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Andy Toole discusses the 2013-14 season, RMU's future

Written by Craig Meyer on .

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As a way to informally wrap things up for the 2013-14 season, I sat down this week with Robert Morris coach Andy Toole to have a conversation about last season and a little bit about the program's immediate future.

It's something of an exit interview, with one eye on the past and one looking forward.

Below is a full transcript of our talk.

When you all went down to eight guys in January, did you honestly envision the team doing as well as it did? "I hope we would have. I thought that along the way there might be a few more losses just because situationally, with eight guys, whether it's foul trouble or whatever it might be in the course of a game, I just thought those things would happen on a couple other occasions. And they didn't. In some of the situations where we did find ourselves down, we were able to make great comebacks and win. I think it's a testament to the guys that were in the locker room and the way that they stepped up and played together."

From that experience, was there anything you learned about those guys, about that team or even about the game itself, just being able to do that well with so few players? "You're constantly learning as a coach. I think one of the things you learn is making sure you have the right guys in the locker room, making sure you have the right guys that are buying in and the power of team a little bit. Some of our guys -- and we talked about it during the course of the year -- maybe weren't playing consistent minutes prior to going down to eight guys really stepped up and played their roles like we needed them to, and how important it is making sure everyone's doing what's necessary for the team versus maybe what's best for them.

"I think you saw some guys who started to be much more effective as players once they started to buy in to the role that the program envisions for them and maybe not the role they envision for themselves. That way, they had more individual success as well as team success."

Were there any guys in particular who stood out to you, ones that grew a whole lot as players due to that situation? "Everybody stood out to me, but Stephan Hawkins, David Appolon -- those were two guys that statistically made significant jumps, had a lot of big plays and contributed a lot. Aaron Tate was a guy who really solidified a lot of what we did and maybe his stuff didn't show up as much statistically, but the ability to rely on him during that stretch of the season was really important to our success. Those are three guys who I think really made great jumps.

"Chuck, all year long, had made some shots and been involved. Kavon, all year long, you had seen his talent. But I think those three guys really went from not sure what we would get or how much they'd contribute previously in their careers to being really important pieces of the team that helped us win a lot of games."

Do you feel like the whole storyline and narrative built around the Crazy Eight ever got overblown? "That was the guys' thing. I don't think it got overplayed. From an outside perspective some people might say 'You only need five guys on the court and you've got eight, so what's the big deal?' But when you're on the inside from a program perspective, when you've coached teams before and you...number one, have that kind of turmoil during a season that can be extremely disruptive and number two, just the daily management of your program is completely different than it was previously, in terms of practice, conserving energy and everything that you do. To continue to remain effective and have success even after you're not getting the reps you need in practice every day, figuring out different and more creative ways to utilize your time versus being on the court and running people down.

"You can't overstate the fact of what these individuals did to remain focused and to put themselves in a position to continually win. That's something that I take in terms of how good those guys were to work with and how flexible they were in the different situations we found ourselves in. And that's outside of games. Whether it's getting an extra scouting report in or being more creative in a walk-through in a hotel versus going and having shootaround...it's easy when you have 12 guys and everyone gets to rest in practice and everyone gets plenty of reps and when they need to take rest, they do that. When you're down to eight guys and you're trying to go as hard as you can playing against an assistant coach, knowing you don't have a sub during the course of practice, knowing you can't take a practice off because there aren't enough dudes to get by, those are some of the things people don't understand on the outside which make it so difficult to have the success when you have limited numbers. They all did great, great jobs with all of it."

With having the success you all have had the last two seasons and not being able to make the NCAA tournament, does that get frustrating at all or is that something you feel gets overplayed? "It gets completely frustrating, there's no doubt. It gets frustrating for the guys who are on your team, who put in all that effort, time and work. You want them to be rewarded by going to the NCAA tournament, you want to help them achieve a goal of theirs. It's part of your job as a coach. It is frustrating, it is difficult when you consistently are in a position to do that or you put yourself in a good position to do that, but it doesn't happen for you or happen for the program.

