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Tumultuous takeover

Honor, pride, integrity and discipline. "The Code" was built on those principals. Jeff Gunderson lives by that code. Many of his players don't. The consequences have been catastrophic.

Honor, pride, integrity and discipline. "The Code" was built on those principals. Jeff Gunderson lives by that code. Many of his players don't. The consequences have been catastrophic.
"It's been tough to look in the mirror and hold our heads up," said Gunderson, the first-year head coach of the 2-19-1 Proctor Rails hockey team. "But we've tried to hold true to our rules. Maybe it's hurt us a little bit, but we've tried to hold our kids to a higher level of conduct."
On the heels of what Gunderson described as "lawlessness," the new coaching staff's approach hasn't been greeted with much enthusiasm by many of the team's veteran players. Two have left the squad, one was dismissed, and the remainder of the group has, at times, looked more determined to live in anarchy than to play competitive hockey.
"The kids coming up know what I'm about," said Gunderson. "But I don't know if any of these (veteran) kids think I know what I'm talking about."
The attitude has ripped the Rails apart from the inside, pitting the team's underclassmen against some of the remaining veterans. Gunderson said that privately many of the underclassmen have promised him that things will be different in the future, but for now he says they are too intimidated to confront their older teammates. The resulting standoff, combined with a numbers shortage at the varsity hockey level, has turned the season into a forgettable one for Proctor.
"The positive all year has been that our boys will always keep fighting," Gunderson said. "But the negative has been discipline. We do stupid stuff."
One side of Proctor's discipline problem was on display Monday when the Rails took five third-period penalties while trailing 3-1 to Virginia. "You can't mount a comeback from the penalty box," said Gunderson. "And six of our eight penalties were taken by seniors."
The Rails went on to lose 4-1.
"We're mentally weak right now," Gunderson said.
The team's off-ice antics have also come under assault. There have been repeated attendance violations, both in class and at practice, multiple complaints about locker room uncleanliness and a few substance abuse squabbles as well.
At times, Gunderson has felt more like a baby-sitter than a coach.
"They've always had someone to do it for them," he said.
Now, however, they don't, and the implosion has been messy.
"It's been, 'drink hard-play hard' here," Gunderson said. "But it's hard to be a good hockey player and be the biggest party animal. And there's so much complacency here right now, because there's no one to take their spots. There's no one pushing them."
But Gunderson believes that a change is coming. The parents and the youth hockey programs have been openly supportive of the new regime, and the numbers are actually on the rise in the program's younger ranks, which has the rookie head coach dreaming about brighter days. His vision for the future is promising.
"I think the kids will know that there are no excuses and that the standard has been raised," he said. "We're trying to build a program, and there's only one place to go from here."
Presumably that's up and not crazy for Gunderson.
"I'm going to give it my best shot," he said. "It's been a dream of mine to be a head coach. But it's also tough to be the captain of a sinking ship."
Luckily for him, he believes that calmer seas are on the horizon.

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