A Learning Experience
For much of Joe Schiller's hockey career -- from mites to his USHL days -- he was the go-to player on the ice.
That changed dramatically for the Detroit Lakes graduate and the school's all-time leading scorer when he started playing for the Minnesota State University Mankato men's hockey team.
As for most players who suit up for a team in the WCHA -- Division I hockey's premier conference -- the sudden splash of reality hits that they are not the elite player on the ice anymore.
But it's how that player reacts and learns which sets them apart from being mediocre to being a prime player for the team.
For Schiller that cold splash came in the form of the bench and playing time -- or a lack there of.
But it was how Schiller has matured and learned that hard work is the main ingredient to being a contributor.
It was a strenuous journey for the Laker all-time leading scorer, but he is now on the right track to becoming an asset for the Mavericks.
Learning how to change
The sophomore Maverick had to endure long stretches of bench time his freshman season and then had to make a drastic change at the start of this season, changing his normal position of center to defense.
"The last time I played defense was probably when I was 10 years old," Schiller said of the change. "The (MSUM) coaches said with my skill set, I maybe best suited to play defense.
"Honestly, I didn't know what to expect, it was definitely a different place on the ice and it was a little uncomfortable."
Schiller started seeing more ice time as a defenseman, but the transition was a tough one.
"I think I was a step slower, I was thinking too much, more than reacting," Schiller added. "The coaches were not expecting me to go out there and crush people, so I didn't have to change my game too much."
But Schiller accepted his new role, especially if it was for the betterment of the team.
His presence on defense led to a power play shift role, as well.
Instead of basically having four forwards and a defenseman on the ice, the Mavericks were essentially able to employ five forwards, with Schiller on defense.
And it was his defensive position where he scored his first goal on the Division I level.
It came against the top-ranked Denver Pioneers on Halloween Night, as Schiller put in the first goal of the game, which ultimately ended in a 4-4 tie.
"We were coming off a close 4-3 loss to Denver the night before and getting that first goal of the game felt really good," Schiller recalled. "At defense, the assists came easier, but hopefully the goals start coming easier too now."
Getting back to the
As the season wore on, Schiller's playing time decreased on defense.
It obviously was a disappointment for Schiller, who was used to playing, as well as coming off a freshman season where he played in just 18 games.
"I was used to competing at a certain level and being successful at it," he said.
He played the first six of nine games on defense, then the minutes went down.
"It's tough, because players on this level never like being a healthy scratch," Schiller said. "There was a stretch there, where I was just kind of going through the motions.
"That's when I had to take a step back and look at my game. It was a great learning experience."
Schiller was determined to earn his way back into the lineup and after a talk with an assistant coach, it reinforced he was going to have to change his work habits.
"I had a conversation with one of the assistant coaches and that really opened my eyes," Schiller said. "It all started with my practice habits. So I just went out and battled hard in practice."
After displaying his grit and determination in practice, Schiller started to get noticed by the coaching staff.
He started seeing more shifts the last month of the WCHA season and started contributing more, as evident by his two assists in the Maverick's playoff series against St. Cloud State University.
Although Mankato lost two heartbreaking games to the Huskies to essentially end their season, it was a sort of coming out party for Schiller, who saw extensive playing time in the final three playoff games.
"The last three to four weeks, I started playing more and found my role," Schiller said. "It was actually a great learning experience this season, because now I know what it takes and I know how it feels to go through the process of working your way back into the lineup.
"It's made me more focused."
Schiller has plenty of goals to fulfill yet during his time in Mankato.
One is to expand on his contributions, after scoring one goal and having five assists in his first two years.
Second, which will compound the first, is to earn more playing time his junior season.
"I hope to earn a solid spot in the lineup and hopefully I have earned the trust of the coaches," Schiller said. "I like it here, I like the school and the coaching staff, even if it was a tough season.
"But I know a lot of it will be up to me."