"It is frustrating, but everyone gets judged on their success in March and the tournament and all that kind of stuff. If you ask coaches around the country, there are a lot of other things they evaluate themselves on, but it's also what it is in our industry that being a part of the NCAA tournament and having success there, if that's what your expectations are, that's what you get evaluated on. It's the way of the world, I guess."

It's obviously not Kentucky, but by going on the road and being able to beat a top seed in the NIT for the second year in a row, is that another positive step for the program? "I think any time you have sustained success, that's a positive for your program. Obviously, after last year's win against Kentucky, that was huge, as we've talked about many times. But then to be able to go on the road and win a game in the fashion that we did, it also really speaks to what kind of program we have and what kind of kids we have in the locker room. They faced probably their biggest adversity or disappointment of the season by losing in the championship game and were still able to get themselves back together to go on the road and beat a St. John's team convincingly. With nine minutes to go in the game, we were up 26 points. It didn't obviously get as much play as the Kentucky stuff, I think because of the game being at our place and the name Kentucky, but it was in many ways, a better performance than the Kentucky game with the way the guys played together, some of the plays we made, the way we shot the ball, the way we executed.

"I think from a coaching standpoint, the fact you can go back and replicate some of that success is what you want to see in your program. You want guys who are constantly trying to push forward and raise the bar a little bit. I'm really proud of the way they were able to bounce back and compete in that game."

As far as Karvel and his professional future, have you talked to him much about it and how do you project it to possibly be? "We've talked about it a bunch since and we've had some meetings and we've met with some people that are interested in representing him. I think it's something he can make a career out of. It's a situation where I think he'll have the opportunity to be on a team and be paid next year. I don't know if that will be here domestically. I think his opportunities might be more overseas, but depending on how he plays and continues to improve his game, I would never put it past him for doing it for a number of years or maybe even coming back here [to the United States] and finding a niche, finding a spot where he can find success here in the states.

"We've talked about that and I think he's in agreement where he would obviously love to be an NBA player -- I think every college player would love to be an NBA player -- but he also understands that he wants to play the game as long as someone will let him play. If he can make some money doing it, that's great. But I do think he has a bright future as a professional, wherever that might be."

When you have a guy like Karvel who can do something like 3-point shooting that well, that's something that can allow someone to have a long pro career, right? "His ability to shoot and score and be a shot-maker is something that is rare. If you look around the country, there are very few guys that made more 3s than him or made a higher percentage. He's top 10 in the country in both. His ability to shoot off the dribble -- one-dribble pull-ups, different things like that -- and his ability to make guarded shots is something that's extremely valuable. At the end of the day, it's how well you can put the ball in the basket and his ability to do it at such an efficient rate is something that makes him unique. If you look at professional basketball, they're always looking for players like that.

"The feedback we've gotten from people we've talked to at the professional level have all said the same thing -- his ability to shoot and score is something that's going to be a commodity. That sets him up, as long as he goes and does the right things and continues to work, to have the opportunity to have a really good career."

I don't want to use the term 'rebuilding,' but for next season with just six guys coming back, is it going to be something of a bridge year with a lot of new guys trying to find their roles? "We brought six guys back into this year's class and we were able to win 22 games and a regular season championship. I think the expectations will be the same, that those six guys who come back will be expected to continue to play the way they have, if not make a bigger jump, and then the pieces we bring in are going to be expected to help us continue to have success. That's the plan and that's what we'll start working toward as soon as we have spring workouts going, weights going and then when guys get here for summer school. That will be the expectation that we demand. That'll be how we work to prepare for next year.

