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April 10, 2019
Buffalo, New York
THE MODERATOR: We'll start with some opening thoughts from Coach Leaman.
NATE LEAMAN: Extremely excited to be here. It's very hard to get to this point, as everyone knows. We're happy to be one of the last four teams and playing hockey in April.
As far as our season, it's been a season of growth. I thought we grew all season long. I thought we built a lot of toughness this year. I think we're starting to play our best hockey.
THE MODERATOR: Let's take questions first for the players.
Q. Jacob, now that you're here in Buffalo, you're seeing all the logos up, Frozen Four logos, what is it like for you to be playing in college hockey's biggest stage?
JACOB BRYSON: Exciting. We've worked all year to get to this point. Now that we're here in Buffalo, it's a great city, been here for two days now. The hospitality has been awesome at the hotel, the rink. People here are awesome.
It's been a good experience so far. We hope to carry that over to Thursday's game.
KASPER BJORKQVIST: Yeah, it's been a fun ride all season. I think this is what it all comes down to. It's a great honor to be here. We got to make sure that we're ready to play.
JACK DUGAN: Like Jacob said, we've worked hard all year to get here. I think all of us have worked our whole lives to get here. Not a lot of guys are playing at this time of the year. It's really cool. Glad to be here. Like Kasper said, we're also here to win, so...
Q. Jacob, I know obviously your focus is the Frozen Four right now. Is it any extra special here in Buffalo, the organization that drafted you?
JACOB BRYSON: Yeah, I mean, for sure. Buffalo is close to home, which is most important. My whole family is able to get out here, which is nice. I know a lot of people will be watching the game.
As a team, it's so special just to be here. Buffalo does make it nicer. We're mostly focused on Thursday's game, hopefully winning that one, taking home a national championship.
Q. Kasper and Jacob, can you describe your leadership dynamic, how that helped in the adversity you faced against Minnesota State.
KASPER BJORKQVIST: Well, I mean, the whole team has leaders. It's not just because you're privileged enough and honored to have the letter doesn't mean that you're a leader just because of that. I think we do a good job as a team, everyone has their voice, speaks out, plays as leaders.
I think our dynamic has been pretty good. We've been roommates for three years now. It's been a tough time (laughter).
No, I think Jacob maybe is the quieter one, I'm maybe the more vocal one, he's maybe the more respected one. No, I think it works well. But as I said, I think it's a team effort, not just two or three individuals.
JACOB BRYSON: Yeah, to add on that, like Kasper said, we work well together. We can't forget about Vinny, too. He's a great leader. He's a senior and so experienced. He brings another element.
Like Kasper said, our team, we have a special group of individuals. I know everyone on our team holds each other accountable. Everyone acts like leaders. That's what is so special about our team and why we've come so far this year.
Q. Jacob, how far do you think your game has come since you were drafted by the Sabres?
JACOB BRYSON: After freshman year, I know Coach Leaman and the staff have done such a great job with not only me but all the players developing every day. We do so much video and stuff after practice to help that. I've come a long way just from playing under Coach Leaman's wing. Mayo does a good job on the defense. Each coach has their own responsibility with different parts of the team. Every player has developed every day. When you come to the rink at Providence College, you're there to get better.
NATE LEAMAN: I think his game, he's learned to use his feet to defend. I think that was first. When your Jacob's size, you're not going to defend using your body or your muscles all the time. You got to use your feet, be quick to get to areas. I think Jacob is very good at that. I thought that came along.
And I think being assertive on the ice is the big thing now. I think any game he goes into, he has the potential to be the best player on the ice. I think Jacob is a wonderful player, he's got it both offensively and defensively. He doesn't force the game. He doesn't try to do something that's not there.
But, you know, I think when we get to this stage, we want him to assert himself on the game a little. I think that's something that's still coming. He has done a good job on the power play the last month or so. I think he has felt the most comfortable up there in the three years I've seen him play. He understands the options, understands how to work it, just continuing to be assertive, keep growing that part of his game.
