Ice Rebs begin new season tonight against Georgia Tech
Published 12:47 pm Friday, September 15, 2023
By Russ Eddins
After a long six-month offseason, the Ole Miss hockey season is finally here. They play Georgia Tech this Friday at 9:30 p.m. and Sunday at 9:15 p.m. in Olive Branch. As noted before, the 2022-23 season was one to forget for the Ice Rebs. This season looks to be much better.
The team is deploying a new system. That should go a long way in getting wins. On average, the current squad is much more physical and has a higher IQ than last year’s team. The coaching staff has also set big goals for the 2023-24 season.
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2022-23 was a fluke
The Ole Miss hockey team went 21-3-1 in the 2018-19 season. That is one of the most successful seasons in program history. According to Head Coach Josh Herbert, the reason for that success “was the culture and the buy-in of that culture.” Players played for the logo on the
front and not the name on the back.
Last season, the opposite was true. However, lack of culture and buy-in was not the only reason for the team’s failure. Another reason was the classification gap between the players.
“We had nine seniors, one junior, and the rest were sophomores and freshmen,” Herbert said.
COVID also played a part in the team’s failure last season. We won the “championship in 2020. COVID shuts the world down. They had a year off, and then the problem was getting going again,” the coach added.
The Ice Rebs have put last season in the past, and this year looks promising.
After the team’s abysmal 2022-23 season, the coaches have decided to change their system. As defined by Herbert, a system is “the style a team uses and how they play the game offensively and defensively.”
Last year’s system was in-tight and focused on the house (protecting the crease). The wingers could not go past the hash marks. Overall, the system was pretty passive.
They are switching to a system that would eliminate the opponent’s time and space.
“The biggest thing in this league is time and space; our forwards want to create it, and we as defense want to make sure that they (the opponent) have no chance to think about it,” said Defense Coach James Erwin.
A core tenet of the new system will be just that: not giving the opponent time to think. “The less that the other team can think about coming in the zone, the better for us because that’s when they’re going to make mistakes,” added Erwin.
The focus will be “on quick transitions and puck battles (when two or more players fight for the puck, typically in the corners of the rink) and possession.” They are adapting with the speed and IQ they have coming into the program.
Another major point of emphasis this year is getting the wingers to block shots. That should help the goalies because when shots are blocked correctly, they do not reach the goal. This new high pressure will definitely result in a significantly better season for the Ice Rebs.
Different From Last Year
What separates this year’s team from last year’s team is buy-in. “Guys are already taking to each other. They’re already working toward a common goal. They’re eager to get going, and, for the returning guys, they’re looking forward to rebound and redemption.”
I have already reviewed the new system the team is deploying this year; however, they will also focus on different tactics. This year, they want to get “quick releases (from the defense) and get pucks to the net a lot more than last year.” A big issue last year was not getting pucks on
the net; that should not be a problem this year.
I attended at least one practice a week for most of the season last year. This year, I have been to all but one practice. The practices and inter-team team competitions have been much more intense than last year. This team is ready to compete.
The coaching staff has a few big goals for the team this year. That is good; the big goals will push the team and coaching staff to improve.
Head Coach Herbert has a few very attainable goals. Firstly, he wants to be at .500 on the road, .750 at home, be at the bottom of the table in penalty minutes taken, and reach the playoffs. All of those goals are within reach for the Ice Rebs.
Last year, on average, they allowed 37.72 shots per game. That is going to change this year. “I really want to focus on blocking shots and limiting other teams to 15 shots or less a game,” Erwin said.
He also wants to improve on winning puck battles (specifically ones in their zone). He wants to win 75 percent of puck battles in their zone. A big reason they were not successful in puck battles last year was they “weren’t as aggressive as” they “should have been in the corners and (at) winning puck battles.”
In 2022-23, the team won around 36 percent of puck battles in all zones. Despite that, Coach Erwin believes the team’s size and control will allow them to win 75 percent of puck battles in their zone.
The Ole Miss hockey team has taken several steps to return to the program’s winning ways. The new system, improved culture and big goals will go a long way in helping the team win in 2023-24. This year could start several years of a consistently high-performing team.