"There are more significant returners in terms of playing time over the last 18 games of this year than there were the previous year when we lost Velton, Russell and Coron Williams and we eventually lost Mike McFadden. Those were four starters we basically didn't have for all of conference play. Obviously Karvel was our leading scorer, but he was off the bench. Lucky was a starter and had a very, very good year and continued to have a good year. But Dave didn't play as a sophomore, Hawk was a role guy and really that was pretty much it. Part of this job is to figure out how to work with what you have and figure out how to make them successful. I think our staff did a good job of doing that during the course of this year. As we recruit kids, we want to be able to identify kids that are going to be able to come in and contribute to us winning. Obviously it happens a lot, but when most kids look at a school, they don't anticipate on coming into a rebuilding situation. They want to be part of a winning situation. That's how we'll coach them, that's how we'll prepare them and that's how we'll challenge them getting ready for next year."

When it comes to filling out those open scholarships for next season, are you planning more on targeting junior college guys, freshmen? Is there a particular kind of focus here for you in the offseason? "Everything. Best players we can find, whether they're junior college guys, high school guys, fifth-year transfers, four-year transfers, who knows? I think you'd be foolish not to explore every option and possibility. You'd like to create balance on your roster if you can, but I'd rather have good players instead of balance. We're trying to identify the best players and make them part of the program.

Do you expect to have Jeremiah Worthem and Britton Lee back for next season? "I'm not sure yet."

Is that something you'd get to in January when the suspension runs out? "Some of that stuff's outside my control anyway. You'd have to go meet with other people on campus to have that conversation."

[NOTE: Toole said Worthem and Lee's scholarships do not count toward the team's limit for next season.]

Is there anyone for next season who you're maybe looking to take a big step and play that much greater of a role for this team? "Obviously, Kavon is one of those guys. He's a guy who's going to have a lot more on his plate next year. He showed glimpses of being able to handle that and there were times when he looked like a freshman. I think Kavon's somebody that can be more consistent next year for us to be successful. He's going to have a lot on his shoulders and a lot of responsibility. The way he handles that responsibility is going to really dictate how good of a team we can become."

 

Craig Meyer: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG

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About the Red Wings - 04-09-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

A preview of the Red Wings.

When and where: 8 p.m. EDT. Consol Energy Center.

TV: NBC Sports, TSN.

Record: 38-27-14, 90 points. The Red Wings are in fourth place in the Atlantic Division.

Leading Scorer: Daniel Alfredsson (right), 48 points (18 goals, 30 assists).

Last Game: 4-2 road win against the Sabres, last night. Jimmy Howard made 25 saves for the Red Wings.

Last Game against the Penguins: 5-4 overtime home win, March 20. Alfredsson had two goals and an assist for the Red Wings.

Red Wings Player We Would Bet Money On Scoring: Alfredsson. He has 68 points in 66 career games against the Penguins.

Ex-Penguins on the Red Wings: Mikael Samuelsson, RW; Tyler Wright, director of amateur scouting.

Ex-Red Wings on the Penguins: Chris Conner, LW; Don Waddell, professional scout; Warren Young, amateur scout.

Useless Red Wings Trivia Vaguely Related to the Penguins: Red Wings left winger Todd Bertuzzi is one of three players selected in the 1993 draft who are still active on an NHL roster. The others are Ducks center Saku Koivu as well as Flyers defenseman and former Penguin Hall Gill.

(Note: A fourth player, Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger, is still officially active but is all but retired. )

Best Red Wings Video We Could Find: The Red Wings' Luc Robitaille scoring his 610th career goal and tying the Blackhawks' Bobby Hull for the most goals in NHL history by a left winger:

Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury (38-18-4, 2.34 GAA, .917 SV%) for the Penguins. Jonas Gustavsson (16-5-3, 2.63 GAA, .909SV%) for the Red Wings.

Injuries: For the Penguins, centers Marcel Goc (left foot/ankle), Evgeni Malkin (foot) and Joe Vitale ("upper body") are out. Right wingers Chris Conner (foot), Pascal Dupuis (knee) and goaltender Tomas Vokoun (blood clots) are on injured reserve. For the Red Wings, right winger Dan Cleary (knee) and defenseman Jonathan Ericsson (finger) are out. Right winger Mikael Samuelsson (shoulder), center Stephen Weiss (hernia) and left winger Henrik Zetterberg (back) are on injured reserve.

