Death, taxes, and postseason hockey in Eugene. Those were life's three constants in the Northwest for nearly a decade as the Eugene Generals, established in 2005, reached the NORPAC/NPHL playoffs for each of their first nine seasons in existence.
"Part of what, I think, makes us such a unique and great organization," said GM Flint Doungchak, "is our organizational transparancy top-to-bottom and our ability to communicate and work with one another, both coaches and staff members alike.
"Right now, we're an incredibly tight and cohesive group. However, I think during some of our recent seasons that we lacked that sort of cohesiveness, that ability to work for and with one another, and ultimately we paid the price by suffering in the standings and seeing the overall atmosphere around the organization completely shift in a negative direction."
After a coaching change midway through last season, the promotion of Justin Kern to Head Coach proved to be the pivotal first step towards redefining what the Generals organization stands for. Afterall, Kern was a player on the very first Generals team and he knows all too well what this organization can, and should, represent.
"We returned to our roots, our foundation," continued Doungchak. "Everyone here truly believes in what we are doing. Win or lose - and obviously we'd like to win - but regardless of the outcome of each game, we take the most pride in the effort we as an organization put forth to help develop our players as hockey players and, more importantly, as young men."
While the Generals have gotten back to their roots, Head Coach Justin Kern did the same when it came to building this year's team, tapping in to his home state of Alaska to help build part of the foundation of this season's roster. Now, after the recent addition of Kenny Griffin, eight of the Generals' twenty three players hail from "The Last Frontier", the most Alaskans on a Generals roster since the 2007-08 season.
Coupled with a trio of homegrown players, another trio from Idaho, and a mixture of players ranging from New Mexico to New York, Kern meticulously molded and crafted this year's Generals squad into a deep, versitale bunch that flat-out loves playing hockey, especially with one another.
"That's probably the best thing about coaching this group of players," Kern remarked happily. "Seeing how much they love playing with each other and being around one another, both on and off the ice, is incredibly rewarding as a coach and, frankly, it's just fun for us as a staff to see them have so much fun and to see how much they're enjoying themselves."
Aside from the many hours the Generals spend with one another practicing, conditioning, and going over films, many players still find ways to get together and sneak in some extra ice time however they can, including daily afternoon pick-up games lasting nearly two hours that nearly a dozen Generals players participate in each weekday. In addition, many Generals players including Cody Arbelovsky, Baxter Cox, Jack Geisler, Dustin Gomez, Chris O'Shaughnessy, Christopher Pritchard, and Zealand Walterscheid have been active in volunteering to coach youth, adult, and special hockey classes early on Saturday mornings.
"It's like clockwork," says Coach Kern, citing the pick-up game amogst numerous Generals players that has become a weekday routine at The Rink Exchange. "Some people aren't aware, but our owner (Ken Evans) also owns our home ice rink (The Rink Exchange), so when we often have 'open ice' (periods during the day when the ice is not being used) many of our players have established a routine of playing pick-up hockey for an hour, maybe two, every single weekday."
"But beyond just that," Doungchak added,"the work our players have done with our hockey education programs has truly been astounding. These kids really do want to help grow the game of hockey within our youth, adult, and special hockey programs, and watching them out there coaching and teaching, you can see that the boys really do enjoy being out there on the ice offering help to others, and it's an incredibly rewarding feeling to see that."
The welcoming environment that the Generals players, coaches, and staff have created was again put to the test with the recent addition of Kenny Griffin, a player that only a handful of current Generals were familiar with. However, by the end of his first week in Eugene,Griffin had already become a regular in the weekday pick-up games and was at the rink bright and early this past Saturday morning eager to help his new teammates in leading youth hockey classes.
"I really don't know how to sum them up better than saying they're just an incredibly good group of kids," concluded Doungchak, "and that's what we as an organization value most. More than how quick a player's hands are, how fast they get blue line to blue line - we care most about the player as a person, their indivudual character and makeup, and I truly believe that's the biggest factor into our success on the ice so far this season."
The second half of the season starts Friday, January 15th as the Generals welcome the Tri-Cities Outlaws to Eugene for a two-game series at The Rink Exchange. Don't wait, purchase your tickets now and join the Generals for the playoff push!