Why Playing Experience Matters in Coaching

While playing hockey at high levels doesn’t mean you will make a great coach, it certainly is an invaluable prerequisite. Some say that’s not true, and that coaching has nothing to do with having played hockey and everything to do with being able to mentor, teach and implement a system. These same people point to the failures of hockey’s greatest player, Wayne Gretzky, during his tenure behind the bench with the Phoenix Coyotes and say: “See! He couldn’t do it and he’s the greatest player ever.” They also point to accomplished coaches like Ken Hitchcock and say: “Hitchcock never played beyond minor hockey and look at what he’s done.” Looking at these two scenarios, it is true that great players don’t always translate into great coaches. For someone like Gretzky, who was so naturally talented, it may be difficult to explain to others how to become great. It may also be difficult for someone of Gretzky’s ilk to relate to a player who is an up-and-down role player, having never really experienced any adversity in their career as a player. And looking at Hitchcock, sometimes brilliant students of the game are able to expand that knowledge and transfer it into coaching and leading others. One of the main duties of a coach in hockey is to create and maintain a strong culture. A major component to creating a strong culture is trust and respect. In the simplest form, this translates into: “Do you trust this person to lead you and Continue Reading →

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Beauty Buckets from the Last 40 Years in Hockey

 1.  The Gretzky Jofa      Wayne Gretzky could have worn a pompadour and it would have been cool. That being said, despite being no more protective than a baseball cap, the Jofa 235 is a classic. It’s like the Hell’s Angels bowl helmet of hockey.     2.  Goring’s Diaper   I had a teacher once that used to wear this helmet out to pick up hockey. I offered him everything from cash to indentured servitude, to no avail. The Cooper SK-10 is definitely a cult classic.     3.  Moose’s Winwell      Very similar to “The Beetle”, Mark Messier made this Winwell Model a hit. When you have a hookup list that may or may not include Madonna and Tyra Banks, you can wear whatever the hell you want.      4.  The XL7           The Cooper XL7, worn here by Mario Lemieux during his QMJHL days, was a big hit when I was a kid starting out in hockey. My early childhood hero, Cru Jones from the BMX cult classic movie “Rad”, rocked it magnificently on Helltrack. This is just one of many upcoming instances where cool movie characters wear hockey helmets.     5.  The Johnny Upton Special     “Johnny always says, ‘you can only drink so much and screw so much…” Fictional Charlestown Chiefs’ captain Johnny Upton from the movie Slapshot sports a Lange helmet, also worn by a few NHLers during the late 70s. “Chrysler plant, here I come…”     Continue Reading →

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5 Reasons Why Kids Lose Interest in Hockey

Being in a position to work in player development has allowed me to focus on what’s best for a particular player at a specific time. In this role, I often get questioned by parents about my thoughts on development. Here is a common one: My kid doesn’t seem as interested in hockey anymore. What can I do to increase their engagement? To answer this question, you have to take inventory. Ask yourself the following questions:   1)  Are they playing too much hockey? With everyone and their dog running clinics, schools and camps all year long, sometimes it’s important to step back and realize that sometimes less is more. Desire and passion can often be negatively affected by burnout. Don’t become wrapped up in keeping up with the Joneses. I often see kids in the sessions that I run that are ragged, tired and going through the motions, while their parents shell out thousands of dollars thinking that the more their kid is on the ice, the better they will become. This is one of the biggest reasons that kids lose interest in sports, today.     2)  Are they playing at the right level? Kids develop at different stages, both mentally and physically. Some kids reach their peaks earlier than others. This doesn’t mean that Sammy Superstar at 10-years-old is going to still be Sammy Superstar at 18-years-old. Understanding that kids develop at different stages allows parents to take a step back, assess what level their kid will have the Continue Reading →

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5 Ways the “Moneyball” Approach Benefits NHL Teams