Potential lines and defensive pairings: The Penguins lines and defensive pairings at today's morning skate were:

14 Chris Kunitz - 87 Sidney Crosby - 19 Beau Bennett
49 Brian Gibbons - 36 Jussi Jokinen - 18 James Neal
15 Tanner Glass - 16 Brandon Sutter - 22 Lee Stempniak
17 Taylor Pyatt - 27 Craig Adams - 45 Adam Payerl

44 Brook Orpik - 7 Paul Martin
2 Matt Niskanen - 3 Olli Maatta
58 Kris Letang - 4 Rob Scuderi

-The Red Wings did not hold a full morning skate. Their primary lines and defensive pairigns against the Sabres last night were:

93 Johan Franzen - 13 Pavel Datsyuk - 8 Justin Abdelkader
21 Tomas Tatar - 15 Riley Sheahan - 14 Gustav Nyquist
43 Darren Helm - 17 David Legwand - 11 Daniel Alfredsson
20 Drew Miller - 41 Luke Glendening - 26 Tomas Jurco

2 Brendan Smith - 55 Niklas Kronwall
27 Kyle Quincey - 65 Danny DeKeyser
23 Brian Lashoff - 4 Jakub Kindl

Notes:

-The last time the Penguins played the Red Wings, this happened:

-Kris Letang will return to the lineup tonight for the first time since suffering a stroke, Jan. 29.

-The Penguins have won 99 regular season games at Consol Energy Center.

-Adams has 99 career assists.

-The Red Wings' magic number to clinch a playoff berth is one point.

-Our live blog begins at approximately 7 p.m. Please tune in.

(Photo: Photobucket)

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Empty Netter Assists - 04-09-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

Penguins

-Tomas Vokoun (above) will be assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on a conditioning assignment.

-Welcome back Evgeni Malkin ... to light skating.

-How will the Penguins approach tonight's game against the Red Wings, a potential playoff opponent?

-Don't be embarrassed if you don't understand the NHL's new playoff format. Some of the Penguins' players don't either.

-How much of a chance does Robert Bortuzzo have at appearing in a postseason game?

-Sidney Crosby speaks:

-Paul Martin speaks:

-The Wilkes-Bare/Scranton Penguins signed forward prospect Scott Wilson to an amateur tryout agreement.

-Happy 77th birthday to former Penguins forward Wayne Hicks. Acquired midway through the 1967-68 season in a deal which sent Art Stratton to the Flyers, Hicks appeared in 15 games for the Penguins and scored 11 points. After that season, Hicks, one of 10 NHL players born in the state of Washington, spent the rest of his professional career in the AHL and WHL. He is the father of former Penguins forward Alex Hicks.

-Happy 50th birthday to former all-star Penguins forward Rick Tocchet (right). Acquired midway through the 1991-92 season along with Kjell Samuelsson, Ken Wregget and a draft pick in exchange for Mark Recchi, Brian Benning and a draft pick, Tocchet became one of the most popular players in franchise history despite only spending parts of three seasons in Pittsburgh. Tocchet finished 1991-92 by appearing in 19 games and scoring 30 points. Tocchet saw action in 14 postseason games that spring and scored 19 points while helping the franchise win its second Stanley Cup championship. In 1992-93, Tocchet played in 80 games and scored 109 points - one of four 100-point scorers for the team that season - and led the team with 252 penalty minutes while helping the franchise earn its only Presidents' Trophy. He was also selected to the final all-star game of his career. Tocchet saw action in 12 postseason games that spring and scored 13 points. During 1993-94, Tocchet was limited to 51 games and 40 points. He played in six postseason games that spring and scored five points. In the 1994 offseason, Tocchet and a draft pick were traded to the Kings in exchange for Luc Robitaille. In 150 regular season games with the Penguins, Tocchet, the first player in franchise history to wear No. 92, scored 179 points, 43rd-most in franchise history. In 32 postseason games, Tocchet scored 37 points.

