• September 15, 2019

NORTH AMERICAN HOCKEY LEAGUE: Todd Watson ready to get to work as new Jackalopes coach - Odessa American: Sports

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NORTH AMERICAN HOCKEY LEAGUE: Todd Watson ready to get to work as new Jackalopes coach

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Posted: Friday, August 23, 2019 9:00 pm

Odessa Jackalopes head coach Todd Watson was relaxed during his introductory press conference Friday.

That’s likely to change in less than 48 hours.

Watson, the sixth coach in franchise history, will open training camp for the 2019 season on Sunday at MCM Ice, bringing in 35 players hopeful of making the final cut two weeks later.

“Part of our camp, we are going to have two Black-White games,” Watson said. “We want to see who we have and we have a long way to go to get there.

“We need to set the culture of the program, to establish what our culture will be. I have a plan that we are going to put in place.”

Part of that culture will be aggressiveness over the entire 200-foot ice surface.

Be it center ice trying to control the neutral zone or down in the corners doing the dirty work needed to be successful, the Jackalopes’ coaching staff will get its message across to the players, and opponents.

“Engaged and physical,” said Watson, who guided the Detroit Compuware Ambassadors to the North American Hockey League crown in 2002, earning coach of the year honors. “Those are words you are going to be hearing a lot to describe our style.”

Helping shape that style will be assistant coach Adam Phillips.

A Michigan native like Watson, Phillips played on the blue line for four years at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst (2011-2014), before embarking a five-year professional career in the ECHL.

A first-year coach, Phillips will be entrusted with the team’s defensemen, along with the power-play unit.

“I’ve known Todd for the past five years, we done some coaching together during the summer,” Phillips said. “Being a younger guys, I see myself as a guy the players can approach whenever they have a question, using me as an inbetween guy for something instead of going to Todd.

“I want to be there to support them and make sure their focus in on hockey and college and ultimately, as a team, on winning.”

Phillips will draw on his own experience, collegiately and professional, to help mold the Jackalopes’ defensemen into the pairings that will give the club the best chance to be successful.

He saw the group for the first time during the team’s main camp in July in Chicago and is looking forward to getting back on the ice with them Sunday.

“We had our guys on the protected list and then we had a couple of nice surprises from guys that were invited to camp,” Phillips said. “And we had a couple surprises from players we didn’t know about, that just showed up to camp.

“I’m excited about that players. Now we need to see how they compete against better competition.”

To that end, Watson is breaking down training camp into two distinct sections, the first running Sunday through Thursday before the team hits the road for a pair of exhibition games against the Shreveport Mudbugs.

The second week of camp will get the players ready for a second round of exhibition games as the South Division’s new team, the New Mexico Ice Wolves, comes to the Permian Basin on Sept. 6 and 7 at MCM Ice.

After that, it’s on to Blaine, Minn., for the league’s annual season-opening Showcase.

“We are going to do things differently,” Watson said. “I think that we have some kids here, some big kids returning, and I think there are two or three where you are going to say ‘where did he come from’.

“We want our players to just let it rip; if you make a mistakes we’ll help you correct it. Just don’t make mistakes because you are unsure and afraid to make a mistake. Go play hard and try to make plays and if you mess up, go back hard to try and fix it.”

>> Follow Lee Scheide on Twitter at OALeeScheide

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