“Moneyball”, a 2003 book by Michael Lewis about the Oakland Athletics and their sabermetric approach to success in major league baseball, produced a new way of thinking in all sports. Athletics GM, Billy Beane, was looking for a way to do more with less. Hamstringed by a small budget in disparity-rich major league baseball, Beane needed to devise a system to essentially, cheat the system. Analytics became the backbone of his approach and the results have been astounding. Here are 5 ways Beane’s approach to success can benefit NHL franchises:   Analytics  Both baseball and hockey produce statistics. While baseball is much more conducive to advanced statistics, considering it is a sport based upon isolated events (pitcher vs. batter), hockey is slowly adopting more analytical approaches to measuring effectiveness in isolated situations (ie. Corsi Rating and Fenwick). Remember, before the creation of Rotisserie League Baseball by author/editor, Daniel Okrent, baseball didn’t have statistics like WHIP (Walks plus Hits per Inning Pitched). And, everyone thought sabermetrician guru Bill James was crazy for looking at ways of combining traditional statistics with emerging statistics to produce efficiency ratings and values, such as: Secondary Average: [(Total Bases - Hits) + Walks + Stolen Bases] / At bats—which attempts to measure a player’s contribution to an offense in ways not reflected in batting average. Finding ways to analyze players in isolated in-game situations can go a long way to determining value. Does Player A seem more valuable than he really is because he is playing Continue Reading →

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5 Regrets of a Failed Pro Athlete

There comes a time in every former athlete’s life when he or she evaluates what went wrong and what could have been handled better. What could I have done to change my fate? Why didn’t I make it, while many others around me did? My moment of clarity happened when I began coaching. It’s like that rebellious teenager who grows up to become a parent of a rebellious teenager. There’s a moment where you shake your head and think: “If only I knew back then what I know now.” Below are the 5 biggest regrets of my hockey career:   1.  Self-Belief One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t have a strong sense of self-worth. Likely, it had to do with the fact that I was born in December and that I was a late-bloomer (I grew 10 inches in grade 11). When you’re always a year younger and a foot shorter than everyone you’re playing with and against, it’s pretty easy to develop a complex. On top of that, I grew up in the era of every coach trying to emulate Bear Bryant and Mike Keenan. It was the 90s, the era of the tough guy. The rules of hockey weren’t what they are now and the game didn’t favour a player of my size and strengths (or lack thereof). Coaches were gruff and compliments were few and far between. If you couldn’t build confidence off of your own accomplishments (if you had any to boast about) Continue Reading →

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The Time is Right for a Major Junior Hockey Players Union

Two years ago when the notion of unionizing major junior hockey in North America was introduced, the majority of the public shook their heads and laughed. Public perception was that these are amateur hockey players who get everything handed to them on a silver platter. Why would these kids need a union? The initial launch of the CHLPA, although mired in controversy and ultimately unsuccessful, did one particular thing. It started the conversation about whether or not players are actually employees and whether or not they are being exploited. If you ask Canadian Hockey League (CHL) President, David Branch, major junior players are “Student-Athletes” (hahaha, more on that one later) who are amateur athletes that receive stipends and educational support. Given that major junior athletes are amateur players, there is no legal requirement or precedence for them to be unionized. The NCAA (major junior’s major competition for prime grade beef) stipulates major junior as an organization employing professional athletes according to legislated Bylaw and thus, deems any player who signs a major junior standard contract and competes in major junior competition as in violation of amateurism. This is where the war over 16-year-old kids begins between the CHL and the NCAA and why the birth of “School Boy” packages in the CHL was needed to maintain an edge in recruitment battles. So, if we make the assumption that major junior hockey players do qualify as employees under North American labour laws, is a players union justifiable? In order to Continue Reading →

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NHL Draft: Why Smart Money is on Using Late Picks on NCAA Players

Generally, players taken in the last two rounds of the NHL Draft are long-shots to ever play in the NHL. More often than not, these players shuttle around the bus leagues for a few years before moving on to the “regular” workforce, if they even play beyond the amateur levels. The odd time, players emerge from the late rounds to become serviceable, contributing NHL regulars (a la Grant Clitsome: Drafted 271st overall in 2004) or even NHL stars (Ever head of a guy named Pavel Datsyuk? Drafted 171st overall in 1998). With the odd exceptions in mind, is there a way for NHL teams to get an edge when selecting players in the later rounds? My opinion might be a bit biased, but I believe there is a smart formula for selecting players deep into the draft. Grapes likely won’t agree with this, but my belief is that teams should primarily look at picking current NCAA or NCAA-bound players (which would be NCAA players who have just completed their freshman season or players who are committed to NCAA programs for the following season). The most obvious advantage to selecting an NCAA player is outlined in the NHL rules governing prospect rights. When selecting a major junior player, NHL teams have a two-year window to get the prospect under contract before potentially losing their rights to free agency. NCAA players, or players bound for NCAA programs, offer a longer rights retention period. If an NHL team selects an 18-year-old Boston College commit, Continue Reading →

