PDI Q&A with Angelo Ricci of the Colorado Thunderbirds

Updated: October 22, 2013
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When the average Colorado sports fan is asked to name the most incredible sports season in state history, their mind is likely to lean towards either of the Broncos’ Super Bowl runs, the Avs teams of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, or maybe the Rockies World Series near miss.

But another local organization had a season that should easily compete with those remembered in Colorado sports lore. The Colorado Thunderbirds, led by Director of Hockey Operations Angelo Ricci, had what many are calling the best season in the history of Colorado youth hockey. It was a truly historical run, by anybody’s standards.

Ricci has been heavily involved in the game of hockey since the age of six, following in the footsteps of both his father and his grandfather. A star player at the University of Denver, Ricci’s playing career took him all over the country and the world, until an injury ended his playing days, and moved him towards coaching and directing.

PDI recently spent some time with Ricci, and we asked him about the Thunderbirds’ magical season, and a lot more.

PDI: What are your main goals for your players at the beginning of each season?

Angelo Ricci: Well, obviously we want our teams to have success. With success, it’s always easier, and the kids have fun, but the bottom line is that it’s not always wins or losses. Our goal is to make sure that our kids are developing so we can keep them at u-11, 12, 13; we don’t want to have to go out and recruit 80 new kids. Our goal is to create good citizens on and off the ice. Athletically, socially, academically, mentally, physically; we want to help our kids develop the time-management skills that are needed to play at the next level. I think we’ve done a pretty good job.

 

PDI: What do you look for in a hockey player?

AR: Obviously, you have to have talent. You have to have some skill to play at this level. But I also think you look at the passion and the heart of a player. One factor that I call the “compete level,” what is their compete level? If there are two skilled guys and one competes more, I’m going to take the compete guy. If you don’t compete at this level, you’re not going to have success.

 

PDI: This is your first year with the Thunderbirds. What are the steps you took to make this season so successful?

AR: Most importantly, I wanted to get the Thunderbirds on the same page. Before this year we had five teams that were really separate teams – a practice here, and practice there – which was fine. But now we’re starting to build a program, and an identity. My direction was just to get everyone involved. Now that we’ve done that, we need to maintain it.

PDI:  Looking at your teams last summer, did you think a season like this was a real possibility?
AR: We did have a goal of getting to nationals and winning, but you never know how a season will go.  Also, in single elimination formats, you never know what might happen.  Did I know we had a very good team? Yes, but it all would depend on how each player bought into our systems and their roles on this team.  The guys did a great job of buying and accepting roles.  Every single player stepped up, and that is why we had such great success.

PDI: At what point during the season did you think the championship might very well be possible?

AR: I was nervous because we had a lot of talent, and we were just beating teams based on skill level. Did I feel like we were always playing as a team? No. I think it was Valentine’s Day, to be honest. We lost back-to-back games in Dallas, and I saw some kinks in that big shield that we had. We had an hour meeting after that second game, and I think the turning point in our season was that everyone really absorbed what we talked about that night, and really bought into it. Our goalie walked out of the locker room, went out to all the parents who were waiting, and he said “we’re not losing another game all year.” We went out the next day and just dominated, came home and swept state, swept districts, and swept nationals. I could just feel the team building after that game in Dallas. You look for turning points in your season. Sometimes they’re early, sometimes they’re late. This one happened to be on Valentine’s Day, and I think it really brought our team together.

 

PDI: What advice to you have for the young player that wants to have the same success that you’ve had?

AR: For any sport, or even profession, if you have passion for what you do, and you’re willing to work…success is hard. I have a motto on my phone that I look at every day: “Success is an all-the-time thing.” In order to attain that, you have to work hard for things. Whatever you do, you just have to really love it.

PDI: What does the future look like for the Thunderbirds? Do you see more championship runs coming?

AR: We all have a goal to get to nationals. I don’t think we ever go in saying “we’re GOING to win it.” We let the teams set their own goals – individual, team, short-term, long term. All those things really come in to play. Our expectations are to have success every year. Both on and off the ice, and with the development of the kids. I think when you have individual success, that helps your team have success. And the more team success you have, the more individuals get recognized. And when that happens, you have the ability to win championships. Do we want to win every year? You bet. But, you know what? We’ve had plenty of successful years and not won a championship. Our goal is to move these kids and develop these kids, and that’s the bottom line.

PDI would like to extend a special thanks to Angelo Ricci for taking the time to answer our questions!

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