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Pittsburgh Sports Now

Interview

One-on-One with Pitt DII Hockey Coach Luc Brozovich

Luc BrozovichPittsburgh is a hockey town. Shortly after the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup last season, nearly 500,000 rabid fans attended their victory parade in downtown Pittsburgh. There are a number of Pitt athletic teams that receive a tremendous amount of coverage and media exposure. Football and basketball will always remain priorities in terms of media coverage and fan adulation. Pitt’s DI and DII hockey programs have started to emerge from the shadows and accrue a rabid fan base. The heart and soul of the DII hockey program is head coach Luc Brozovich. Pittsburgh Sports Now recently spoke with Brozovich about his hockey program and aspirations for the future.

Thank you for joining us Luc. How long now has it been since you’ve been coach for the Pitt team, the hockey team?

This is my second year. I did five years as a game day manager before one year off in Arizona, and then came back last season and just started my second season with the Division II team.

Obviously, you and your family, you’re very passionate about hockey. What sparked your interest in the sport? 

I was named after Luc Robitaille, so my dad was obviously keen on the sport of hockey naming me after a hockey player, which throughout my life I’ve had to correct the spelling of my name multiple times because it’s spelled the French way. I just got into it from playing around three or four years old and I have just always been a hockey guy, a hockey lover. I tried football and decided I’d rather just do hockey. When I was seventeen, I got diagnosed with a heart problem, so I had to stop playing my junior year of high school. When that was done I got into coaching. My second half of my junior year, someone we know who was one of the assistant coaches for the division one team, actually, we know from Penn Hills and he was coaching the team and knew what happened with me and asked me to come on board and help him out for the rest of the season. I came to practices and a couple of games and helped him out.

My dad (decorated and legendary hockey coach Bob Brozovich) decided to get back into coaching, so I, my dad and brother Brett coached for a couple of years together and I really got into appreciating the game in a different way from what happened to me. I’ll be the first to say if it never happened to me I probably wouldn’t look at the way … Look at the game this way or look at life this way, but that’s something I tell my players, too. Since I’ve been coaching, really enjoyed giving back to the game and teaching kids to get better at the game as much as I can do and helping them improve their game and trying to go on to play at a higher level or go play college or something.

When I first started coaching I was 17 years old and right off the bat I knew I wasn’t going to go the NHL playing, but after that, once I coached I said, “Hey, I’m seventeen.” I made a goal for myself to reach a high level coaching. Coaching with Pitt is a high level and definitely there are more steps from Pitt, but definitely enjoying my time with Pitt and coaching college hockey.

What brought you to Pitt?

I knew they had a good team. My brother, Brett, played at CCAC (Community College of Allegheny County). They played against Pitt, so I knew college hockey because its club level, the guys at Pitt play in the American Collegiate Hockey Association, which is the ACHA. He played.  I always wanted to play somewhere for a club team during my high school. I knew I wasn’t going to go anywhere with it, but go get an education and play hockey at the same time. Pitt just … I went on their website. I just went on different team’s websites. The way I was, I just check out websites and just look at schedules. Just look at people’s websites.

I didn’t play anymore, but Pitt just had something up about wanting people to help out, so I sent in something. I was actually helping CCAC. I was doing the website, taking photos, writing articles, just little articles on the website for them. Pitt had an opening and I just decided to throw in an email and the general manager at the time called me the next day and I met up with him and got on board with helping them out. I was still coaching. I coached with my dad at West Allegheny with the JV team, so I was still coaching outside of that. I was always a Pitt fan. Never went to Pitt. I’ve always been a big fan. This year and last year I tell them how proud and privileged they should be to be a student at the University of Pittsburgh. I always make the joke that I was never smart enough to get into the University of Pittsburgh. That’s my way of becoming a Pitt Panther.

I said that I was always a fan of them growing up. Always was a Pitt Panther fan even though I really never had an intention to go to Pitt, but helping with the program, it just was like, from CCAC to Pitt, nothing wrong with community college, but just helping out with Pitt I was like, aw dude, that’d be really nice to help out with the University of Pittsburgh, getting to know people within the organization, and just becoming really passionate about their program. Always kind of wanted to help coach with them but never said anything, and then when I moved away to Arizona and called knowing I was probably going to be coming back the next year, I told him I’d love to come back and they were like, “Well, we’ll do everything. We want to have you back with the program.” The general manager, now Dean Lakios, he was definitely like, “I’ll make up a title if we need to. I’d love to have you back.” I said, “Well, I want to come back but I want to coach this time.” I interviewed and they brought me on board to coach the Division 2 team.

It all started with a simple email saying, “Would you need help with anything?” and five years later I’m a die-hard about the program. Tried to do everything I could to improve it and just watching both teams play every home game, I even would for travel myself to go to some of the away games that were out in Robert Morris, kind of be like, “I’ll go watch.” Now being the coach … I tell the guys all the time it’s an honor to be able to coach with the University of Pittsburgh. I definitely go around publicly talked about the team, especially when people are unaware there’s even a hockey team at Pitt.  It’s still an eye opener and honor to when people tell mention to me ‘You coach at Pitt’. I handle myself a lot different now that I coach with the University of Pittsburgh because I don’t want to give them a bad reputation. I only want the best for the school and for the program. 

