Longform

Power Ploys

Page 6 of 9

Volcan was no Coffey, but he was a fairly skilled passer and skater. In three seasons with the Whalers, and one with the Calgary Flames, he played in 162 games, scoring 41 points on eight goals and 33 assists. But most of all, Volcan took pride in his ability to inflict damage on bigger men.

"One of the compliments I took came from Mark Messier when I was 18 with the Whalers," he says. "He told the guys on his team, 'Watch Mickey Volcan, 'cause he'll hit you in open ice.' I had very good timing and anticipation. I didn't care who you were, if you had your head down and I had a chance to put you in the third row, I would do it.

"I caught Wayne Gretzky that night. Granted, I had to fight three guys on his team right after that. But Wayne to this day will remember that check. He fell flat on his ass."

After four seasons in the NHL, Volcan's playing career started to peter out. He drifted through the minor league ranks, played for a while in Vienna, Austria, and was a part of the 1990 Goodwill Games in Seattle. Later that year, the Los Angeles Kings signed him to a minor league contract. This was Volcan's last shot at making it back to the big time.

His minor league assignment was with the now-defunct Phoenix Roadrunners. Volcan never got called up by the Kings, but he was smitten with the Valley. He ended up staying -- teaching skating classes, lecturing kids about drugs and gangs, and rounding out his playing career with the Mustangs.

Volcan receives no pay for coaching at ASU, so he makes a living teaching power-skating every morning at the Cellular One Ice Den in Scottsdale. For the past several months, he's worked a grueling schedule -- he teaches skating from 5:30 to 9 a.m., spends a couple hours working out, then attends to his ASU hockey duties until about 5:30 in the afternoon.

Volcan quickly established a ferocity level with his team that took many players aback. He wanted his players to push themselves, and he didn't mind yelling at them to get his point across.

While players concede that Volcan was more knowledgeable about hockey systems than Hammett, some believe that he wasn't so adept at communicating his knowledge to the team.

"He couldn't put the chemistry together," Matt Barclay says of Volcan. "One of the players on the team said it perfectly: 'You can't do that unless you really know the players, and he really didn't know us.'"

Nonetheless, Volcan's brand of tough love seemed to be effective in the first half of the season. Playing a rugged schedule -- with 15 of 25 games against Top 10 teams -- ASU built up an impressive early mark of 11 wins, 2 losses and 2 ties. At Minot State last November, it pulled off an amazing comeback, overcoming a 4-1 deficit with 90 seconds left in the game to send the game into overtime, finally winning 5-4. Volcan calls it one of the most memorable games he's ever seen.

But in mid-January of this year, almost immediately after Gagleard withdrew his financial support, the Ice Devils began to cave in. It didn't help that one of the team's best players, center Austin Messer, had to quit when he flunked out after the fall semester.

On January 12, four days after Gagleard's announcement, the Ice Devils dropped a 7-3 decision to Penn State. Beginning with that game, the team lost six of its next 10 contests, winning only three, and tying one.

Gagleard caused similar upheaval this season with the Phoenix Mustangs, abruptly pulling out as an owner of the team. "He did it to the Mustangs, too, so I don't take it personally," Volcan says with a laugh. (A Mustangs spokesman confirms that Gagleard severed his ties with the team, but refuses to elaborate on the situation.)

Gagleard did not respond to New Times' repeated requests for an interview, but Volcan says the Scottsdale businessman should not be criticized for his decision. Volcan says the Ice Devils mistakenly assumed that Gagleard would take care of everything, and that the team didn't have to raise money from outside sources. He says Gagleard had never expected to sink so much of his own cash into the venture.

A by-product of Gagleard's withdrawal was that the team lost its assigned practice time at Veterans' Memorial Coliseum, which Gagleard had paid for. The team had to practice an hour earlier every day, which conflicted with classes for some players. At some practices in the second half of the season, Volcan had only half the players attending.

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Gilbert Garcia
Contact: Gilbert Garcia