How the Industrialization of Hockey Changed Coaching for the Better

#103206241 / Before the days of player’s associations, agents, major endorsement deals, multi-million dollar contracts, multi-YEAR contracts, and television deals, sports was a recreational endeavour with a growing entertainment value. Professional players made a bit of money, but had to work another job in the off-season to provide for their families. Back in the days when Maurice Richard and Gordie Howe captured the hearts of hockey fans, kids dreamed of playing in the NHL, but it wasn’t the end-all, be-all. A youngster from the ‘50s and ‘60’s might have said to his dad, “One day I am going to play for the Montreal Canadiens and win the Stanley Cup.” His dad would playfully tussle his hair and then say, “This is great, Timmy. I know you will make me proud. And when you are done, you will join me in the mills and mines to provide for your family.” A hockey career in the NHL didn’t come with a guaranteed financial security blanket the way that it does today. Also, players didn’t yield the power that they do today. If you weren’t happy with your contract in 1956, you didn’t have any leverage. You couldn’t threaten to leave and sign in the KHL or wait to hit the open market. Owners, management and coaches held all the power and players had to shut their mouths and do as they were told. When Ted Lindsay and Doug Harvey first formed a player’s union in 1957 and Alan Eagleson took it Continue Reading →

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The All-Time Hockey Movie All-Star Team

Although there haven’t been a lot of movies made about hockey (At least not that many good ones), there have been some great movies and some endearing and memorable characters.  All-time beauty Paul Newman was once quoted as saying that filming Slap Shot was his favorite experience as an actor and that the character of Reggie Dunlop was the closest he ever got to portraying his true self onscreen. Now, with several classic fictional hockey movies made over the years—Slapshot, Youngblood, Mighty Ducks 1 & 2, and Mystery Alaska—chief among them, we’ve been exposed to a wide range of interesting characters.  From Reggie Dunlop to Fulton Reed, there is a deep talent pool to choose from.  If you had to pick only two all-star teams of all the great on-screen hockey beauties, who would you choose? Here are my picks:   First Team All-Stars   Goalie:   Denis Lemieux (Slap Shot) The fiery Quebecer was a natural born competitor with equal parts talent and eccentricity.  I always said about goalies, “Never trust a goalie who isn’t at least a little bit weird.”  Denis had quirkiness in spades and faced more rubber than anyone in the Federal League.     Defense:   Billy Charlebois (Slap Shot) Hailing from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Charlesbois was a steady defender who played sound, mistake-free hockey.  Every team needs these types of players who can log huge minutes and play against the other team’s top lines.  Charlesbois’ movie star good looks also helped foster team camaraderie Continue Reading →

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Hockey Sense Can Be Taught

  #125140733 /   Most will agree that the best hockey players in the history of the game were special because of the way they thought the game two steps ahead of everyone else.  They had incredible “hockey sense” and this set them apart from the rest of the pack.  We can all agree that this is a very important part of hockey, so why don’t we spend more time trying to hone this skill? Ever since I was young, I’ve always heard the saying: “You can’t teach hockey sense.” I never questioned this because it was coming from coaches, scouts and GMs—hockey authority people.  Why challenge it?  It has to be true.  Right? I believe it is true that there are certain players who have an insanely high level of mental acuity when it comes to the game of hockey.  When you think of the term hockey sense, Wayne Gretzky immediately jumps to mind.  He was an innovator and a player who used his strong mental talents to elevate his game to an ungodly level.  And just like exceptional talents in any field—sports, arts, science or business—it begins with confidence and fearlessness. For me, saying that you either have it, or you don’t is a myth.  I believe hockey sense can be taught, and I believe that the perception that we can’t is built upon laziness and fear of the unknown.  The first step to opening the mind is to break down barriers, toss out myths and unleash Continue Reading →

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Is Fighting Losing its Place in Hockey?

