Oct. 8, 2004
By Tim Connor
It’s late August, the days of summer are dwindling to a precious few, college students are heading back to school and thoughts are turning to college football. Well, maybe for some people.
For Notre Dame assistant hockey coach Andy Slaggert, his thoughts were on something totally different. From August 19th to August 28th, he was busy serving as the head coach of the United States Under 17 Select hockey team that was competing for a gold medal at the Under-17 Five Nations Tournament in Halle, Germany.
The U.S. was joined in the tournament by teams from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany and Switzerland and featured the top players from those countries under the age of 17.
For Slaggert, the head coaching assignment marked his first duty as the bench boss for USA Hockey on the international level. In 2003, the Saginaw, Mich., native served as an assistant on the U.S. Under-18 team that went on to win the gold medal at the Under-18 World Cup, held in the Czech Republic.
Now in his 12th season as a Notre Dame assistant, Slaggert was honored by the opportunity to coach at such a high level.
“Anytime you are selected by USA Hockey to coach one of their Select teams it’s a great honor and quite a humbling experience,” says Slaggert.
“It’s always a great experience to represent your country on the international level.”
Slaggert’s tour of duty actually began at the U.S. Select-16 Festival, held in Rochester, N.Y. in July. There, he and his staff – Providence College assistant David Berard and Tri-City Storm assistant, Tom Rudrud – along with USA Hockey’s Mark Boxer evaluated potential players from all over the United States.
“We really had a quality staff that put a lot of time and effort into evaluating these players. There’s a lot of hockey talent in this country at all these age groups,” says Slaggert.
“In the end, I know we put together a strong group of hard-working, competitive kids. It was fun working with them and they really came together quite well in a short period of time.”
After making their selections, the players and coaches all returned to their respective hometowns until late August. They began their whirlwind schedule by meeting in Washington, D.C. on August 19. It was the first time they actually came together as a team.
“We first met and did some team-building exercises and talked about some systems we would play. For me the highlight was actually getting on the ice for our first practice. It was especially satisfying to see how fast things came together and how quick they picked up things,” explains Slaggert.
From there it was off to Germany for two more practices and an exhibition game on August 22nd against a local club team.
The first game of the tournament came on August 24 versus Slovakia. The United States won that game by a 4-1, breaking a 1-1 tie in the second period and adding two goals in the third for the three-goal margin of victory.
After a day off, the U.S. would play three games in three days . August 26 saw the U.S. take a 5-3 win against Switzerland. After falling behind, 2-1, Team USA rallied with four second-period goals on the way to the win.
On August 27, the U.S. battled the Czech Republic, falling 2-1 in a penalty-filled game. The Czech’s picked up the game winner with just under four minutes left in the game.
Slaggert’s squad closed the tournament by rolling to an 8-2 win over Germany, the host nation, to finish with a 3-1-0 record.
The U.S. coach looks back on his team’s play. “I thought that we played four good games and I don’t know if every team that participated can say that. Our one loss to the Czechs (2-1) was a close game. Our kids were focused and really came together in a very short time. I give them credit for their high level of play with four games in five days,” says Slaggert.
The energetic assistant at Notre Dame now has his sights set on the Fighting Irish and the 2004-05 season as they begin preparations for the season opener on October 7 at home versus Minnesota-Duluth.
“After making the NCAA tournament for the first time last year, we’ve set the bar higher for Notre Dame hockey and want to keep getting better,” says Slaggert.
“We may be younger this year, but we have a deep, competitive team. It’s our responsibility to keep building on the success that we had last season.”