Hancock prepares for quarterfinal matchup against Big Rapids
SAULT STE. MARIE — As the Hancock Bulldogs headed out of town for their quarterfinal matchup with Big Rapids, coach Dan Rouleau sat in front of the bus and directed the driver.
There are multiple ways to get out of Hancock, but Rouleau had a special request: The driver needed to go past a certain house and beep the horn as the Bulldogs drove by.
The house is home to Rouleau’s 3-year-old grandson, and major hockey fan, Lincoln. When Hancock was playing in the regionals, Rouleau would honk every time he went past to let Lincoln know he was on the way to the game.
“I don’t know why, but when I went past, I just started beeping the horn for the heck of it, in case he was around,” Rouleau said. “I did it the first three games, so I’d have to do it this time or tell the bus driver to. He probably wasn’t even home at the time, but just in case.”
Two years ago when Hancock won the state title, Rouleau wore his old class ring to every game in the playoff run. He hadn’t worn it in years, but the little bulldog engraved in the metal made him think it might bring his Bulldogs luck.
He tried the same tactic the next year, but when Hancock lost in the regional, the ring was retired for good.
Another year he wore a bulldog pin during a good stretch of games. Most years, if he beats an opponent once, or wins a big game, the coach will wear the same tie in their next meeting.
He’s been like that ever since he can remember, because if something works, why change it?
He’s that way when he preps for games, too. Not because he’s superstitious, but because after so many years of coaching, he’s found a model that’s effective.
So as soon as Rouleau found out the Bulldogs were playing Big Rapids on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in Sault Ste. Marie, he began the preparation process.
First, he looks at statistics online and begins building a scouting report.
Based on point totals, Rouleau can determine who will likely be on which line and which players to focus on. He can also tell which defensemen like to rush the puck, he said, based on if they have more goals than others on the team.
“You kind of compare their stats to everyone else on the team,” he said. “That is the first thing you do, and then in a case like this, you talk to as many people as you can. You have so many friends as a coach, so many buddies out there. That is one thing I’ve built over the years, is good relationships with coaches we’ve played against.”
One of the keys to making a good game plan is having a network, as other coaches can fill in gaps that statistics don’t provide, and they often can exchange game film.
When it comes to Big Rapids, Hancock will be focusing its attention to three players: James Hundersmarck (38 points), River Spedowski (28 points) and goalie Fletcher Boda (94.1 save percentage).
The Bulldogs will also look to exploit their speed, something they’ve done all season.
“That is legit,” Rouleau said. “We feel like we are one of the fastest teams in high school hockey. There are teams we’ve played against who are faster than us downstate, but most of them are Division 1 or 2.
“They also have a very good goaltender, so we are going to try to take his eyes away by screening in front of the net.”
Another key is staying out of the penalty box and trying to tempt Big Rapids into penalties. The Bulldogs have had great success on the power play this season, and especially in their last few games — they scored two power-play goals in the 4-0 regional championship win over Calumet.
Hancock and Big Rapids have two opponents in common this season: Jeffers and Traverse City. Hancock beat Traverse City 6-0 and Jeffers twice, 8-0 both times. Big Rapids defeated Jeffers, 3-2, and Traverse City, 5-3, both back in December.
But Rouleau tries not to pay much attention to common opponents.
“You don’t know who was missing when they play these teams,” he said. “They could have had their best player missing.”
Instead, he focuses on what works — a good scouting report, and maybe just a little luck.
So don’t be surprised if Rouleau is wearing the same tie, or beeping a horn come game time. When you are on the path to a state championship, you do whatever works.