The St. Olaf men’s hockey team hired Cole Workman as interim head coach in early September after the sudden departure of former head coach Mike Eaves.
Eaves, one of the most accomplished coaches in collegiate hockey, left after three years on the Hill for an opportunity to be head coach of the Cleveland Lake Monsters, an American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets. The program is now in search of a new head coach and, more importantly, a new direction after a season with no home wins in the new arena’s inaugural year.
Workman comes to St. Olaf after serving as assistant coach at Bemidji State University.
Athletic Director Ryan Bowles said Workman is, “one of the rising stars in the hockey coaching community,” in an interview with the St. Olaf athletic department. Assistant Director Mike Ludwig ’03 echoed a similar sentiment with regards to the future of the program.
“In terms of next steps, we expect Cole to coach and recruit and administrate in the program this year, and do it with a lot of passion and energy,” Ludwig said. “We think Cole’s going to do a great job.”
Workman sees himself as an energizer for a program in need of a boost.
“For myself, I want to be nothing but a positive influence for these players,” Workman said. “I want them to believe that this current slump of missed playoff appearances is going to end and we can get back to having success as a team. I want to bring a positive environment to the locker room and help each player reach their full potential.”
The program will continue the search for a permanent head coach in the spring, after the 2019-2020 season has finished. The search will be quite broad, as the program hopes to find a coach who can offer them some long-term stability, with Workman as a potential option for a permanent role, Ludwig said.
While the program is full of confidence in Workman’s ability, it is clear that the departure of Eaves came as a surprise. That’s not to say the departure necessarily knocked the program off its track entirely, but rather an unforeseen shift is now necessary to continue moving in the right direction.
“I think we are positioned well in terms of who we are as an institution,” Ludwig said. “We believe in what we do as an institution, and I think we can get some really talented student athletes to be a part of it.”
Part of this shift in direction comes with a new emphasis and approach to recruiting. The hockey program is in a fantastic position to revamp their recruitment approach, with the construction of the new ice arena alongside new locker rooms and training facilities.
“We spend a lot of time recruiting, and it’s so important,” Ludwig said. “You win with talent, and our coaches do an outstanding job of finding student athletes who have the ability to be successful not only on the field or on the ice, but also in the classroom.”
Workman also forsees some adjustments when it comes to the team’s performance on the ice, with a focus on problem areas from the previous season.
“I think first and foremost is special teams,” Workman said, in regards to areas of improvement for the team. “With today’s games both the penalty play percentage and penalty kill percentage need to improve drastically. Our team defense will be an area that we focus on and hopefully create our team identity around.”
Alongside an enhancement in recruiting and on-ice defense, the athletic department has made several changes that will benefit not only the hockey program, but all athletic programs across campus. There have been expansions in both sports medicine and athletic performance departments, with more emphasis placed on the health and well-being of student athletes at St. Olaf, Ludwig said. Sports information is another sector that has seen substantial improvement in recent years.
“We are committed to the entire student athlete experience,” Ludwig said. “The more we can do to develop our student athletes and work with them and help them grow, the more we can support the continued development of each of these programs.”
The first game for the men’s hockey team and Workman will be Nov. 1 at home against Aurora University. With a little over a month left until the contest, it will be exciting to see how the team handles this new change of direction.