Conversation With Illinois Coach Chad Cassel
by Paul Gattung

Chad Cassel is the 33-year-old head coach of the Illini Hockey Club at the University of Illinois. A 1995 Illinois graduate, Cassel apprenticed under former Illini head coach Bob Turngren before moving into the number one job in 1997. He has guided the team to seven straight Division-I national tournaments, picking up the D-I Coach-of-the-Year Award following the ’02-’03 season. This past season, the #4 Illini won its first national title, beating #2 Penn State 4-3 at the D-I tournament in Bensenville, IL.

Cassel also found time to train and coach the US Select team at the 2005 Winter World University Games in Innsbruck, Austria, held Jan 12 – 22. The WWUG is a bi-annual, 10-day event with 1500 students from 20 countries competing in 10 winter sports. As one of the 12 international hockey teams, Team USA was selected from the top D-I ACHA players invited to the WWUG Selection Camp in St. Cloud, MN, August 6 – 8, 2005.

The US Selects only had a short time to practice as a team during semester break. After playing NCAA D-III Neumann College to a 3 – 3 tie in exhibition, they headed overseas as a decided underdog. Bringing together the players as a team was the coaching staff’s biggest challenge. In the two previous tournaments, the US had one win combined. In both, Cassel served as an assistant under the legendary Al “ Doc “ Murdoch of Iowa State ( 800 wins ).

Team USA came through with three solid wins against respectable opponents, Slovakia, Korea, and the Ukraine. They stayed competitive through their three losses, and finished ninth overall. The team scored 15 goals and allowed 23. At the recent ACHA national meeting, and later via telephone, Cassel spoke with this reporter.

Center Ice :

“This was the United States best finish at the Games in recent years. Should the players and coaches of the ACHA be satisfied with a .500 record ? Is this where we want to be at this stage of development ? “

Chad Cassel :

“Yes. The coaches, managers, and USA Hockey reps knew we were capable of winning games, even if the international programs took us lightly. We knew the medal round was attainable because the players we picked were the strongest players available at camp. The international squads may have been surprised since we didn’t win a single game in ’03, but our staff was confident we had the right guys on the ice. We beat teams we were capable of beating, and out-played teams that beat us. We won against three good teams, we out-played the Finns and Italians, we just weren’t prepared our first night against Austria.“

 

 

CI :

“ What were your pre-tournament goals ? Where they any different from the team’s expectations ? “

Cassel :

“ I was confident we could go deep into the tournament. As a team, we talked and realized to get anywhere, we had to take it one shift, one period, one game at a time.

I was confident in the team’s skill level, we had solid goaltending, good focus, and a strong work ethic. Plus, we were seen as the under-dogs. With guys from different teams from different regions, with little practice, you’re never sure what you’ve have, fortunately, we were better as the tournament progressed. “

CI :

“ From the tone of this conversation, it sounds like you believe there’s some unfinished business ? ”

Cassel :

“Oh definitely. With the veterans eligible to return and the talent we expect at the selection camp, we’ll be more than just competitive, we should go deep into the medal round in ’07. We have a solid nucleus of players and strong support from USA Hockey personnel in their efforts to invite the top ACHA players. And, the team as a whole will be less intimidated by the spectacle of the tournament. “

CI :

“The ’07 Games, Turin, Italy, how can we better prepare ? “

Cassel :

“I’d say fine tune our available practice time to get maximum coverage. Give some roster flexibility to allow a player-cut after we play our exhibition game at home. And maybe schedule an additional exhibition game in Europe to get familiar with the surroundings and atmosphere. “

CI :

“Will you be back behind the bench ? “

Cassel :

“It depends on the USA Hockey selection committee. I’ll continue working with the USA 17-U’s in St Cloud, and of course I’ll help out in any capacity to prepare for Turin in ’07. “

CI :

“Thanks Chad, and good luck “

 





 
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