Some people received new skates or a new pair of headphones for Christmas.
The Willmar WarHawks got a new coach.
Mike Bowman was tabbed as the WarHawks' new bench boss on Christmas Eve, becoming their second full-time head coach in as many years. He likes what he's seen so far.
"Usually when you're a head coach taking over mid-season you need to make big changes. That's not the case here," Bowman said of the WarHawks, which enter Saturday's game at Alexandria with a 15-10-2 record and sit just four points behind West Division leader Granite City.
"This is a very rare situation," he said. "It changes how we look at things for sure. These guys are in a good spot so it's all a balancing act. There's not going to be a lot of sweeping changes. It's a credit to the work these guys have already put in. We'll make a few tweaks when needed but we'll try to pick up where the interim coach (Steve Yurichuk) left off."
The 39-year-old Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania native comes to the WarHawks with 19 years of coaching experience at a variety of levels. Most recently, Bowman was the head coach of the Phoenix Knights of the Western States Hockey League (WSHL). He also spent time with the Casper Coyotes of the WSHL and has won Pennsylvania state championships at the youth level with the Mid-State Mustangs.
Bowman has also worked as a coach at the collegiate level, a spot that many players on the WarHawks and other junior hockey players would like to end up. A graduate of Penn State University, Altoona, Bowman followed his graduation by taking over as Program Director and Head Men's Hockey Coach at his alma mater.
Bowman's first practice with the WarHawks began with challenges after the practice time was pushed back to accommodate players returning from holiday break. A number of players had flights delayed and were stuck in traffic on their way back to Willmar.
"It's tough because we only have two practices then we have a pair of games this weekend," Bowman said. "Every other team is in the same situation but they didn't change coaches. That can work to our advantage, too, though. Alexandria has no idea what to expect from us this weekend because they don't know me, they don't know how I coach."
Bowman is steadfast in his brand of hockey, a self-described aggressive style that looks to overwhelm opponents with speed and cerebral play.
"When I say aggressive, I don't necessarily mean rough, but quick," Bowman said. "We want to keep their defense on their heels and spend very little time in our zone. If that means a play doesn't look pretty that's OK, but I just want to get the puck out and get into their zone."
Over the next few months Bowman wants to establish a scouting network for recruiting players and he wants to bring in an assistant coach for next season. But the key right now is to learn about his own players.
"There's been a lot of information, a lot to absorb," Bowman said. "It's a lot all at once but it's an exciting time. At the NHL level, there's so much information about all the players and teams so when a coach comes in he knows what he has. At this level it's tough to know each player's skills and weaknesses. So my big job right now is to figure out everyone's' roles and how they fit into the team, as well as the big picture. We have some really talented players here that can help the team a lot. We just need to squeeze the orange a bit more and get some more juice."