The ‘24 in 24’ series features an in-depth look into all 24 NAHL teams, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season on Saturday, September 8th.
‘24 in 24’ will go in-depth into each NAHL team and will include interview with all 24 NAHL head coaches as they prognosticate and break down their outlook for the upcoming season.
The first season in Jamestown, New York for the Ironmen did not go as well as the team would have liked. The Ironmen finished 17 games under .500 and were the lone team left out of the NAHL Playoff picture in the North Division.
The season began on a high note, as the Ironmen swept a road series from the Chicago Hitmen to start the year, but then lost their next eight games. “Last year was a bit of a struggle and a good learning experience for everyone… the staff, the players, the coaches,” said head coach Dan Daikawa. “I think there was a lot to learn in the short time that we had to prepare for things. I think it got better as the season went along, but the lack of experience and leadership were evident on the ice.”
Throughout the course the season, the Ironmen were never able to string together more than two wins in a row and won just four of their final 21 games. “I learned that you have to put time in on a daily basis to make your players better, both on and off the ice,” said Daikawa. “They are younger than the college level that I was used to, so you have to provide them with plenty of structure and the little things that are going to make them a better hockey player on a daily basis.”
The Ironmen did have their bright spots during the season. They were able to move seven players onto the NCAA level and were also able to increase their home attendance and awareness in the community as the season went along. “I think Jamestown is a market that truly loves its hockey, so we had to go out and prove to them that the NAHL is an exciting league to watch because of the level of play and our mission of moving players onto the next level,” said Daikawa. “I think towards the end of the season we were really encouraged by the crowds and it gave us some momentum heading into this season.”
As Daikawa was building a team for the 2012-13 season, he knew he had to start in between the pipes. “We lost our #1 goalie (Joe Ballmer) to the USHL, so we had to find someone to carry the load right away,” said Daikawa. “We believe we have found that in third-year NAHL goaltender Reid Mimmack who we acquired in a trade from Aberdeen. I think it will be important to have the experience backing everyone up and he had a good season last year with both Texas and Aberdeen.”
Daikawa also mentioned that the Ironmen picked up three more veteran players in the trade as he again looks for more experience and more of a veteran presence, which was something that he felt they lacked last season. “We think we got some guys that are coming in and returning that are going to hold each other accountable on the ice and in the lockerroom. Just in the last week, we have noticed a big change compared to last season in regards to the overall attitude and the team chemistry,” said Daikawa.
Daikawa believes that his focus for the 2012-13 season should be two-fold: developing players and making the players. He also thinks that having a better start to the season will be essential to the overall team success. “I think brining in a veteran squad should help us with a better start to the season because we want to get the fans on board early and want to get a leg up in the division because with seven other teams in the North Division, it is going to be a dogfight for just four playoff spots.”
Ross Pavek and Joe Mottiqua headline the veteran players that Daikawa received in the trade with Aberdeen. Both are big, physical forwards, who have a track record of producing points in the NAHL. Daikawa said he is also excited for the return of defenseman Brett Szajner, who was lost to a season-ending injury in January. 19-year-olds Luc Gerdes and Ryan Urso also return for the Ironmen and are players that Daikawa will rely heavily on, particularly in the beginning of the season. Finally, captain Aaron Scheppelman returns to the team with a year and 17 points from the blueline last season. “I feel it is a really good core of 11-12 veteran players that will really help us in the long run.”
As for the new players, Daikawa mentioned 20-year-old, Swedish-born forward Victor Johansson, who has good size and is an exceptional skater. The other player who has impressed Daikawa is Conrad Sampair from Hill-Murray High School in Minnesota. “Both have come in, worked extremely hard and are trying to make an impact from Day 1, so we are headed in the right direction,”
Next up in the NAHL 24 Teams in 24 Days series, the Fresno Monsters.