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WSHL’s Monsters out to tackle unfinished business

 

Nolan

A rematch is looming in the Western States Hockey League’s (WSHL) wild west, but Bryce Dale and the Fresno Monsters have their sights set on something bigger.

The defending division champs from Fresno, who’ve won three of the last four Western Division titles, were in a dogfight with the Valencia Flyers for top spot in the division midway through December, but it’s the postseason that has Dale excited for the stretch run and potentially meeting the Flyers in the division finals for the second year in a row.

“We have a great core of guys here,” said Dale, the head coach and general manager of the Monsters. “We’d like to be at the top of our division, but Valencia is a great team. It’s going to be good hockey down the stretch and at the end of the year.

“We’re obviously never satisfied, but as of right now we’re in a pretty good spot.”

Now into his fifth season as head coach and general manager of the Monsters, Dale has won no fewer than 32 games in each year he’s been behind the Fresno bench, and will likely get there again this season with the help of a high-octane offense that’s tops in the division.

Led by the WSHL’s top scorer in Mike Nolan (18 goals for 60 points through 27 games), Jacob Haynes (28 goals in 27 games) and Cameron Seto (16 goals, 51 points), the Monsters have a lot of ways they can win games, but continue to look to improve.

“We feel like we haven’t accomplished anything yet,” said Dale, whose club was 20-5-0-2 through their first 27 contests. “We’ve been in first place in our division, but among our staff and owners and players we’ve created a culture where we want to get better every single day. We want to push ourselves to the next level.

“We feel like if we take a day off we’re falling behind, and that’s a fire that really drives all of us to continually get better.”

It’s not just wins that motivate Dale and his staff in Fresno; more important – or at least just as important – than hanging banners from the rafters is making sure players who come through the organization have the opportunity to advance their hockey careers when their time with the Monsters is up.

“We believe we’re a developmental-level team, and we aspire to find guys who want to play college-level hockey,” said Dale, who has sent over 30 players to college programs over the last five years. “We don’t want Fresno to be the last stop for our guys; we want it to be a steppingstone.

“For us, it’s about moving kids on to the next level and getting them to where they want to go – that’s something we really pride ourselves on.”

Nolan is one player who will certainly have opportunities awaiting him when he finishes up his Monsters career at the end of the season. A Canadian, Nolan became the top scorer in franchise history on Nov. 28, and Dale has high praise for the British Columbia native’s game.

“It blows my mind how Mike isn’t already playing at the next level,” said Dale. “He’s completely fallen through the cracks. His ability to play the game is off the charts – his awareness, his puck handling, his shooting. He’s been amazing, and anything he’s done on the ice for us you can multiply that by 10 for what he’s done in the community.

“He emulates what it means to be a Fresno Monster. He’s the type of kid that makes you a better coach.”

Ultimately, while a WSHL title would be a great accomplishment for Fresno, Dale won’t let that deter him from the bigger goal that the organization is undertaking.

“We want to be playing our best hockey by the end of the season, but we also want to make sure we’ve got our guys going to school,” said Dale. “You’ve just got to get hot at the right time of year to put yourself in a position to win a championship. It’ll be a good test, because there are a lot of good teams this year.

“But at the end of the day, it’s not always about raising a $35 piece of plastic (in the form of a banner); it’s about the process and the group we have growing and moving forward, and the path they take to become better athletes and people.”

– John B. Spigott