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St. Paul Academy goes back to basics

By Loren Nelson, Editor, 01/18/10, 7:56PM CST


New Spartans coach, former Mr. Hockey Joe Dziedzic, starting from square one

When an instantly recognizable name in Minnesota hockey takes over as coach in midseason, it’s reasonable to expect changes. Lots of them.

Sure enough, when former NHL player Joe Dziedzic assumed the head coaching position at St. Paul Academy on Jan. 8, practices immediately looked a whole lot different.

Names were affixed to the front of each player’s helmet. The Spartans also were instructed to wear their game uniforms.

“It was almost like a little Squirt or Pee Wee practice,” said Dziedzic, a former Minnesota Mr. Hockey who played 130 games in the NHL, all but two of them with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Dziedic’s back-to-basics approach isn’t about skating, passing and stickhandling. He certainly isn’t interested in installing complex forechecking systems or revamping the power play.

For starters, he just wants to learn his players’ names.

“I only knew about three of the players,” said Dziedzic, who has coached in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League for the past five seasons and also runs Joe Dziedzic Hockey, a skills development program. “Instead of having them wear practice uniforms, where you say, ‘OK, the green guy is pretty good,’ I wanted to be able to at least see their numbers.”

After the resignation of former Spartans coach Craig Norwich, St. Paul Academy headmaster Bryn Roberts placed a call to Dziedzic, a former Minneapolis Edison and University of Minnesota standout. An agreement was reached that Dziedzic would coach St. Paul Academy on an interim basis. There have been no discussions about him coaching the team next season or beyond.

“He has great experience and great personality,” St. Paul Academy athletic director Dave Montgomery said. “Obviously it’s a challenge for him because he is coming in midstream. But we believe he is a perfect fit for the situation.”

For Dziedzic, it’s an opportunity to see how he fits behind the bench of a high school team.

“It’s like a little test drive to see where they are at and what they need,” Dziedzic said. “To see if their philosophies and mine are a good fit. They’re doing me a favor by giving me this opportunity, and I’m doing them a favor by finishing out the year.”

By the end of the first week in his new position, Dziedzic had run two practices and played two games, both of them losses. The Spartans were 3-8-0 under Norwich and, after a 4-2 loss to Providence Academy on Saturday, Jan. 16, are 0-3-0 with Dziedzic as head coach.

The Spartans went 15-10-2 last season.

“Let’s face it St. Paul Academy is not a tradition-filled program, at least not in recent history,” Dziedzic said. “When you are thinking high school hockey you are not thinking St. Paul Academy.”

Competing with private-school powerhouses such as Hill-Murray, Cretin-Derham Hall and Holy Angels isn’t Dziedzic’s goal, at least not in the short term. Mostly, he’s interested in having the Spartans play solid defense and limit their mistakes.

“I’m just trying to get them play smarter defensive hockey and make sure we are pretty tight in our own defensive zone,” Dziedzic said. “That’s the best way to keep us competitive. If we try to run and gun and do anything like that, we’ll get slaughtered.”

Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub managing editor, can be reached at 612-379-1030 ext. 126 or loren.nelson@tstmedia.com.

New St. Paul Academy coach Joe Dziedzic played in the NHL for parts of three seasons.

Mr. Hockey winners

Year Name School
2011 Kyle Rau Eden Prairie
2010 Nick Bjugstad Blaine
2009 Nick Leddy Eden Prairie
2008 Aaron Ness Roseau
2007 Ryan McDonagh Cretin-Derham Hall
2006 David Fischer Apple Valley
2005 Brian Lee Moorhead
2004 Tom Gorowsky Centennial
2003 Nate Dey North St. Paul
2002 Gino Guyer Greenway
2001 Marty Sertich Roseville
2000 Paul Martin Elk River
1999 Jeff Taffe Hastings
1998 Johnny Pohl Red Winig
1997 Aaron Miskovich Grand Rapids
1996 Dave Spehar Duluth East
1995 Erik Rasmussen St. Louis Park
1994 Mike Crowley Bloomington Jefferson
1993 Nick Checco Bloomington Jefferson
1992 Brian Bonin White Bear Lake
1991 Darby Hendrickson Richfield
1990 Joe Dziedzic Minneapolis Edison
1989 Trent Klatt Osseo
1988 Larry Olimb Warroad
1987 Kris Miller Greenway
1986 George Pelawa Bemidji
1985 Tom Chorske Minneapolis Southwest