By ROSS SELLERS/Montana State News
Hockey is gritty; anyone who’s been to a hockey game knows that, so perhaps the personalities that surround it should fit the mold, and they often do.
As the head coach of the Bozeman Icedogs, a North American Tier III Hockey League team (NA3HL), Mark Vichorek understands Hockey isn’t just about aggression, it’s a sport built on respect.
“I think it is very important that this position holds a great amount of leadership and respect to teach and pass on to my players,” he said.
His office is located at Hayne’s Pavillion, and offers warm relief from the surrounding cold that inhabits the skating rink. Although small, his office feels cozy and lived in. The whiteboard behind his desk is littered with humorous phrases along with a calendar sporting a variety of women in bikinis.
Vichorek, at 6-foot-3, usually holds an intimidating presence, but here he leans back in the comfort of his reclined position as he discusses his lifelong passion, hockey.
His voice deepens as he describes the importance of coaching his players. “They have to push themselves harder and harder and harder to get out of that comfort zone,” Vichorek said.
Anyone who’s braved the cold bleachers and 19-degree temperature in Hayne’s certainly knows that he takes his position seriously.
“Move your feet, move your feet, move your feet” can be heard echoing in the rink during the Icedogs practice.
“It’s hard to play this game coasting. If you get caught coasting somebody’s going to come and attack…and if they get the puck you’re not going to catch them,” Vichorek said.
The dedicated coach liberally practices movement with his players. Drills tend to focus on the ability to move with the ice smoothly, “if you’re moving, and have that momentum, then you have a better advantage,” said Vichorek.
But coaching a hockey team is not just about how well one performs on ice, Vichorek places an emphasis on his player’s off-ice character as well.
“We have done a very good job in the last few years of getting players out into the community and schools,” Vichorek explained. “It is very important that the people in the community see how these players are good people and can offer more than just playing on the ice.”
Nick Thompson, a defenseman under Vichorek’s coaching, speaks to this commitment to the community.
“We go to elementary schools, and read to the kids. We also did a food drive with five other teams, donating one hundred in funds from each team,” Thompson said.
Similarly Alec Nisbet, owner of the Icedogs, expresses how important community is to the all-encompassing theme of his team.
“The dream when my wife and I purchased (the Icedogs) was to get them back involved in the community, get the fan-base back, and show the community that these are good young men who play hockey,” Nisbet said.
Hockey is not just about fighting, huge hits, and goal scoring, the sport brings people together, on and off the rink. Vichorek’s commitment to hockey carries an especially important role in his life.
“I got involved in hockey at a fairly young age of 6 years old when my father started the program in Moose Lake, Minnesota. It means a lot to me to carry on what my father taught me.”
His father was fundamental in that growth, getting his two sons up at two or three in the morning to flood the rinks for the day.
“Flooding the rink wasn’t so bad, but draining the hoses after the flooding was not fun and very time consuming,” he . “They were old heavy fire hoses and were about 50 to 60 yards long. The hoses were always left outside, and if they were not drained at least three times from end to end they would freeze up and it took forever to thaw them out for the next group to flood the rinks.”
That experience at a young age taught Vichorek a respect for the game of hockey that has not dwindled over the years. He explains that growing up in the small town of Moose Lake meant a lack of extracurricular activities. Seeing this, his father started a hockey programs and consequently inspired Vichorek to pursue a lifelong love of the sport.
Vichorek was fortunate enough to play a few years of pro hockey in the American Hockey League, the league a step below the NHL. He played seven seasons of professional hockey in the minors with several different teams in that span.
“The meaning of hockey carries back to those experiences and I wanted an opportunity to give back to the game that was such a huge part of my life, and still is,” Vichorek said.
The family tradition hasn’t stopped at him; both of his children have a love for the sport as well. His son, Taylor Vichorek, turned pro with the Tampa Bay Lightning for a few seasons before exiting the game and most recently he is trying to become a referee at the NHL level. While his daughter played on Team USA for two years while attending Bemidji State University, where she also played hockey.
“The meaning of the game has carried in our family for three generations, and we hope that continues in the future for a fourth,” Vichorek said.
“This position is special because of staying in and working within the game I love, and have a passion for. It is also very special because of working with, and mentoring, players between 16-20 years old,” said Vichorek.
Vichorek he has aspirations to coach at the NHL level some day, “I would love to. I think everybody does when given a chance to move up. It would be amazing. It would be great, and I think I’d have something to offer,” Vichorek said.
– Edited by Allison Erwin