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NHL Combine Scores: The Most Overrated Stat in Hockey

Much ado has recently been made over top-rated NHL prospect Sam Bennett (OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs star forward) and his failure to complete a chin-up at the 2014 NHL Draft Combine. Some people shake their head and say: “Oh, he’s not going to be able to play in the NHL. Too weak. You gotta be big and strong to play with the big boys.” I’ve also heard: “What an embarrassment. The kid is so cocky he doesn’t even train. I wouldn’t want a lazy kid with no drive on my team.” Does Bennett deserve the criticism for failing to do a chin-up? The answer is an emphatic NO. There are two main reasons why Sam Bennett not being able to a chin-up should have no effect whatsoever on what slot he gets drafted in and the rest of his career: 1.  The Potential for Improvement A 17-year-old kid who dominated one of the best junior leagues in the world that can’t perform a single chin-up, should actually make NHL GM’s eyes light up. Unlike a player like Aaron Ekblad, who already looks like a 40-year-old, grizzled vet and probably doesn’t need to bring his I.D. to the liquor store, Bennett presents an immense raw talent that has the potential to get that much better (from a physical standpoint). As strong as Bennett already is on the puck and the mean streak and edge he already plays with, just think about how much more of a force he’ll be when he physically matures. Continue Reading →

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5 Reasons For Crosby’s Lack of Production vs. Rangers

Sidney Crosby is one of those players (The really, really good ones) that you either love or hate. Gretzky was the same way and so was Mario Lemieux. Critics of the Penguins superstar call him a “whiner” and “crybaby” for his actions when things don’t go his way. For players like Crosby, Gretzky and Lemieux, most of the criticism is fuelled by jealousy. One of my friends hates Crosby because “he is always whining to the refs and retaliates when he gets hit.” This coming from a guy who used to rack up 100 minutes in unsportsmanlike penalties a year. Hmmm… When you hate someone with such rage, nothing cuts deeper than when everything goes their way. For Crosby haters, there has been a lot to bang their head against the wall about. A Stanley Cup, 2 Olympic gold medals, trophies, trophies and more trophies! But, when the Pittsburgh Penguins were ousted from the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs by the New York Rangers—a series in which Crosby only registered 3 points in 7 games—haters had something to celebrate. Crybaby Crosby lost and a big case can be made to paint him as the scapegoat. A game 7 loss to the Rangers isn’t that big of a shock—the Rangers are a damn good team—it’s Crosby’s performance, or lack thereof. This season’s Art Ross Trophy winner and favorite to win the Hart Trophy just wasn’t himself. Below are 5 things that explain Crosby’s lack of offensive production vs. the Rangers.   1. Continue Reading →

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2014 NHL Draft: Who’s No. 1?

Although the weather isn’t necessarily suggesting it, June 27th is approaching quickly, which means the debate over who will go first overall in the 2014 NHL Draft is beginning to heat up. In my opinion, there are only three names that are seriously in contention at this point: Aaron Ekblad (D, Barrie Colts, OHL), Sam Reinhart (F, Kootnay Ice, WHL) and Sam Bennett (F, Kingston Frontenacs, OHL). Nothing against Oshawa’s Michael Dal Colle, Prince Albert’s Leon Draisaitl, or Peterborough’s Nick Ritchie, but I believe Ekblad, Reinhart and Bennett are the cream of the crop for this year’s draft. Before I get into who I’d pick and why, I want to say that I’m not a big fan of the 18-year-old draft. I won’t get into specific detail as I’ve already stated my case in a previous article titled: “Why the NHL Draft Age Should Be 20”. With that out of the way, I’ll begin my assessment. Below is my assessment of the Top Three 2014 NHL Draft prospects: Aaron Ekblad, D, Barrie Colts (OHL) 6’4, 216 lbs, Born: February 7, 1996 Statistics:       Regular Season       Playoffs       Season Team Lge GP G A Pts PIM +/- GP G A Pts PIM 2011-12 Barrie Colts OHL 63 10 19 29 34 -5 13 2 3 5 6 2012-13 Barrie Colts OHL 54 7 27 34 64 29 22 7 10 17 28 2013-14 Barrie Colts OHL 58 23 30 53 91 7     Continue Reading →

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