The Flavor of the Month

I heard a story recently about a junior hockey showcase. NCAA rules permit coaches to talk with players after a showcase concludes.

At the end of this particular showcase, a team had to wait for over an hour and half for one player to finish talking with college coaches. Soon after the showcase, the player committed to play Division I hockey. Two years later, he transferred to a different Division I institution and finished his career as a role player.

At the same showcase, the same team had another player on it’s roster who had almost zero college interest. By the end of the year, he secured a commitment to play Division I hockey. Three years later he was playing every night in the NHL.

Too many times we get caught up with “The Flavor of the Month”. Coaches become obsessed with people who catch their eye and have a great two or three game stretch at a showcase. Players put immense amounts of pressure on themselves to have good games in big settings.

If we recruit the “Flavor of the Month”, we probably shouldn’t wonder later why that same player struggles with his or her consistency in games. We need to put more emphasis on the player who succeeds over time – recruiting players who play the game the right way and pay attention to detail , rather than the one who catches your eye one weekend in early September.

Wednesday Drill of the Week: Double Angle

Double Angle

A technique drill this week: angling.

The drill starts with two players going at once. The first player skates straight ahead and takes a long loop around the far dot. The second player leaves with a puck and makes a tight turn around the near dot. The first player needs to time his swing to take a great angle on the puck carrier, taking away time and space and shutting him down along the wall.

Angling is all about timing and positioning. Body and stick position are critical. When angling, use your body to take away time and space. You need to move your feet to gain and maintain good body position (just off the inside shoulder). Stick position should be up ice – you want to utilize your stick to take away passes against the grain and behind you. It becomes similar to a slowly collapsing wall – you take away time and space with your body, limiting passing options with your stick until you finally crunch down on your opponent.

Angling is a critical skill in the game today. Players who are great at angles become players who are successful in the game.

Systems vs Players

Do you build a system to fit your players or do you get players to fit your system? Sounds a little like chicken vs egg to me.

When building a system of play for your team, it is critical that the players on your roster have an ability to play that system. For example, don’t play a system predicated on a high level of hockey sense if you have very little hockey sense on your roster. Similar ideas with other systems as well – don’t utilize a speed based, north/south system with a slow roster, etc.

At the same time, you should have a system of play that you believe is more successful than others and you should attempt to build your roster to fit this system. If you like to play an offensive cycle game, you should build your roster with big and strong forwards who can use their body to possess the puck down low. If your breakout is based upon defensemen who can skate and make quick puck decisions, you should have those types of players on your team.

The bottom line is that you need to use a little of both when determining what type of system to play. Figure out what you like and how you want to play the game and then tweak it to fit your personnel. The best coaches are the ones who can adapt their system to fit the team they have while at the same time trying to build the team they want.

Head Coaching

What’s the difference between an Assistant Coach and a Head Coach?

Obviously the job description entails a large number of differences – mostly administrative type duties, as well as being the face of the program.

But what about mentally? How does the mentality change when instead of working for someone, you’re the one running the show?

I’ve had a brief taste of being the head coach for the golf team here at Colby. While the scope of the job isn’t nearly what it would be to be the head coach of the hockey team, there is definitely a different mental side to being a head coach.

Most noticeably, the biggest difference is in the “what ifs” and the second guessing. As an assistant coach, you give your opinion, but ultimately it isn’t your decision or your choice to live with. As the head coach, the decision rests with you. You make decisions on personnel, strategy and discipline, as well as setting the mood and the attitude of your program.

In public, these decisions are final and firm. You lead with an air of what is right and the understanding that you know what you are doing. In private, you wrestle with decisions and thinking about if you did the right thing. Are you putting your team and your program in the best position to be successful?

Despite the second guessing and “what ifs” in your head, you have to stand by your decisions and know that you made the best decision you could have with the information that you had at the time. Stay the course, trust your gut and work every day towards where you want to be.

Being a head coach of anything isn’t easy, but if it was easy everyone would be a head coach.

Wednesday Drill of the Week: 3v2 Quick Hitter

3v2 Quick Hitter

A simple 3v2 drill this week. Two defensemen start at the top of the crease (XD). One forward starts behind the net, one starts on the goal line extended and one in the mid slot. Coach rims a puck in and the three forwards attack the two D tight at the net. It is intended to be a quick attack drill starting from behind the net.

The skills focused on for forwards are playing pucks off the wall, puck protection, quick and decisive puck movement, playing away from the puck, creating passing lanes and angles, getting pucks and bodies to the net.

For defensemen, the focus is on great stick position, taking away options, and playing a short ice 3v2. D need to maintain positioning while taking away the most dangerous threat. Typically speaking, the strong side D is going to need to play a 2v1  (with one coming from behind the net) while the weak side D has to maintain position on the slot man.

Wednesday Drill of the Week: King Low

King Low

A simple defensive drill that works on outnumbering the puck and teaching players to anticipate plays down low. Three defensive players start at the net front (typically 2 D and 1 F). Two forwards start with a puck on both walls – they can be facing the wall, facing out, vary positioning to change skills worked on. On the whistle, the three defensive players sprint to defensive positioning and play an outnumbering situation, 3v2. Typically speaking, the first player on the puck is taught to hit and pin into the wall, the second man is looking to take the available play away (anticipate the pass to the partner and go right to him) and the third defensive player is looking to come in and take the puck. Once one side goes, the whistle blows and the same three players expand to the other side of the ice. The offensive players are trying to protect the puck and challenge the defensive players to outnumber and take it away.

We use this drill to teach defensive concepts – hitting, pinning, anticipating options, quickly attacking and outnumbering on the defensive side of the puck. Can be done in one end or both depending on numbers.

The Three Tenets of Coaching

Sitting in the office the other day, we were having a discussion about what makes a good coach and what areas you have to excel in to be considered “good.” After some thought and conversation, I believe that coaching comes down to three major areas: Technical, Tactical and Interpersonal.

1. Technical: A good coach must have a strong technical knowledge of the game or sport that they are coaching. Technical expertise is anything that is involved in the mechanical ability to complete an action. In hockey, this boils down to skating, passing, shooting, stick positioning, how to play the body, ability to execute under pressure, etc. Personally, I feel as though situational play also falls under technical ability, although an argument can be made for this being a part of the tactical game. For example, how you play rushes (on both sides of the puck) can be seen as both technical and tactical. Executing on both the offensive and defensive side of a situational play is a technical ability and, to me, the tactics involved in the situation are again a technical skill in the game of hockey.

2. Tactical: The tactical elements of the game mostly involve systems and what structure a team plays with. A coach’s tactical ability influences a game in a number of ways – primarily through adjustments and the ability to identify strengths and weaknesses (both in game and on tape) and attack/protect the respective elements. Coaches with strong tactical abilities have an ability to impact the game through the style of play of their team, their ability to implement adjustments and their proficiency in teaching their systems. 

3. Interpersonal: The interpersonal abilities of a coach are often the biggest indicator of success. Coaches who can interact with people, teach their players and thrive in a pressured environment are often the ones that are the most successful. Good coaches must have strong interpersonal skills to relate to their players, their own peers in the coaching world and their colleagues within their office/department. You can be the best technical and tactical coach in the world, but if you cannot relay your message to your players, it is completely useless. The ability to connect and build trust with your players is critical. In addition, you must be able to get along with your peers in the coaching world and your colleagues in your office/department.

It is my belief that all great coaches possess these three elements – I know there are many more skills and habits that create a successful coach, but without these three tenets coaches will struggle to be successful.

I would love to hear some feedback – what do you think? What have I left out? What does it take to be a successful coach?

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