-Happy 34th birthday to former Penguins forward Alexei Ponikarovsky. Acquired at the 2010 trade deadline in a deal which sent Luca Caputi and Martin Skoula to the Maple Leafs, Ponikarovsky's Penguins career amounted to 16 games and nine points in 2010-11. In 11 postseason games, he scored five points. During the 2010 offseason, Ponikarovsky joined the Kings as a free agent. He is currently a member SKA St. Petersburg in Russia's KHL.

-After the Jump: The Canucks fire general manager Mike Gillis.

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Penguins mixed on new playoff format - 04-08-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

If you're having some issues figuring out the NHL's new playoff format, you're not alone. A few of the Penguins players haven't quite nailed it down either.

Along with realignment of the divisions and conferences, the NHL introduced a new format for the postseason. Each conference, now comprised of two divisions, would have eight teams qualify for the postseason but the potential matchups are radically different.

In the new format, the first three teams in each division qualify for the postseason. The last two teams to qualify will reach the postseason based on their record regardless of division. Two last two teams will be the wild card teams and will face the two division winners in the first round. The second and third place teams in their respected divisions will square off in the first round as well.

The second round is where it could get a bit confusing. Unlike seasons past, there is no re-seeding for the second round. Regardless of who wins in the first round, the bracket is set.

If the playoffs started today, the Eastern Conference matchups would look like this:

The Penguins would face the Red Wings in the first round. If the Penguins were to win, they would be guaranteed to face the winner of the Rangers-Flyers series. The only way they could face the Bruins, Blue Jackets, Canadiens or Lightning would be in the conference final.

The NHL has said the reasoning behind that was to place a greater importance on divisional rivalries. That would enable lesser travel for the first two rounds, especially in the Western Conference and it would give national broadcasters a better chance at high profile rivalries in major American markets during the early rounds. NBC is probably a lot more comfortable with Penguins-Red Wings or Rangers-Flyers as first-round series than Rangers-Lightning or Penguins-Canadiens for example.

The old format offered a 1-through-8 seeding process with the top seeded team playing the lowest seeded team regardless of divisions. The three division winners in each conference were given the top three seeds automatically. That caveat ruffled a few feathers around the league as often times, the third division winner had poorer records than the fourth, fifth and sixth seeds.

The new format can be a little tricky, even for those who are directly affected by it. A sampling of Penguins veterans revealed some varied responses in terms of understanding and and preference.

How long did it take to figure out the new format once it was revealed?

Craig Adams (right), right winger – “Not very long. It’s obviously different. It’s not something we [the NHLPA] supported necessarily. It’s the way it’s going now. We’ll see how it goes.”

Brooks Orpik, defenseman – “ I still haven’t figured it out to be honest with you. I understand the first round. I don’t know where it goes from there.”

Tomas Vokoun, goaltender – “It’s not that complicated. It’s more about the second round than the first round. The first round is pretty much the same. They call it ‘wild card’ but it’s basically the No. 7 and 8 teams. After that, you play in your division. It’s a little bit different but not a lot.

Sidney Crosby, center – “Not until last week. I feel like it was always something we talked about it but nobody really had a real firm answer on it. We played with different ideas but we didn’t have the exact answer. The confusing part was whether the wild card [team] was in your division if you still played that team or if you switched over.

Rob Scuderi, defenseman – “The first round seems to play out like it normally would. It’s a new take on it but I still think you’ve got to beat good teams to get to the [Stanley Cup Final]. What ever the format is, you usually have to beat good teams.”

Jussi Jokinen, left winger – “I think some guys, it probably took a little bit more [time]. You talk to some of our guys, they don’t know how it’s going to go. I got it right away. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes.