Q. Jack, coming into Providence, I don't know if you expected to be getting a lot of ice time. Playing for a Coach Leaman team, you have to earn it, earn power play minutes. Talk about your expectations coming into Providence. Did you have any idea you'd be a scoring star going to a Frozen Four?
JACK DUGAN: Yeah, I mean, it definitely wasn't handed to me. I started off early in the year not with Kasper and not with Wilkes. I had to earn my way. I got a shot on the power play with our second or third week into the season. I kind of ran with it. It's been special. Obviously I've had a good year.
But, yeah, I mean, I honestly expected this team -- coming into my freshman year, I knew we had a really good team, a lot of good players. I did think we had a shot to get here. It's been kind of a crazy ride. It's nice kind of being close to home, like Jacob said, he's also close to home. A lot of family will come out to watch and hopefully we'll do something special.
Q. Coach, what initially drew you to Jack's game? How have you seen his game progress throughout the season?
NATE LEAMAN: The second part is pretty easy. Learning to play without the puck. Jack always has been a pretty special talent with the puck. He's got great vision, he's got great poise. When a lot of guys are maybe panicking to get a shot off, he sees the next play a lot of times. I think that's what makes him special.
He's got a good reach. He can be really strong on the puck when he's moving his feet. The big thing is the guys that come up through the game and they have the puck all game, whether it's in prep school or junior, they have to learn the game without the puck. They start to move to college, you have to work to get the puck. You have to have linemates that work to get the puck. If you're not working as a group of five, you can go through games without touching a puck. Then you don't get a chance to assert yourself on the game.
For him, it was learning the game a little bit off the puck. He's done a great job. I think he's a player that's continuing to grow, and he's really starting to understand that aspect of it.
Q. He is just one point away from a 40-point milestone marker. A freshman hasn't done that in 30 years. How special a player is Jack to have on your roster?
NATE LEAMAN: Well, yeah, I mean, as Jack mentioned, when we recruited him, we expected him to come in and make an impact. He's been able to do that.
He's also been fortunate enough to be paired with two really good linemates that complement each other. One of his linemates leads us in goals, the other one leads us in points. I think it's three guys that complement each other really well on that line. That's what makes him effective.
I think they all kind of bring something a little bit different. I think they're hard to handle when they're moving their feet.
For Jack, I mean, the individual recognition, I think he'll be the first to tell you, it's about his linemates. He usually doesn't answer a question without mentioning his linemates. I think he understands that.
I was a little disappointed that Jack wasn't on the Rookie of the Year ballot. That's more of a technical issue than him being worthy of it.
Q. Kasper or Jack, when is this team the most comfortable in a game situation? Is it an up-and-down-the-ice, high-score affair? A defensive game with little time and space? Are there nights you can point to that are good examples of those situations?
KASPER BJORKQVIST: It's when we're down 3-0 (laughter).
No, I don't think this team has a specific time when we're comfortable or not. I think this weekend, it's going to try to be comfortable all the time, especially when the game starts. Just go out there and enjoy the moment and be aggressive.
Yeah, but we've been in all situations all year. We've been up, we've lost when we've been up, we've won when we come back. We've seen it all. For this weekend, you just got to make sure that we're comfortable to start the game.
JACK DUGAN: Like Ghost said, we've been in all situations. I think that's kind of what makes us good, is we're able to play in a bunch of different situations. We're able to come out on top a lot of those times.
Just building off what he said.
Q. Kasper, this is more of a question about Finland, the progress and the impact that players have made from Finland, continuing to make. Two goalies from Finland in the other semifinal. What do you make of the impact that players from Finland have made in the last couple of years?
KASPER BJORKQVIST: In hockey in general or in college hockey?
Q. Hockey in general, but now we're seeing it at the college level.
KASPER BJORKQVIST: I would say it started 10 years ago, more Finnish players started to come to college, look where we are.