#77195081 / On the back of recent trends of NHL teams opting not to employ fourth line enforcers, the debate about whether fighting serves a purpose in today’s game reaches new heights. With many teams opting to dress more serviceable fourth line players, it appears that the days of the gunslinger in hockey may be coming to an end. I’m not talking about complete extinction, but it seems there is no longer much use for the 4-minute-a-night face-puncher in the new, evolving game of hockey. This article has been a particularly tough one for me based on the fact that I grew up in the game of hockey during the heyday of the celebrated goon. I grew up bobbing and weaving while watching Stu “The Grim Reaper” Grimson, Donald Brashear, and Tony Twist run amok. These were true enforcers, in every sense of the word. I watched Don Cherry’s Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em religiously and I wasn’t one of the “Teetotalers” who went away at the end when the fights came on. I loved watching hockey fights and I still do. Having been baptized into hockey during the era of the hired gun, it took me a lot of years to be able to remove myself from the culture and really examine fighting in hockey for what it is. As a former minor leaguer, I had a few scraps. I wasn’t great at it, but it was something that I had to do to ensure I had a place Continue Reading →

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6 Tips for a Better Healthy Scratch Experience

There is no nice way to put it, being a healthy scratch sucks. Getting the tap from the coach after pregame skate to tell you that you won’t be in the lineup is like getting kicked in the balls. Walking into the room the day before a game and seeing your name penciled in on the “Donut Line” (wingers with no center) or trying to jump into drills in practice as the seventh defenceman, is even worse. The worst part about it is that you still have to show up, put on a brave smile and pretend that you’re happy to be there, doing whatever you can to help the team. The first time I experienced the “kick in the balls” was in the NCAA. It was a Friday morning, right after a drill during the pre-game skate. Coach pulled me aside and said, “Kid, you aren’t going tonight. Keep your head up and work hard and we’ll try to get you back in there tomorrow.” It was a brutal feeling. Part of me wanted to smash my stick into a million pieces and part of me wanted to grovel at his skates and plead: “Please, please, please, Coach, put me in, put me in, I will do anything! I will take better angles, finish checks and pay more attention in our end. I’ll even block shots, I swear, I will!”  Here are 6 tips to help make your life as a healthy scratch more tolerable:   1)  Invest in Continue Reading →

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Less Games, More Practices Key to Kick-Starting Development in Canadian Minor Hockey

A debate in hockey today that is like a pesky mosquito focuses on the claim that Canada, as hockey’s best development factory, is starting to deteriorate. Personally, I believe more credit should be given to other nations who have made major developmental strides in hockey, but I do agree Canada could be doing more to stay on top. Where I do feel Canadian hockey is lagging, is in developmental efficiency, and I feel this is directly linked to developmental focus—specifically, practice-to-game ratio. One of the main complaints I hear from parents and coaches is that there isn’t enough time or resources to practice the way they know they should be. Coaches say: “That theory is nice, but I only get 2 practices a week with these kids and we have to get ready for 2 to 3 games on the weekends. I need to focus on systems and get the systems down with these kids or else we’re going to get waxed.” In this one sentence, this coach has acknowledged that they don’t have enough time to focus on development and that priority is given to winning. Here are 4 Practice-to-Game Ratio-related issues in the current youth hockey system in Canada and how they directly affect development:   1) Cost The cost to put a kid through a season of AAA hockey in Canada now runs a family upwards of $11,000 to $15,000 a year. This figure alone, automatically drastically reduces the overall number of kids who can participate at Continue Reading →

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Phil Kessel’s a Milk Bag and That’s OK

#478443639 / Much ado has recently been made over Phil Kessel’s seemingly low “Give-a-Shit Meter” reading.  The milk bag physique, reports of lazy summers spent fishing, playing poker and golfing, and the fact that views training camp and pre-season as a way to get back into game shape all suggest that he’s resistant and rebellious.  30 years ago, Kessel would have been following the norm, but now—in the age of the VO2 max, wingate, and body fat tests—he is mocking the system. Now we all know that staying in shape during the off-season is both important and beneficial.  All you have to do is watch an NHL game from 1975, followed by a game from 2013 and anyone can see that the players now are bigger, stronger and faster.  But, how crucial is it for a player like Phil Kessel to bust his ass all summer to look like Georges St. Pierre?  Would Kessel’s 40 goals per year turn into 50 or 60?  Would he suddenly go from being great to legendary?  There is really only one way to find out, but the odds of that happening anytime soon is likely slim to none; at least not while Kessel is still performing like an elite level superstar. The question still lingers: Should Kessel be doing more in the off-season to elevate his game?  My response to this question is to answer a question with another question: “Why?”  Why should Phil Kessel do anything differently?  He’s an explosive skater with Continue Reading →

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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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