Explain to our readers, especially those new to college hockey, the different between DI and DII hockey.

There are three teams at Pitt. There’s NCAA Hockey. That is scholarship. That’s considered varsity, just like football. In hockey … I’m sure other sports have the same thing. In hockey, since it’s not sponsored by a lot of schools in the United States … I think in NCAA Division I hockey there are only about sixty teams. I could be wrong, maybe just a little over sixty teams. Then the ACHA, so the American Collegiate Hockey Association, has men’s Division I, II, and III. Then they have women’s Division I and II. Pitt offers ACHA, men’s Division I and Division II. I coach the Division II team.

Obviously you have to pay to play it at the school. They offer club sports. It is a club sport, but we are treated more like a varsity sport. Not like football, obviously, but we are treated more than club. These guys aren’t showing up and just, “I’m here to play tonight. Let’s go have fun afterwards.” It’s competitive hockey. Guys are there because they want to play hockey. Division I hockey is a little bit more of a time commitment. With Division II there’s time consumption but obviously school is first no matter what level you’re at with this team.  We found out that Pitt actually has a women’s team this year. They actually offer three teams total: two men’s and a woman’s team.

We have some differences from D1 hockey.  Obviously the talent is different but we still recruit to see if we can help anyone get into the school. We still recruit and we just look for talented students and student athletes. If they can get into the university and want to come try out, we’d love to have them. This year and last year with two teams we had over sixty to seventy kids at try outs, not including goalies, which we had them. If you add the goalies on it was probably seventy. The club is just pay to play.

A lot of us don’t like to call it club because it’s a lot more than just club hockey. I think when people think club hockey they think it’s a ‘beer league’. They think, “Hey, if we bring a cooler to the locker room and we’re just here to play.” It’s a lot more than that. My team, the Division I team, we had a protocol. My team wears suits to the game. I tell them, “You’re representing your school. You’re representing yourself. You will be professional.” I’m not saying we’re the only school that does that. It’s more than just showing up, playing with buddies, and going to a party afterwards. These guys are making a commitment. They’re at the rink two hours before game warming up. They’re in the locker room for an hour after the game if it’s a tough loss. They’re hanging out there talking about the game. It’s not just, “Oh well, we lost. We’re going home.” These guys are here to win and make a name for themselves with the school and everything.

Last year we got ranked in our region. This year I asked to the players to give me their team and personal goals. More than half the guys wanted to do damage in our conference and a lot of the guys would like to get ranked in our region because last year they know we made some noise and this year they want to make more noise. It’s definitely more than just a club sport and that’s how it is all over the country.

I think in the ACHA, throughout all the divisions (men’s and women’s hockey), they have over two hundred and sixty teams just in Division II with four different regions. I think in our region alone we have about seventy teams. Only twenty get ranked. There are obviously a lot of teams out there that you’re competing with even if you’re not playing them on the schedule. The ACHA is very competitive hockey.

Pitt men's Division II ice hockey

Pitt men’s Division II ice hockey

There are a significant amount fans that would like to support Pitt hockey. What would you suggest to them?

Our website is pitthockey.com and you can find those teams schedules. You can find ticket prices on there, arena information, which we play at the Alpha Ice Complex (alphaicecomplex.com) which is in Harmar Township. It’s roughly fifteen to twenty minutes from campus.

The Alpha Ice Complex isn’t the closest but it works for our players. They’ve been playing there for over ten years now. They call it home.  I know when I was in high school they were playing there. They’ve been playing there for over ten years. It has two ice sheets and one of the rinks seats twelve hundred people.  If people want to attend, we have ticket prices. Adults are just $5. Since we are ‘pay to play’ we have to charge a small admission fee.  We’re trying to raise money so we can travel and afford jerseys, equipment and everything like that.

We definitely have more exposure than in the past.  We’re utilizing social media to reach more fans.  Facebook groups like Pitt Panther Fanatics have allowed me to share schedules and information.   This year we have thirty students helping the programs between both teams. We have people taking photographs, videos, graphic arts. The Twitter feeds are slowly becoming more graphic with their pictures.  We’re starting to look a little more like a varsity sport with the stuff we are putting up.

If people are interested in watching us, they can drive out to the Alpha Ice Complex in Harmar where we play. Times are on there. Times are a little later, usually. I think all the Division I games this year start at 9:20 PM but Division II is 9:20 PM on Fridays and 7:20 PM on Saturdays. We do travel so if there are Pitt fans near Warrendale, PA, Division I goes plays Slippery Rock at the rink there. Both men’s teams head out there once this year. Robert Morris has two club teams other than their varsity team, so we both play them out there at the Island Sports Center.

There are a lot of Pitt fans in Ohio. As for our Division II team, pretty much our entire conference is based out of Ohio.  Ohio State and Ohio have a club team. We travel a fair amount. I know the Division I team; they travel to places like Buffalo, NY and Philadelphia, PA.   

