AHCA – Ron Rolston Hot Stove

A favorite part of the convention for me is the “Hot Stove” talks given by a handful of coaches. Designated coaches will talk about their year/career/topic of their choice and then answer questions. Here’s what Ron Rolston (former HC of the Buffalo Sabres) had to say:

  • Ron was in the college game for 13 years as an assistant coach prior to moving to the NTDP to be a head coach
  • Working as a HC at the NTDP allowed him to do his own thing, the job changes dramatically from AC to HC
  • He was hired in Rochester (AHL) when Buffalo (NHL) wanted to change their minor league format to a more developmental system similar to the NTDP
  • After he was let go in Buffalo, he spent the year travelling and looking at different programs and how they operate – NHL, AHL, NCAA – he’s learned that the better teams have a few components: an organizational philosophy that is well mapped out and everyone sticks to it – attention to detail in everything they do
  • Leadership philosophy is that leaders drive the height of the organization but you have to bring in guys who have good leadership abilities and a commitment to accountability – these guys drive the bus from the inside
  • When moving around in coaching, you have to go somewhere where you are comfortable with the mindset and the approach – there’s risk in everything you do in coaching and you have to know that you’ll get knocked down at some point – only you know when you’re ready to take the next step
  • College coaching vs Pro coaching – in college, the coaches are the GMs/Player Personnel guys, in the Pros, you have to take the players you’re given and coach them – guys have to want to learn and you have to show them you care about them
  • Player Distractions: In College & at the NTDP you have to know what guys are doing and you have to stay in their business – at the Pro level guys are driven to be there and you trust them until they hang themselves…distractions are limited because it impacts their careers in a much different (more public) way

AHCA – Assistant Coach to Head Coach

A new feature this year was a panel focused on professional development for coaches. David Quinn, Mike Cavanaugh, and Jim Montgomery all spoke on the transition from assistant coach to head coach. Here are some of the highlights.

David Quinn:

  • Connections, Networking & Experience – working camps can connect you with people you would never have known otherwise
  • A breadth of experiences was critical to him – he worked different jobs at different levels, allowed him to speak to a variety of challenges
  • You never know – you never know who you’re around or who you’re talking to – treat people how you want to be treated – he told a story of two people who came to watch his practice and then talk with him afterwards, they were sent by a school to see what he’s all about and how he treats people
  • Be prepared to take on challenges, build a diverse resume and eliminate reasons for people not to hire you

Mike Cavanaugh:

  • Head Coaches must empower their assistants to learn and do the things that head coaches do
  • You never know what a Head Coach does until you are one – you can do it but you never truly understand the experience

Jim Montgomery:

  • Work with good people and good organizations that support you and that you believe in
  • Do a good job and work with good people and you’ll be rewarded
  • Establish who you are – your beliefs drive who you are, how you practice, how you play and how you recruit

When putting a staff together, all three coaches looked for people that can recruit. If you can’t recruit, you can’t coach in college, but you also have to bring something to the table other than recruiting (video, goalies, communication, etc). They also look for someone who can coach – sometimes the HC has to go on the road and recruit, so they need someone who can run the show in their absence.

In the hiring process, all three spoke about how you have to be yourself and be honest in your interviews. Don’t try to answer how they want you to answer, answer honestly. Being able to speak from experience is a helpful factor – relate thing to what you have done and seen and it will help your interview.  Honesty and enthusiasm in interviews  can be the most important thing.

AHCA – Championship Coaches Panel

Every year, the AHCA invites the four finalists from the Men’s DI and DIII Frozen Four to speak on a panel. Each school gives a summary and some talking points about what made them successful and how they were able to get to the top of the mountain. This year, the DIII teams were SUNY-Geneseo, Wisconsin-Stevens Point, SUNY-Oswego and National Champion St. Norbert. The DI teams were Boston College, North Dakota, Minnesota and National Champion Union.