I think the Finnish hockey, 1995 we won the first World Championship, that was a big boost. 2011, won the second one. The last, whatever, six years, I think we have three World Junior Championships. I think it tells about the junior work that's been put into junior hockey. The national team program back home that's worked on players.
I think that's opened doors, new doors. Me included, lucky ones that have been able to take that route to then play college hockey and develop here.
In the big picture, the junior work that's been put into players is a big key. There always needs to be a few guys who opens the doors. Those guys have been the guys who maybe 10 years ago started looking at college hockey as a way to become a better player and go into the pros, try to get to an NHL deal. I think that's what has opened the door for me and, for example, Filip Lindberg, who plays for UMass.
Q. Who opened the door for you? What drew you to Providence from Finland?
KASPER BJORKQVIST: I'm from Espoo. Espoo, we start with Ahti Oksanen who played for Boston University, Kalle Kossila, who played for St. Cloud. Erik Autio, who played for Penn State. All those guys have kind of been from Espoo. It's been an option.
I realized on my visits that college hockey in general is a great route. You're taken care of with your education and your lifestyle. Then I just fell in love with Providence, with the people here. So, yeah, that's about it.
THE MODERATOR: Enough of Finland winning the juniors.
KASPER BJORKQVIST: Who was second (laughter)?
THE MODERATOR: You are roommates. Who is the better cook?
KASPER BJORKQVIST: Smoked salmon (laughter).
Q. Kasper and Jacob, you were talking about being leaders. With the long layoff between the regional, then tomorrow's game, how have you balanced concentrating and putting in the hard work, but also not putting in too much work?
JACOB BRYSON: School is definitely very important. It's just as important as hockey. We made sure all the kids got to class these two weeks. It's kind of similar to when we lost to Boston College, we kind of had the same timeframe. We're going to try to redo what he did there because we were successful in the regional. We worked hard at practice this week. We focused on hockey. In the mornings we focused on school.
Kind of similar to what we do all year. Nothing changes there. But now we're here in Buffalo. All our focus is on hockey here.
KASPER BJORKQVIST: That's about it. I think the big thing is first we kind of enjoy that moment, then kind of for a couple of days just focused on ourselves, us getting better. After that, we had some days when we started to prepare for the team that we're playing, we knew it was Duluth, they're a good team. We started focusing on them. I think that's the way to do it. You focus on your own game first, then you see your opponent, stuff like that.
I mean, the time flies pretty quickly. We had the mark of 10 days, same thing we had after Boston College. It feels like yesterday. So the time flies by fast.
Q. Jacob, being a Sabres draft pick, how often are they in touch with you, if at all? Are you aware of the kinds of things that are going on in the organization?
JACOB BRYSON: Yeah, I see it on social media here and there. I talk to them often, like every team does, the development stuff. They do a great job everywhere, but Buffalo does a good job of keeping tabs on their players, trying to get out to see them as much as possible. Just like Pittsburgh with Kasper, Dug in Vegas. They do the same thing.
Everything in the organization I see on Twitter. I don't follow it that much. If I do see it, it's usually on social media.
Q. Jacob, a lot of talk about how well Coach Leaman gets your program prepared for the post-season. Is there anything that stands out to you what he does, if there's like a light bulb that went off of a memory from October, November, January or February that you realized, Now I get why coach is harping on us?
JACOB BRYSON: Yeah, every time we lose, he gets on us pretty hard. I think that's kind of a spark usually.
I just think after that Boston College series, we knew we still had a chance. It would be something special if we were able to get in that tournament. We did.
I think the guys realized themselves, then when Coach Leaman helping with that, he propelled us over the edge. We knew what we had to do to win the regional, to get to the weekend we are now. He does a good job of getting us ready, getting us amped for the game, making sure we're focused. The biggest thing is getting ready for the first five minutes of the game because those are the most important minutes of the game.
