Redskins

Minn. State turns coaching mess into perfect year

201211301746640105689-p2.jpeg

Minn. State turns coaching mess into perfect year

MANKATO, Minn. (AP) It's been a season of heartbreak and hope, adversity and achievement, stunning in both the worst and best of ways.

And it's not over yet for Minnesota State, Mankato.

The team, which saw its season begin with the head coach being arrested on child pornography charges, advanced to the NCAA Division II semifinals with a 17-10 victory over Missouri Western on Saturday. A day earlier, exiled coach Todd Hoffner was cleared of the charges and pronounced himself ready to return to work.

With the circumstances surrounding the program off the field never more unstable, the Mavericks on the field have never been better. They are 13-0 and one win away from playing for the first national title in the program's history.

``There wasn't panic. There wasn't getting down on themselves. There wasn't finger-pointing or back-biting or a general erosion of team chemistry,'' athletic director Kevin Buisman said. ``They just bowed their backs and got after it and worked a little bit harder and believed in each other. That's what makes this a pretty special group.''

The turmoil came suddenly, during practice on Aug. 21, nine days before the season opener. The 46-year-old Hoffner was escorted off the field and later charged with one count of using minors in a sexual performance or pornographic work and one count of possessing child pornography. Prosecutors alleged that a video he took on his school-issued cellphone of his children playing in a bath amounted to child porn.

In the wake of the scandal at Penn State where an assistant football coach sexually abused children and school officials were excoriated for not intervening, Minnesota State officials moved quickly to address the situation. Hoffner was placed on administrative leave and offensive coordinator Aaron Keen was installed as the interim head coach.

``As I had to tell him, `There's really not a whole lot I can tell you about the situation. You're in charge until further notice and I'm not sure how much more I can tell you about the situation,''' Buisman said, recalling his instructions to Keen. ``He just said, `I got it.'''

Keen had head coaching experience at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Ill., but taking the reins under such harrowing conditions and trying not to get caught in the backlash from Penn State's downfall was an entirely unique and daunting task.

``The most important thing was to let (the players) know we still had coaches that were going look out for their best interests, make sure they were well prepared and that cared about them and were there for them,'' Keen said. ``The other most important thing was the kids in our program did nothing wrong. We wanted them to be proud of the program that they were in. I wanted to let them know they were going to have strong leadership at the top.''

A 12-hour bus ride to Minot, N.D., for the season opener helped to bring the team closer together, and a 38-10 victory over Minot State set the tone for what would quickly become a special season that included a late rally to beat Southwest Minnesota State in October and an overtime win over Northwest Missouri State in the first round of the playoffs.

``The coaches did a great job of keeping our minds away from it,'' senior receiver Adam Thielen said. ``We didn't want to worry about it. We feel bad about what happened, but what happened this season wasn't going to affect how we approached the game.''

On Friday, the day before one of the biggest games in the program's history, Hoffner was back in the headlines. A judge threw out the charges against him, saying the video was nothing more than children playfully dancing naked after a bath and raising questions about whether school administrators and law enforcement overreacted.

Mike Hanson, the assistant county prosecutor who brought the charges, stood by his decision on Friday.

Once again, the Mavericks didn't flinch. The Minnesota State defense held Missouri Western star running back Michael Hill to 50 yards rushing and Connor Thomas rushed for 159 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown with 3:15 to play that put the Mavericks in the semifinals.

``A team that didn't have the same kind of focus and commitment could have been distracted. I was around the team as the news broke and there was really little discussion. It was all game-related,'' Buisman said. ``I'm not with the kids 24/7. I don't know when that game face goes away and their minds drift to other things. I know that when they're in this building and when they take the field and when it needs to be about football, it's all about football.''

Sooner or later, it won't be. Despite Hoffner's desire to rejoin his team, he was not on the Blakeslee Stadium sideline on Saturday. School officials said they were still conducting an internal investigation into the matter and Buisman didn't want to comment on what the future holds for both coaches.

``There's a lot of other things kind of swirling around in the background, but it's about the kids,'' Buisman said. ``They'll never have the chance to experience this run to the national semifinals again. My focus is on how do we make it special, how do we make it memorable? So that they'll never forget and never question anything that we did as an administration, that we didn't do everything in our power to put them in the best position to be successful.''