Brandon Sutter, center – “I think I just heard about it a week ago to be honest with you. Some guys aren’t too sure about it. I think I’ve got it down. I don’t know why they changed it. I’m not so sure.”

Marc-Andre Fleury (right), goaltender – “It took a little reading to make sure I got it right. I think we’ve just been used to the same thing for so long. It’s a little different. It should be interesting.” 

Paul Martin, defenseman – “Not too long. Not too different. It looks weird I think when you look at the [standings]. For the wild card, it’s obviously something new and different. Once you have it explained a couple of times, you figure it out.” 

Tanner Glass, left wing – “I looked at it two days ago online. One read-through and I think I got it.”

Matt Niskanen (top, with Detroit's Tomas Tatar), defenseman – “I didn’t quite get it until someone explained it to me three weeks ago. So I had no clue. I thought it had something to do with the divisions but I wasn’t sure how the wild card think worked exactly.”

Do you have a preference with either this format or the old 1-through-8 format?

Adams - "I don’t know. I think time will have to tell. If you’re always getting the game playoff matchups year after year, some people don’t like that. We’ll see how it plays out."

Orpik - "It’s way too complicated. I’m not sure what was wrong with [the old format]. It was pretty cut and dry. Pretty easy to understand I think a lot of people thought the top three division shouldn’t be the top three. You should be seeded one through eight. The winner of that [third] division… if you’re seventh, you get seventh. You don’t get third. I thought that was the only problem guys had with it. I thought it was a lot easier to understand.

Vokoun - "I think either way is fine. Bringing Detroit into the east is a good thing. Other than that, it’s fine. It was fine before too. It doesn’t change much.

Crosby (right) - “I liked the old one a little better. I think either way, the top eight [teams are in]. It’s just set up a bit differently. I could see the thought behind divisional matchups. But [in the first round], we could possibly not be in the division. It’s had to understand a little bit."

Scuderi - “Not necessarily. You’ve got to beat good teams to get there. Regardless of what format they make, you’ve to beat an upper echelon team to get there.”

Jokinen - “I kind of like it. It’s more proper rivalries. It’ll be some of those big rivalries. … We’ll have to wait a couple of more years to see how it goes. So far, I like the idea.”

Sutter - “One through eight just seems to make more sense to me. I’m not sure why they wanted to change it. I don’t know what the reason was. If you finish first, you should play the eighth place team. If you finish second, you should play seventh and so on.”

Fleury - “I guess we’ll see how it goes for this year. I’ll have a better idea after.”

Martin (right) - “Not really. You still got to put up the points. You still have to win your games. I don’t really have a preference. I’ll tell you after the playoffs.”

Glass - “I don’t care to be honest. I think this one might kind of cool because we might get more divisional matchups through the first two rounds at least. It looks good to me.”

Niskanen - “I guess not. I thought the old one was fine. The only thing I didn’t like about the old was winning a bad division gave you the third seed. I think you should be in the division for winning your division but I don’t think it should give you that higher seed. The wild car thing, I’m kind of indifferent about it. I’m not sure about with the divisions crossing over and if you stay in that division, that seems a bit complicated.”

(Photos: Duane Burleson/Associated Press, Drew Hallowell/Getty Images, Harry How/Getty Images, Jamie Sabau/Getty Images and Keith Srakocic/Associated Press)

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Empty Netter Assists - 04-08-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

Penguins

-What is Brooks Orpik's (above) future with the Penguins?

-"The coaches know that I know when I’m doing well and not doing well." - Orpik.

-Today would have been the 55th birthday of former Penguins defenseman Arto Javanainen. A second-round pick of the club in 1984, Javanainen was the first European draft pick in franchise history. A native of Finland, his NHL career amounted to 14 games with the Penguins and five points in 1984-85. After spending most of that season with the Penguins' AHL affiliate in Baltimore, Javanainen returned to his native Finland. He passed away Jan. 25, 2011 at the age of 51.

-After the Jump: Whitehall's John Gibson made his NHL debut in a big way.

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