Bruce Toppin’s (photo) first ACHA head coaching job is a dandy. The Syracuse, N.Y., native will direct the Ice Dawgs of Mississippi State as they seek to post their first winning record since becoming a non-varsity team in 2008.
With a propensity for rough play and fighting, and a dearth of talent, the Ice Dawgs won only two of 16 games in 2011-12, according to the ACHA, and finished last in the SECHC’s West Division with a 0-10-0 record.
“When I met with the kids, they told me they wanted stability in the program and to be competitive,” said Toppin, who has not played organized hockey but coached in the youth leagues in Tupelo, Miss., and Memphis and guided a Memphis high school team to two league championships.
In accepting the head coaching position, Toppin said he made clear to the Ice Dawgs that he frowned on their style of play in the few games he has attended.
“The team has been coached as if it were a minor league pro team,” he said. “If you don’t have a lot of talent to begin with, what do you accomplish from the penalty box?
“The one thing I emphasized at the high school level was that this is a fun game, and what you learn will not be just about hockey.
“You will learn discipline and effort, and those are things you will take with you into adulthood.”
Understandably, Toppin does not yet know how much talent his Ice Dawgs will have this season.
“I think we will probably have one good line that will be competitive with anyone, and two or three defensemen. After that, it’s unknown,” he said.
“Our challenge will be to coach to their talent. We may have one system, or two or three.”
One thing is certain: Given their residency in the South Eastern Collegiate Hockey Conference’s West Division, the Ice Dawgs will face some of the best teams in the ACHA DIII South Region.
Three of the four other West Division teams were ranked in the South Region last season, and Mississippi State will play each of them twice: No. 3 Alabama; Arkansas, No. 3 until disqualified for an eligibility violation; and No. 8 Ole Miss.
The rest of the schedule includes games with other teams struggling to improve, such as Memphis, the Ice Dawgs’ lone victim last season, Georgia State and Auburn of the SECHC.
Recent Mississippi State teams have had skimpy rosters, and this edition will probably be no different.
“If you have a short bench, you’re going to have tired legs the second night of weekend series,” noted Toppin. “Our best chance to be competitive and steal a few victories will be on the first night.”
2012-12 Mississippi State Schedule
Sept. 14, at Georgia State
Sept. 15, at Georgia State
Oct. 5, at Memphis
Oct. 6, at Memphis
Oct 19, vs. Arkansas* (Little Rock)
Oct. 20, vs. Arkansas* (Little Rock)
Nov. 16, Tennessee
Nov. 17, Tennessee
Nov 30, Alabama*
Dec. 1, Memphis
Jan. 18, at Ole Miss*
Jan. 19, at Ole Miss*
Feb. 1, at Auburn*
Feb. 2, at Auburn*
Feb. 8, at Alabama*
Feb. 9, at Georgia Tech
* SECHC game