The big white board hanging in Phil Oberlin’s office is filled with prospects, but also maybes.
The new Yellowstone Quake junior hockey coach has probably spent thousands of minutes on the phone recruiting potential players for the 2018-19 season. However, as usual at this time of year, there is no fixed roster.
One player a lock to return from last year’s Quake club is Jack Harris, a Cody High School student, but there are 30 or 40 other names in the mix too.
Many other 2017-18 Quake players still have eligibility for the 20-and-under North American Tier III Hockey League, but are seeking to move up in classification.
Oberlin, 33, who also has the title of Quake general manager, spent the last seven seasons as coach of the Ohio University American Collegiate Hockey Association’s Division II team. That is a non-scholarship, non-varsity level of play.
Under Oberlin, Ohio U., his alma mater, qualified for the national tournament in 2016-17. He served as an assistant coach for an ACHA select team that competed in Europe and won a silver medal in the World Cup of College Hockey.
Oberlin replaces Ryan Theros, who led the Quake to the Silver Cup national championships three straight years. Oberlin wants to build on that recent Quake success.
“Obviously, the last three years they’ve done a fabulous job,” Oberlin said.
Oberlin grew up in Athens, Ohio, home of Ohio U., where his father was a swim coach and his mother a professor. He started skating when he was three.
After first visiting Cody at the tail end of the Quake’s season, Oberlin returned for the annual team fundraising golf tournament this month. He’s found a place to live and is taking a couple of tourism days in Yellowstone National Park, as well as taking in the Cody Nite Rodeo and the like with his fiance Helen before moving his stuff.
Oberlin will be back to stay July 26 and plans on opening training camp around Aug. 20. The league has not yet announced a schedule, but play is likely to begin the second or third week in September.
Much like last season when higher leagues were still scouting players and maintaining larger rosters early in their seasons, the Quake may not be able to finalize its roster until after cuts are made a few games into its own schedule.
Some Quake players from last year have aged out or are going to college, such as Mason Stewart, Cole Stewart and Meeteetse’s Carter Johnson. Johnson’s younger brother Kirwin may be a candidate to play for the Quake once the Longhorns’ football season ends.
After his seven years at the helm of the Ohio U. team, Oberlin was in the market to move on. He felt, “I’ve got to take the next step.”
His main connection to Cody was one-time coach Sean Hogan, who recommended the city and the team. Hogan is head coach of Ohio U.’s Division I team.
It is clear to Oberlin that he is joining “a program that the community cares about.”
Timed with Oberlin’s visit, the Quake announced his assistant coach will be Zack Tuchklaper, who played for the team between 2010 and 2012.
Tuchklaper, who is from Walled Lake, Mich., played college hockey at Oakland University in Michigan.
Also, former Quake assistant Greg Sears is the new coach of the Great Falls Americans, the main Yellowstone rival the last three seasons. Elliot Bates, another former Quake assistant, is the new coach of the Bozeman Icedogs.
While Oberlin would not mind having several more Quake players back from last season, he won’t begrudge any of them moving on to play at higher levels because that is the root of junior hockey.
“It’s about player development and promotion,” Oberlin said.