By Kim Wrona
4/2/18 – DeKalb, IL | NIU Hockey has signed Illinois Hockey Hall of Fame member, Mike Rucinski as the DII head coach for the 2018-2019 season.
“Mike has been a very successful coach at the youth level for many years and has had a positive influence on many of the players that currently play for NIU,” Director of Hockey Operations Chuck Rinaldo said. “With his deep roots in Illinois youth hockey and his specific knowledge of players at the Bantam and Midget Central States level, he is able to insert a ripe pipeline of players that will be a great addition to our growing program. In addition to his youth hockey connections, he also has a large network of players and coaches that he works with at the Junior hockey level. Mike will be able to accelerate the growth rate that Ian and I have established and give us the chance to add talent and depth to our program at a rapid pace. Mike is also a proven winner and has shown that he has the knowledge and experience to be a successful coach at the ACHA level.”
“Mike is a top-quality coach whose resume speaks for itself,” General Manager Ian Kalanges said. “Mike has excelled at all of the levels he has coached at. When the opportunity came to add him to our program, it was in no question for us to do so. Mike is a real game changer for this program and we are excited to have him aboard.”
“I have always wanted to coach at a collegiate level and have been impressed with the dynamics of NIU and the program,” Rucinski said. “My son, Justin, attended and played at NIU, so I have been somewhat in-tune with the program for years. NIU Hockey seems to be a perfect fit for me at this point in my coaching career and I would love to be part of the future growth of the program. Along with Ian and Chuck, I share that vision of taking the program to the highest level.”
Rucinski comes from a rich hockey background which includes playing three seasons of college hockey.
“I was in a similar position as a college student and hockey player when I was recruited at the University of Illinois-Chicago way, way back in the mid-80s,” Rucinski said. “I was part of the first-year team that played NCAA Division-I hockey. I like to consider myself and teammates as the foundation or building blocks of that program at the DI level. I can share my experiences with the current [NIU] players, as well as in the recruiting process, as we strive to take the program to new heights.
”Rucinski also played four years of professional hockey, including one regular season game with the Chicago Blackhawks and a combined 205 regular season games for their previous farm teams, the Saginaw Hawks and the Indianapolis Ice.
During his first year as the bench boss for NIU Hockey, Rucinski wants to establish a modest atmosphere at the rink for his players.
“My expectations for the upcoming season are actually quite simple: establish a positive environment for the student-athlete,” Rucinski said. “Establish an understanding of how to respect the game and respect all of those associated with the game. I want the players to love to come to the rink and take pride playing for the program and have an outstanding experience.”
Rucinski and the NIU Hockey organization are looking forward to getting next season underway during the fall 2018 semester.
“I am excited to start the process and getting to know the guys,” Rucinski said. “I’m looking forward to working with Ian, Chuck and the rest of my coaching staff and have some fun along the way as we achieve success and growth with the program.”
“We have a solid core of players coming back from last season and I’m confident that Mike will be able to grow our current talent and bring in some new talent during this spring and summer that will get this program back on the winning track,” Rinaldo said. “The DII team has already proven they can compete with DI teams and the top DII teams in the country. The difference between winning and losing these tough games is depth in the lineup and execution of systems. I believe Mike can fill those gaps quickly. The future is bright for NIU hockey.”
“We have already gone to work with Mike to continue the strong push on recruiting before next season,” Kalanges said. “We need to grow the quantity and quality of players coming into the program, and with Mike’s network, we are now going to be able to have conversations with higher level players that we have never been able to before. We are excited for what the future holds with Mike added to the program. Short term, we want to get back to our Huskie Hockey winning ways and culture. Long term, the possibilities are endless. We want to be a national contender at the DII level and eventually move up to the DI level.”