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Dinos hockey forward Danny Gayle talks Crowchild Classic

By David Song, January 31 2017 —

After breaking CIS attendance records last year, the biggest university hockey event in Canada will return to the Scotiabank Saddledome on Feb. 2. This week, the Gauntlet sat down with fourth-year forward Danny Gayle to discuss his expectations for the Crowchild Classic, the Dinos men’s hockey team’s season and what students should watch out for in the cross-town showdown.

The Gauntlet: Right now, the Dinos hold a winning record of 16–9–3, including 13 wins against conference opponents. What are some things that the team has done well so far?

Danny Gayle: This year, we have a lot of buy-in from everybody. All the young guys through to the old guys are working really hard. We’re playing to our systems, listening to what our coaches have to say and putting a consistent product on the ice.

G: What are some things that you’d like to see the team improve on?

DG: We’ve struggled scoring goals, so moving forward, we’re trying to focus a lot more on that. Also, tidying up our [defensive] coverage. We’ve given up some chances that we didn’t have to. Us forwards, we’ve made it a little more difficult on our defencemen in terms of not coming back and supporting them. Improving those areas will help us be successful moving forward.

G: As a fourth-year athlete, you have plenty of experience under your belt. How has this season differed from your first?

DG: Honestly, I’d say it’s more [in terms of] off the ice. I remember coming in as a freshman and being a little bit overwhelmed with school. Most guys on our team had played four years of junior hockey coming in, so it’d been awhile since we’d gone into the classroom.

I had some older guys — like Max Ross especially — take me under their wing. They helped me [learn] how to balance hockey and school. I just find myself in that position for some of the younger guys now, who are trying to figure out classes. Being on the other side of that is really different from when I started.

G: You’re one of the veterans on a team full of first and second-year guys. How have you tried to be a leader for them on the ice?

DG: On the ice and in the locker room, I just try to bring my best effort every day. I have a reputation for being a bit of a hothead, but when it comes to on-ice play, I take pride in my work ethic and I think all my teammates — especially the younger guys — respect that. They know that I’m going to bring my best effort every game and I hope that continues.

G: You mentioned a lot of buy-in from the team. Can you speak a little about head coach Mark Howell, his coaching staff and what they’ve done?

DG: [Howell is] always a guy that you can rely on for making you bring your best effort, like I spoke of earlier. They haven’t brought systems that are too complex and I think a simplified game has allowed us to play fast and effective. Aside from Howell, the assistant coaches — Sean Robertson, Tyler Sloan, Adam Redmond — they’re all good guys on and off the ice. Those are some of the guys that we talk to more person-to-person. But Howell’s leading the ship and I think a good word would be that he’s fair. Some would argue that he’s strict at times, but he’ll always make you bring your best effort and that’s what helps the team be the most effective.

G: Some fans might know you as a former Calgary Hitmen player. How is university hockey different from your junior experience?

DG: You have to grow up in a hurry when you’re playing junior hockey. Everyone’s got that dream of playing in the NHL for a few million bucks, which would have been awesome. So, when I was playing in Calgary and Moose Jaw in the Western Hockey League, all I was thinking about was hockey.

Now, you have a lot more condensed schedule, where you’ve got to practise and train, and do school while you’re doing all of that. So while we’re still trying to keep our focus on hockey, there’s the added dimension of school.

G: You are part of the Haskayne School of Business. What would you like to do in the future besides hockey?

DG: After junior, I wasn’t sure if I was going to continue playing hockey. I’d already done it for 15 years or so. Then I just applied to a bunch of schools in western Canada with a focus on business. I’ve always had an interest in business. I decided to go into finance, which has been eye-opening for sure.

Moving forward, we’ll see where life takes me. I have a couple of former teammates who are playing overseas. I’ve been in touch with them, so I might pursue that, continue my education [or] maybe get my Masters of Business Administration. I’m also considering writing my LSAT and taking law school head on. Lots of doors are open — I just have to see which road I want to take.

G: Given how the season’s progressed, how do you feel about the Crowchild Classic?

DG: I’m super stoked. [Mount Royal University] got the best of us last semester and that didn’t go as planned, but I think we’re a far better team than we were then. It’s a billed rivalry. I know a few of the guys on their team really well, so there’s the bragging rights side of it. But being from Calgary, there’s going to be lots of friends and family there.

Plus, the Saddledome’s my former home rink, as I’m a Calgary Hitmen alumnus. It’s going to be my last kick at the can there, so I’m really excited and confident in the result. We’ll see what happens. I’m just going to really enjoy it.

G: What advice would you give to a current member of the Calgary Hitmen?

DG: I would say, don’t take it for granted and try to get better every day. When I was young, I remember it — you were probably the best player on your team before you enter the [WHL] and you think you’re going to continue being the best player.

But at every level the competition gets more intense and I think being able to be humble, and trying to improve every day instead of being satisfied with where you’re at is what’s most important. Now that I’m older and I’ve talked to guys who are playing professionally, it’s a big difference. It’s a full-time job and you can’t get away with just going through the motions.

*Edited for brevity and clarity.*

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