The lure of stardom on the big screen isn’t the only thing drawing people to Los Angeles these days. Hockey has become another hot ticket for those in the City of Angels.
The Kings Stanley Cup victory capped a 45-year quest for the franchise that brought professional hockey to the west coast in 1967. The recent success of the professional team has certainly done plenty to drum up interest, but hockey in LA has been a growing trend for many years prior to last year’s Cup championship. Vic Venasky can attest to that.
Venasky, a former King, settled in Los Angeles after his playing career and is now manning the bench in the ACHA for Loyola Marymount (DII). Venasky played 12 professional seasons – six with the Kings – and appeared in 430 NHL games. His career spanned from 1972 until 1980 and even included an appearance in a Hollywood production.
Venasky and his current assistant coach and longtime friend, Mike Kelly, were recruited to film hockey scenes for the 1986 film Touch and Go. As is the case in Hollywood, Venasky’s scenes ended up on the cutting room floor.
“They did about a week of filming hockey for it and I don’t think they even had a minute of hockey in the movie,” he said. “It was still pretty fun being in it.”
Venasky noted that Kelly has been attempting to find ways to get the LMU squad featured in hockey filming when it’s needed, but that the show business side of Hollywood isn’t his forte. What Venasky has been successful in instilling is a fast-paced, hardworking attitude with his players.
“When I first met with the team I told them that I wanted to play a real up-tempo type of game,” Venasky said. “When I saw that first team skate, I thought the team looked very quick. I knew that they would fit well into that high tempo game I wanted to use.”
Venasky’s style of play has benefitted the Lions as they currently sport an 8-3-1 record and didn’t drop their first game until a full month into the regular season. While playing at a high tempo is key to Venasky’s game plan, he also preaches a very basic approach to the game. Like his peers and those NHL players to come after him, Venasky expounded upon the need to take things one game at a time.
“The players all really respect him and he has brought a whole new energy to the team,” LMU General Manager Tyler Goeckner-Zoeller said. “Not only with his style but his expectations for the players. It is almost the same effect that Darryl Sutter had on the Kings; he expects you to be ready to play every night.”
While Venasky has effectively instituted an effective playing system and attitude, he has done it without pointing to his history in the NHL.
“Vic is a quiet guy,” Goeckner-Zoeller said. “He isn’t a guy who walks in the locker room talking about what he did. The players are picking up more from just being around him. The players know that he played at a very high level of hockey and know he was a good college player. But he certainly isn’t coming in to toot his own horn.”
Venasky’s low-key personality is evident, however his effectiveness as a coach is as well. A coach at various levels of minor hockey in the LA area for over 20 years, Venasky not only has a strong grasp on the game, but a strong relationship with players from the region. In fact, Venasky had a year of ACHA coaching experience (UCLA DII) before joining LMU.
His history as an amateur coach was a major determining factor for the LMU staff as they worked to fill their opening this past offseason. As Goeckner-Zoeller noted, managing to hire a well-respected coach with an NHL pedigree was an added bonus.
“We’ve been evolving since we started playing in the ACHA in 2006,” Goeckner-Zoeller said. “Taking this step with a coach with so much hockey knowledge and a great resume has helped with what has become our most talented team to date.”
With that talent has come an impressive start to the 2012-13 season and the chance to make waves on the national level. However, while Venasky acknowledges that the post-season is where the team hopes to be, he indicates that they will not operate on that basis.
“Sure, [the playoffs] is our goal. That is the light at the end of the tunnel,” Venasky said. “But to get there you need to win your games and that is why we are taking things just one game at a time.”
With the on and off-ice success being enjoyed at LMU, it won’t be long until the Lions are able to capitalize on the rich hockey fanbase throughout southern California.