Men’s hockey builds new foundation


Paul Patane

The men’s hockey will have Oscar Johnson Arena as their home stadium for the second consecutive season.

Paul Patane, Reporter

The men’s ice hockey team looks to the future with former Hamline assistant coach and Golden Gopher Cory Laylin at the helm.

Coach Laylin served as an assistant coach for the Piper men’s hockey program before leaving to pursue other opportunities in 2010. Fast forward a few years and he’s returned for more: this time as head coach of the team.

Laylin has his work cut out for him as he takes over a team that went 2-22-1 last season, with only one MIAC victory against Bethel.

“I enjoyed my time [at Hamline in previous years]. We had a lot of success and I wanted to get back into the college game. I’m excited to be here,” Laylin said.

Laylin has a storied Minnesota hockey background. He played four years at the University of Minnesota, having scored 58 goals during his career as a Golden Gopher. After graduating, he played professionally across the globe for 16 years and began his career as a coach shortly thereafter.

When Laylin served as an assistant coach in the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 seasons, the Pipers made the playoffs both seasons and won a combined 32 games.

The Pipers have some key players returning this season, including senior captain and defenseman Joe Rubbelke. Junior forward and leading goal scorer from last season Kevin Novakovich also returns.

Novakovich led the team offensively last season with nine goals and eight assists, despite missing several games due to injury. Now that he’s healthy, Novakovich looks to pick things up where he left off last season. 

For Novakovich, team success and growth includes playing better defensively.

“The past is the past. Last year, despite only winning two games, our offense was decent. This year our defense is being restructured,” Novakovich said.

Rubbelke also stresses improved defense as an important factor in overall team improvement this season.

“I think I’ve improved the most defensively [from previous seasons] and I want to keep getting better defensively,” Rubbelke said.

Pipers spent the offseason conditioning to be in the best physical shape possible while on the ice during games.

“We just had our Iron Man and I trained 4-5 days a week over the summer,” Novakovich said.

Rubbelke also trained in the offseason to improve.

“I trained at my high school. I did running, conditioning and got on the ice whenever possible,” Rubbelke said.

Laylin acknowledges he’s starting new with a struggling program, but each player gets to come into the season with a clean slate.

“We’ve got great young guys that have a passion and love for the game. The slate’s clean. I don’t know anybody and we want to win games and get better every game,” Laylin said.

Rubbelke is anxious to have the new opportunity and return to winning.

“The goal for me is to always make the playoffs, to have a fresh slate and get the hockey image back up to where it was and to start winning again. I think we’re going to shock a lot of people this year. The excitement’s there,” Rubbelke said.

Novakovich enjoys the opportunity and is excited to see what Coach Laylin can help bring to the program.

“We’re all kind of excited to see where our new coach takes us,” Novakovich said.

Laylin stresses for his players not to get ahead of themselves and to keep focused on a period-by-period and game-by-game basis.

“We want to win the first battle. We can’t look too far ahead. We’re not looking to set goals or win championships this year,” Laylin said.

Laylin will receive help and support from his assistant coach, Joe Long. 

“Joe Long’s been great. He was an All-American here who played both forward and defense,” Laylin said.

Long played for the Pipers all four years he attended Hamline. He received a Conference Player of the Year award in addition to his First Team All-American nod in the 2007-2008 season. Since graduating, Long has gained valuable experience in scouting, recruiting and coaching.

The 2014-2015 Men’s hockey season opens against St. John’s in Blaine, Minn. on Saturday, Nov. 1. The Pipers play their first home games against UW-Stout in Oscar Johnson Arena on Friday, Nov. 7 and UW-River Falls on Saturday, Nov. 8 . Both games begin at 7 p.m.