---

Follow Jon Krawczynski on Twitter:http://twitter.com/APKrawczynski .

Quick Links

The Kerrigans are having a baby and, WOW, this is all so very exciting

screen_shot_2018-10-16_at_5.55.43_pm.png
@kerrigan91

The Kerrigans are having a baby and, WOW, this is all so very exciting

The Kerrigan family is about to make a big-time addition to its roster.

Ryan and his wife, Jessica, already have two very, VERY, very, very cute bulldogs in their household. 

But on Tuesday, the two announced in separate Instagram posts that Jessica is 18 weeks pregnant and that a third human Kerrigan will arrive in 2019.

"Can I eat dis sign aftur da picturr iz over?" George the bulldog said when reached for comment on the news.

"How did dey gett such a smawl jerzey for da baby alreddy?" Franklin the other bulldog added.

This is all very wonderful.

Come next March, the world is about to get a little precious-er.

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

Quick Links

The Caps are a bad faceoff team, here’s what they’re doing about it

capsfaceoff.png
USA Today Sports

The Caps are a bad faceoff team, here’s what they’re doing about it

Tuesday’s practice was a lot like every other for the Caps until the end. After working on the power play, the team gathered at one end of the ice and began working on faceoffs. It was not just the centers, but wingers and defensemen alike got into the action with every win celebrated by loud cheers from teammates.

It should could as no surprise to see faceoffs as a point of emphasis for Washington considering just how much the team has struggled with them in the early season. The Caps rank 30th in the league in faceoff win percentage at only 43.8-percent.

“Yeah, there's little details that can help our game,” Lars Eller told reporters after practice. “The more you have the puck, easier the game is gonna be for you. We have a little more time in between games than usual during the season here, so we have the time to work on something like that, which can be little things that makes the difference.”

The team as a whole watched video on faceoffs prior to practice and then worked as a five-man unit during the drill. The main point of emphasis head coach Todd Reirden wanted to drill into his players was that faceoffs are not simply the responsibility of the centers alone.

“The days of it just being center vs. center and a clean draw being won back are a rarity now so it's important to have all five guys helping, something we watched video on earlier today,” Reirden said.

“You ask any centerman if they have a good group of wingers that can help them out on draws, that makes a huge difference,” Nic Dowd said. “I've been lucky, I have [Devante Smith-Pelly] on my right and I'm a righty so I win all my draws my backhand side so a lot of pucks go his way and he wins a lot of draws for me. That's huge. You have a guy that's sitting over there that's sleeping, you could go easily from five wins to five losses and then that's your night. It makes a big difference.”

Faceoffs were always going to be more of a struggle for the Caps this season with the departure of Jay Beagle who was, by far, the team’s best faceoff man for several years. Whenever the team needed a big draw, Beagle was the player relied upon to win it. With him gone, it is no surprise to see the team struggle.

But the Caps don’t like the idea of keeping possession off a draw just 43.8-percent of the time.

“It's essentially like the ref is creating a 50-50 puck and you snap it back, you get possession, now you're forechecking and it makes a huge difference,” Dowd said. “You play against those top lines, they want to be in the O-zone. Well, if you lose the draw, now you're playing D-zone, you win the draw now you're playing O-zone. So effectively, you've shut down their shift.”

There is a school of thought suggesting that perhaps the importance of winning faceoffs is overrated and a team’s faceoff win percentage is not overly important. Eller himself admitted as much to reporters.

What no one can argue, however, is that while some faceoffs may not matter all that much, there are some that are hugely important in a game. The Caps recognize that. For them, being a strong faceoff team is not necessarily about improving the team’s win percentage, but more about being able to win those critical draws.

“It's something that for the most part the players understand and a neutral zone faceoff with 14 minutes to go in the first period is not nearly as important as one that's 5-on-6 at the end of the game,” Reirden said. “We all know that. It's important to put the right people on those situations and give them the best chance to have success.”

“A center ice draw, I could see where guys could make the argument, well you lose it you still will play hockey and stuff could still happen,” Dowd said. “But I think the game is such a possession game now that any opportunity you can win a 50-50 puck whether that's a faceoff or a board battle, it makes a huge difference.”

 

MORE CAPITALS NEWS: