Thursday, September 16, 2010

Mountain Cats in shape, winning games


And to think how good the Michigan Mountain Cats would be if they actually had a full roster.

Even goaltender Schuyler Ferguson got on the score sheet last weekend as the Mountain Cats swept the Battle Creek Jr. Revolution in two games on the road, outscoring Battle Creek by a 15-5 mark.

Mountain Cats head coach Chad Grills acknowledged that last weekend was just two games, but hopes his squad can keep the momentum going this weekend against Toledo.

“We had a very good weekend and that was with a ton of new faces,” said Grills, who also made his head coaching debut against Battle Creek. “It’s been difficult for teams in this league to field half-decent teams with NAHL teams keeping guys until the October 1 deadline. But last weekend against Battle Creek, I did expect to win those games, but I didn’t expect to win as big as we did. I wasn’t too nervous, but I hoped we would play well and we did. Maybe if I was in my 20’s and coaching I would have been nervous, but I’m 35 now and I felt fine.”

The Mountain Cats won 8-5 on Saturday night and then Ferguson made 25 saves and had an assist in a 7-0 shutout Sunday afternoon.

Grills played pro hockey in mid-Michigan for several years with the Flint Generals of the old Colonial Hockey League, later the United Hockey League. He was part of championship teams in Flint in 1996 and 2000 and also has a ring from an Ontario Hockey League title in 1993 with the Peterborough Petes.

Playing on those successful teams meant Grills had coaches he learned from and even took some of their coaching style to mold into his style with the Mountain Cats.

“In the OHL, I had Dick Todd and Ted Nolan, two guys that eventually coached inthe NHL,” said Grills. “With Flint, Doug Shedden was the first coach I ever had that really stressed the importance of conditioning. We used to ride the bike for an hour after practices and even though we didn’t want to, once the playoffs came, we were as conditioned then as we were in December. That’s what I am teaching these guys here –that we will not be outworked and we will have fun and make this team a brotherhood.

“There will be changes over the course of the season, there always is, but if we can keep it exciting like last night, where we had a 45-minute skate in our first full practice, I think we will be alright. We skated for 45 minutes and the whole time, guys were yelling and cheering each other on. These guys really want to be in shape and want to stay in shape.”

Even with a short roster, Grills is happy with what he has even though he was only hired a little more than two weeks ago.

“I had opportunities before to coach, but the time and opportunity for each wasn’t right,”explained Grills. “I was looking for a coaching job and I was actually down in Myrtle Beach and gave (Mountain Cats owner) Jeff (Brayan) a call and told him I was interested. When I got back into town, I met with Jeff for about five or six hours and we hashed things out and I told him what I thought I could do. Once I was hired, it was too late to get a lot of kids as some were already at school or playing in other leagues. I like the guys we have right now and down the line here shortly, we should be adding some more players.”

One of the conditions Brayan accepted when he purchased the Motor City Chiefs franchise over the summer and re-named them the Mountain Cats was that the team’s home rink would remain at Canfield Arena in Dearborn – roughly an hour south of Burton, where the Mountain Cats’ headquarters are. The team practices at Ice Mountain Arena, but home games are at Canfield.

On the ice in Burton or Dearborn, leaders have emerged for the Mountain Cats. Mike Foster wears the ‘C,’ while Zack Soulliere and Dante Delabbio are the alternate captains.

“We have a great mix of young and old players,” said Grills. “Our captains really take charge, especially in the room when I’m not there.”

One place the Mountain Cats will be is at Canfield this Sunday when they host the Cherokee.

“The good thing about not having a full roster right now is that we only have two games the rest of the month,” Grills said. “We played well last weekend and I hope we keep getting better and can stay with Toledo, a team I don’t know a lot about, but a team I know is always in the upper half of the league every year.

“It’ll be a good test for us early in the season, but I like our chances. We’ve looked good so far.”

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