Tahoe Icemen look for fresh start, turnaround in 2016-17 season
The Tahoe Icemen junior hockey program enters the 2016-17 season under new leadership and with a new approach. In the franchise’s fourth season in South Lake Tahoe, it is starting fresh with the aim to build a successful program.
“I want to change the mindset and the culture,” said Mickey Lang, the Icemen’s new head coach and general manager. “We brought in a bunch of young, hungry guys that want to get better at hockey — it’s a whole different group in here.”
The Icemen’s new head coach grew up in nearby Reno, Nevada, and played hockey collegiately at Manhattanville College from 2007-11 before four seasons in the CHL, ECHL and AHL. The 30-year-old Lang was the ECHL’s Most Valuable Player for the 2013-14 season while with the Orlando Solar Bears, and last played in 2015.
“I just got done playing so I know what each player is going through as far as certain situations they’re going to face and deal with throughout the year,” Lang said. “I can relate to all of them — from the guy on the fourth line to the guy on the first line.”
Lang moved back to Reno after his last season with Orlando, and wanted to stay around the game of hockey. When the Icemen job opened up in the spring, he quickly jumped at the opportunity — his coaching staff includes Ryan Shmyr and Rich Garcia.
“It’s been a lot of work, but it’s been fun work bringing guys in,” Land said. “I look forward to the challenge of being part of a team again and being in a different role.”
The Icemen franchise was founded in 2012 and spent a season in San Francisco as the Bay Area Seals before relocating to Tahoe. Lang is the program’s fourth coach in four seasons, and will look to turn around a club that won seven games in 2014-15 and finished 2-50 a year ago.
“We talked about it on the first day and we won’t talk about it again for the rest of the year,” Lang said of last season. “We’re all looking for a fresh start.”
In addition to success on the ice, Lang aims to build a program connected to the hockey culture in Tahoe. To that effect, the Icemen’s 2016-17 roster features South Shore products Jackson Oleson and John Moffat along with Northern Nevada natives Reed Lequerica (Reno) and Colby Boucher (Sparks).
“My No. 1 goal is to build Tahoe hockey, build Reno hockey and have players coming out of here consistently playing college hockey and professional hockey,” Lang said. “I think we’re headed in the right direction and that’s a process I’m looking forward to. I’m excited to have the local guys here.”
On the ice, a group of three seasoned players will lead the Icemen this season — forwards Colton Langowski and Matt Psaras along with defenseman Austin Naylor. All three have experience in the Western States Hockey League, with Langowski and Naylor each playing for the Icemen last season.
“They’re going to be playing big roles for us — they’re leaders and they’re older guys,” Lang said. “We’re going to rely on them a lot to steer our younger group and we’ll utilize them in every situation during games.”
Lang wants the Icemen to play a relentless style characterized by speed and effort this season. During training camp and preseason, the focus has been on intensity and effort as much as strategy.
“We want to be relentless in everything we do — pursuing pucks, in the offensive zone, in the defensive zone — just a relentless team that never plays the score and plays the same every game.”
Tahoe opened its season Friday, Sept. 30, at South Lake Tahoe Ice Arena against the two-time defending Thorne Cup champion Idaho Jr. Steelheads. The three-game series continues Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. and is the first of four straight home series to open the season.
“We’re so pumped and we’re all excited,” Lang said. “Everybody is ready to play games and we’re ready to get the season going.”
The Western States Hockey League is in its second year as a United Hockey Union Tier II junior league, and features players between the ages of 18 and 21. The Icemen play in the Northwest Division along with Idaho, the Bellingham Blaze, Butte Cobras, Seattle Totems, Southern Oregon Spartans, Vancouver Rangers and Whitefish Wolverines.