd like to wish Matt Adams the best of luck this weekend and thank him once again for taking the time to sit down with me. The Spartans travel to Salt Lake City for the ACHA West Regional tournament. Up first, they'll take on the San Diego State Aztecs this Saturday at 4:00 pm PST. If they win that one, they'll play another team on Sunday for a berth in the national tournament. Every game of the regional tournament will be streamed for free on the University of Utah's UStream page.

Fight on, Spartans!

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