THE MODERATOR: Guys, we'll let you go. Good luck.
We'll continue with Coach Leaman.
Q. We've seen over the years the growth of college hockey through various means. Obviously ESPN has been a big factor. How important is it for a coach like yourself whose name has come out there more to see the growth of the game, the attention the game gets? It's been a long time since Bob Johnson.
NATE LEAMAN: It's great. It's great for our game the number of players and coaches that are moving on to the next level. I think the players are the ones that open the door, though. I think the players, with the NHL now being 30 or 33 percent of the NHL has come directly from college. When a third of your league is coming from 60 teams, then I think that is what has brought a lot of attention to our game.
There's not a game that you play at this level, at least in our league, where there's not five or six scouts in your stands. The scouts, they like the players, they bring in the assistant general managers, the assistant general managers like the players, they bring in the general managers. They're getting a more focused look at our game.
Congrats to Quinney, congrats to Jimmy Montgomery for making that step. It's important that when David Hakstol makes the step, they do it well. That's what's going to open more doors for more college coaches. Hack obviously made the playoffs. Jimmy has played the playoffs. Quinney did a heck of a job building the Rangers this year.
If those guys continue to do a good job, it will open more doors for college coaches. It's a really good game. I think the players are what's drawing the GMs, and that opens the lens to all of a sudden they're watching the game and seeing things that may relate to the NHL.
Q. When you do go down 3-0 against Minnesota State, how did Jacob handle that adversity? Did he set the tone bringing you back?
NATE LEAMAN: I think the second goal Jacob kind of lost his man for a second in the zone. I didn't hear this, apparently he came over to the bench and said, I'll get that one back. Jacob doesn't speak much. He's more of a quiet leader. He leads with his play and his poise.
When he said that, I'm sure the guys felt a bolt of energy come through them. Everyone grew a little bit with their confidence. Between periods, it was more Kasper that spoke. Kasper is our vocal leader. He was last off the line, last in the room. The coaches were following him. When he was walking into the room, I heard some of the things he was saying. He was saying the right things.
The guys, they were pretty confident at that point.
Q. Our moderator was talking about 2015, all the similarities. Can you talk about the 10-day gap after Boston College while you're waiting, what similarities you had this year?
NATE LEAMAN: The similarities have been that both teams had really high expectations. I don't think either team developed the chip on their shoulder, the desperation they needed until it got to the NCAA tournament. I think that comes with every article that's been written about us this year has been, The Friars are great. All their analytics are terrific. Second half, it's going to be all Friars, all Friars.
I think we didn't develop the chip on our shoulder, the desperation we needed until the tournament. I thought the same way with the 2015 team. So that would be the similarity.
I think both teams have developed toughness throughout the year. I think that's important for this time of year. I think if everything goes smooth sailing, you can get in trouble this time of year. I think adversity is actually a good thing.
The breaks? They thought the break went quick. I thought it went really slow. I couldn't wait. We've been at home for, like, five weeks. That's rare during a college hockey season. I think that guys were really itching to get up here. Our last week of regular season was at home. Playoffs were at home. Then we're sitting for two weeks. Then the regional. So now we're happy to get out of Dodge a little bit.
Q. Looking at Kasper, I'm not sure if you go back to your days at Union, first took over at Providence, whether you thought you'd be recruiting guys from Finland. Is that the case? How have you seen this develop, this European influence, on college hockey, not just at Providence?
NATE LEAMAN: I think it's outstanding that the best players across the world want to come to college hockey. It hurts we only have 60 teams because you'd like us to be at 80 teams. With the rise of us recruiting more internationally, the U.S.-born player has gotten better also. That's why you see players on a roster from North Carolina, from Texas, from Florida.
It's a feather in our cap that we can recruit across the world and the best prospects want to come to college hockey. It's made our game very, very good. It's allowed programs such as AIC, other programs, it's risen the level of every program.
