LAFAYETTE — When the Louisiana IceGators face Southern Professional Hockey League foes this season, coach Drew Omicioli’s main goal is to make sure his players are familiar with every inch of ice in the Cajundome and other arenas.
A focus on building a more physically imposing roster for the 2015-16 season has included the additions of 6-foot-6, 260-pound defenseman Anthony Pisano and 6-5, 220-pound Travis Armstrong.
“We got some bigger boys in right now,” Omicioli said. “We have some guys who are going to go in the corners and they are going to grind and they are going to hit. Then we have other guys who are going to drop the gloves and protect teammates. Everybody knows their roles. They have embraced their roles. If everybody does their roles and gives 60 minutes, we are going to be successful.”
Forward Jake Hauswirth’s duty last season resulted in 43 points in 37 games with the IceGators (21 goals and 22 assists). He has two goals so far in the IceGators (1-1) two road games, which they split with a 2-0 shutout of the Mississippi RiverKings and a 5-4 loss to the Pensacola IceFlyers.
“It has been a lot of ups and downs early on, which is good,” Hauswirth said. “We have had a little adversity, but we have a good group of guys who will come together.”
As Omicioli evaluates various lineups during the opening games, the importance of goaltender Adam Courchaine, who the IceGators acquired from the RiverKings in an offseason trade, will be vital.
“The most important thing about goaltending throughout the year is consistency,” Omicioli said. “That is something that we lacked a little bit last year. We need both these guys — Adam and Jonah (Imoo) — to come in and play well on a consistent basis. If they do that, we will see the opportunities to win games. I thought we did that 100 percent two Fridays ago (in the season opener). Last Friday, I thought the whole team was very flat from our offense to our defense and goaltending as well.”
Courchaine posted a 14-13 record last season with a 2.49 goals allowed average for Mississippi. Getting that consistent goaltending will also be dependent on the defensemen following their blueprints.
“They play the system,” Omicioli said. “Our system is designed to make sure we are not allowing Grade A opportunities. Our defensive zone is primarily set around. ... We say ‘protecting our home.’ It’s protecting our front and keeping shots to the outside. If our guys play our systems, then our goaltenders have to do minimal work.”
Following the IceGators loss to Pensacola, which featured three goals surrendered during the game’s first seven minutes, Hauswirth said the importance of hard work was stressed during a Monday practice that contained a lot of skating and very little shooting.
“We learned our lesson that we can’t be lackadaisical, and we have to put in the full 60 minutes.”
Considering the mix of newcomers and veterans, Omicioli is confident his squad can accomplish those goals 60 minutes at a time.
“I brought back core guys like Jake Hauswirth, Chris Wilson and Jeremy Boyer. To have Tyler Barr back, those guys are your foundation, and then you build around those guys. We do have a lot of size, but we are also going to be able to bring in smaller, quick guys.”
That blend will be on display at home for the first time when the IceGators face the Peoria Rivermen at 7:05 p.m. Thursday in the first of a three-game series.