Our website has our schedule and rankings. I actually work the website with somebody else and when I put the schedule up I actually threw a link on for every arena that they go to. You can click on it on the schedule and it’ll give you their website and address and everything. If you live out that way you can click it and find the address and if you’re close you can go ahead and catch Pitt on the road.

I assume most of your players aspire to play overseas or professionally. Is that a feasible route from the DII level? 

You will see a few from Division I and a handful of Division II and Division III out of ACHA. I believe there’s been a couple that have gone to NHL camps. More Division I players crack a minor hockey league in the country. Maybe the Southern Professional League or I think a couple have cracked into the ACHL, which is what we’re a part of. Some guys have gone overseas and played. Division I actually has a world university game that is held overseas.  They usually send a team so I think guys get exposure overseas and they land contracts there. Division II does a select team throughout all Division II. They’ll go and play clubs overseas and I think Division III does the same thing with men’s. I’m not sure what women’s does. If you are a high talent player at the division you can get on these teams and get some exposure. Obviously you’re only taking one team so it’s a hard team to crack.

The guys at Pitt, a lot of them make the joke that now I’m just going to be playing adult league after this because a lot of their focus is, and what we preach to them is that, you’re here for school. Obviously that’s top priority. Tonight we have a practice and one kid has an exam tomorrow morning and he can’t make it in. I’m not holding a grudge against him because he’s missing practice. I was like, “You’re here for school before hockey.” Other places, if you have the talent and you’re getting looked at, guys might look into maybe going to play overseas or something.

I think most of the teams you’ll find in the ACHA players are mostly looking just to play competitive college hockey while they get a degree. If nothing comes of it, they have a degree at the end of it and they have a good job. That is the main focus, but like I said there have been a handful. I know a couple, I believe, in the past few years have been invited to an NHL camp. I think one guy went to an Islanders camp. That’s the one that pops in my mind but like I said, other guys have signed to play overseas and even in some lower somewhat pro leagues here in the country. Main focus with club hockey teams at this level is you’re getting the degree. Still playing competitive hockey at a high level and like I said, at the end of the day you’ve got a diploma and you’re able to go into the workforce and you can go around and say, “I played college hockey, but I got a job too.”

Panther fans have grown very enamored with the Pitt hockey jerseys. They have become highly ‘coveted swag’.  Has there been any talk about making them available to purchase? 

Pitt Men's Ice Hockey Team

Pitt men’s ice hockey team in action

Yeah. Last year with that whole hype thing and I know there’s been a couple questions over the summer this year and some of the debate was that nobody got back to them last year, which I felt bad about. This year, the school has shut us down from selling it because we would be making profit, I believe, off of the school. I believe the final word is we cannot sell those.

The Division II team, we have gone to the script this year. Division I is still wearing the old colors, blue and yellow. Division II is wearing the navy and gold.  Both teams are using the script. We were allowed by the school to use it. Division I will actually have to eventually go back to the navy and gold, the actual school colors. They can wear the blue and yellow for a few more seasons but they are being told that we have to go back to the school colors.

What’s your final message to Pitt fans reading this article? Perhaps your final thought on your up and coming DII program. 

It’s exciting hockey. I know the Penguins are in town. There are junior teams in town. It is exciting hockey.  I think if people got out there to attend games, and I know the times are a little later than what people probably prefer, they would see that despite what team you come out to see, you’re seeing some great hockey.

The Division II, we play a couple ACC teams. We play Louisville. Division I still plays West Virginia every season, two or three times a season. Last year, they swept them in three games, after playing them three times; two conference games, one that’s non-conference. They swept all three. They still are playing opponents that maybe you won’t see in football or basketball because of all the conference switches. In hockey, you’ll see us play Ohio University, Ohio State. We are playing Bowling Green and other schools that might have varsity teams that offer clubs. It’s still very competitive hockey.

This year, Division II, we get Louisville in January, who has actually been the playoff winner of our conference the past two seasons. It would be a great test. There’s an ACC matchup right there; the CACC on ice, if you want to call it that. Like I said, Division I, they play West Virginia. I believe they are looking to do a cancer awareness game again this year, or maybe it’s a Maryland Youth Foundation game. That would be a big promotion they would be looking to do after last year’s breast cancer game got a lot of talk and actually had a great crowd and support. They will see West Virginia; they play Duquesne, just like basketball does. For those city games, we call City Game on Ice. At least, I called it that when I was doing game day, so I was like, I tried to make that the name of it.

For Pitt fans out there, it’s definitely great hockey to watch. I know last year, I tried to promote it. Football, obviously is king, and I don’t blame anybody for that, because I get upset when I can’t watch the football games if I have to get ready for a hockey game, but obviously, my priority is coaching hockey first, so it doesn’t bother me too much. I think people at Pitt, any Pitt fans, Pitt alum, anybody that realizes we do have hockey, would realize that it’s good hockey, despite which team you come out and see, and it is very exciting. I mean, it’s not like you come there and sit in silence. We have music, we have goal horns, and we have announcing. We try and do fun things during the game. I know the guys really love when we get crowds. Student crowds come up for the Duquesne game, usually, because that’s the big rival for the Division I team.

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