Recruiting is tough right now. Recruiting is very tough right now because of the rules and because of the international, because of the draft. I think recruiting is a game in itself right now. That's why you see some of the teams in the tournament that were traditionally in the right tournament.
Speaking of Finland, we were hoping to go to Finland, Sweden. I think they're both very good cultures. I think they're both hard-working cultures. I think they're both, you know, they stick to it. They value education. You can't grab an international student that doesn't value education because they only last three weeks in college. I know that firsthand from this season. They have to value the education part also because that's part of playing at this level.
I think it's a feather in our cap. Do we recruit Finland? Yes, we recruit Finland. You go over there, trying to make good contacts with advisors, coaches. Some of the Finnish teams don't want them to come, they want them to go up the pro level. Nice thing for Finland and Sweden, a lot of guys have broken through the glass. They've seen other players do it, they know it's an option.
Q. Could you have envisioned this 10 years ago, 15?
NATE LEAMAN: No. That's the challenge of coaching college right now. You have to evolve. You have to continue to evolve. Part of it's the international, part of it's the graduate transfers, part of it is drafting the first rounders, recruiting the first rounders, the high draft picks.
It's very much an evolving process right now. There's a lot of moving parts to it. That's what makes it a great challenge.
THE MODERATOR: You learn how to say 'sauna'.
NATE LEAMAN: Don't try to drive when I'm over there. That's scary (laughter).
Q. What do you see as the similarities between your team and Duluth?
NATE LEAMAN: I think both teams are heavy. I think both teams play as a group of five well. I think Duluth is one of the best-coached teams that I've watched on film in a long time. So I think they're heavy, they work as a group of five, they're good on the specialty teams.
As I told our guys this week, if you look at the major statistics across NCAA Division I, it's Providence and Duluth are almost right next to each other on every stat, scoring offense, scoring defense, power play, penalty kill, save percentage, both of them are 920. Not a big difference between the teams.
I think it's going to come down a lot to will and want and desire, who can influence their game on the other team and specialty teams.
Q. You said earlier you think you're playing your best hockey right now. What has clicked in during the tournament?
NATE LEAMAN: I think the desperation level to work off the puck. I think the desperation level. I think we're playing as a group of five as well as we have all year.
Q. What are your thoughts on how Tyce Thompson has handled the ups and downs of a college hockey season?
NATE LEAMAN: I think he's knocked it out of the park. I can't say enough great things about Tyce Thompson. He's literally a coach's dream the way he comes to the rink every day, brings a smile, always first on the ice, always working on his game.
I think he's about as complete a freshman as I've seen as far as understanding all aspects of the game. I mean, obviously it comes a lot from his father being an American League head coach. I read something at the beginning of the year where his brother and dad gave him the advice just to be the hardest worker every day. That's the only thing to focus on. It's translated.
He's had a very successful season. He's been a big part. Whatever line we put him with, that line plays well.
Q. You talked about yesterday getting on the bus, getting the jitters out with this practice. Your general feeling from practice today?
NATE LEAMAN: Yeah, first 10 minutes, kind of what I expected, the guys were a little tight, missing passes, very quiet. We kind of went into a small area game with some bumping from there just to get them, A, to loosen up, but also talking, speaking with one another.
We wanted to bump today. I told them that. We did not bump yesterday. Yesterday was a pretty soft practice because we had to travel. I wanted to bump today. That's probably not traditional for us on a Thursday. I told them beforehand, We haven't played a game in 10 days, we're going to bump a little bit. We wanted to get them to game speed. We did some things that were getting up and down the ice, which were even-man situations, to kind of get us to game speed also.
It was a non-traditional Thursday practice, but we're in a non-traditional setting. We had 10 days off. We have to make sure we have our edge and we're ready to go from the start. That was kind of the focus.
I thought they loosened up by the end. I thought they were talking and moving their feet, which is what we want. We want moving the feet, talking, having an edge.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks very much. Best of luck.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports