It was the kind of question that would leave many athletes squirming.
Not Toledo Storm defenseman Chad Wilchynski, who handled the query as quickly and smoothly as a clean break-out pass from his own zone.
One of only five returnees from the 2001-02 Storm unit, Wilchynski was asked to compare the differences between this year's edition of the team under the direction of Claude Noel and last season's coached by Dennis Holland.
Noel replaced Holland as Toledo's head coach over the summer, after the Storm failed to qualify for the Kelly Cup playoffs.
“I can't complain about [Holland] because I played 40 minutes [a game] for him,” Wilchynski said. “I'd play for him again. But I think he could have taught, put in the extra time. At times he did that, but at this level it's seven days a week, 24 hours a day. That's why we're not in the National Hockey League; we still have to develop.”
Therein lies an apparent difference between the two coaches and their teams. Although the 2002-03 Storm (1-0-1) begins only its second weekend of play with a 7:30 game tonight against Johnstown at the Sports Arena, Wilchynski thinks that Noel's teaching skills put this squad ahead of its predecessor.
“Dennis was a good coach, a player's coach,” Wilchynski said. “Claude's a player's coach too, but it's more professional how he does it. Claude's a hard worker, everything in practice is at a fast tempo and he teaches through the drills. We go through stuff in the dressing room, and as soon as we go on the ice we have to be ready.
“I didn't see a whole lot of that last year.”
Experience is one reason why Noel, 46, was hired. He's been a head coach for a total of five seasons for Michigan in the now-defunct International Hockey League and for Dayton and Roanoke Valley in the East Coast Hockey League.
When Holland, now 33, was signed by Toledo in 2000, it was his first head-coaching assignment.
“Dennis would put things up on the board and explain it,” Wilchynski said. “Claude puts it up on the board, explains it, then makes you think about stuff that happens.”
Given loads of ice time last season because of injuries, suspensions and call-ups, Wilchynski, 25, blossomed under Holland. By the end of a Storm season that saw him total six goals and 17 assists in 55 games, Wilchynski earned a six-game stint with Rochester of the American Hockey League.
He is pointless in Toledo's two games this season.
“When I was up there, they were pushing us on the ice,” Wilchynski said of his AHL appearance. “Just like here now, we're on the ice after practice because of the effort [Noel and assistant coach Mark Bernard] put in to help guys get better.
“All the guys on this team are pushing each other. Our chemistry as a team is better because we're pushing each other to get to the next level.”
The Storm's development will be tested this weekend with three games in three nights. After this evening, Toledo will host Dayton tomorrow before traveling to Lexington for a game on Sunday.
NOTE: The Storm has claimed 6-2, 225-pound defenseman Nathan Lutz off waivers. Lutz, 24, played one game with Reading this season. Last year, he played five pro games - three with Reading and two with New Haven of the United Hockey League.
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