There were some common themes among the coaches, including:

  • Goaltending has to give you a chance to win every night, and sometimes steal a few games
  • Leadership – all teams that make it to the Frozen Four have good leadership and a senior class that buys in
  • Losses are often used as learning experiences and opportunities to grow – every team had an experience that pushed them over the edge
  • Overcoming Challenges – every team faces challenges, the Frozen Four teams really overcame them with poise and aplomb
  • Every team seemed to have an identity that the players and coaches bought into and embraced – they moved forward with this identity and believed in it

Some team-specific notes:

Union spoke a lot about how their previous experience in the Frozen Four helped them to stay focused on the task at hand. Their first time, they were excited to go to the Frozen Four and were wide-eyed and soaking it all in. This year, they had a hunger to win and an understanding of what that took. The veterans had seen it and done it, so it was no longer a brand new thing.

BC had a very talented offensive team. They had a tough weekend early in the year where they tied and lost to Minnesota. This early setback challenged the team and helped them to understand where the bar was in terms of being a successful team.

St. Norbert built their culture through using peers. The players help to set the standards and then they are responsible for holding their teammates accountable. They have a leadership that includes the captains and one leader from each class, they meet to talk about academics, social life, etc.

AHCA – Paul Dennis Psychological Performance

Paul Dennis is the Player Development Coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He spoke about Psychological Performance and what it takes to perform at your best. He focused on affirmation vs doubt and how focus on failure results in failure. He advocated for spending time on mental training and working with your players to help them achieve their best performance. Here are some of the highlights from his talk:

– There are two games: the game vs your opponent and the game inside your own mind

– A busy mind = variable performance

– Confidence, coping with pressure and mental toughness are the most important traits of successful athletes

– “Always prepare for the moment, don’t wait for the moment to prepare” – George Armstrong

– “The separation is in the preparation” – Russell Wilson

– Gamer vs Victim Mindset: A victim has an outside-in approach, focus on what they can’t control; Gamer has inside-out approach, chooses to do what he can do, bring it every practice

– Emotions are contagious, we respond to each other’s feelings. The leader often sets the emotional tone for the group – leaders need to manage their feelings well

– It is important to take care of yourself as a leader – rested, physically fit, eating well. Stress depletes our willpower, diminishing our ability to control our emotions. The more you take care of yourself, the stronger your willpower will be.

– Playing to Win vs Playing Not to Lose: soccer players taking PK’s scored 92% of the time when scoring gave their team a chance to win but only 62% when missing created a threat of a loss. Playing to Win creates a challenge mindset, keep the foot on the gas and challenge players to rise to the occasion. When threatened (ex. losing), we program ourselves NOT to do something

– We want struggling players to “try harder” and think they’ll break out of it. Rather, we need them to “think less” – previous failures are entering their mind and they are focusing on what NOT to do, rather than challenging themselves

– Self-Talk is critical to performance: Instructional is beneficial for precision-oriented tasks, Motivational is beneficial for nerves and high pressure

– To affirm your decisions and direction, ask yourself: Am I doing…the right thing? at the right time? in the right way? for the right reasons?

AHCA Convention

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the American Hockey Coaches Association Convention in Naples, FL for the fourth straight year. It is a great week filled with meetings, speakers, networking and a little bit of sun & sand.

I took pages of notes again this year and I’ll be running through them this week, featuring a new speaker and his talking points every day.

AHCA Convention

I hate to disappoint my readers but the blog will take a quick break for this week. I am in Naples, FL, learning from friends and colleagues at the American Hockey Coaches Association Convention. The blog will return on Monday, including thoughts on what I learned from the best minds in the game.

Scott Owens on Season Planning

The blog has been a little light for the last week – I’ve been down in Naples, FL at the AHCA Coaches Convention. I thought I would share some of the things that I learned.

Scott Owens (Head Coach at Colorado College) spoke about season planning:

He breaks the season up into phases, strategically aligning how he and his staff interacts with the players.

  • Before the season starts, he and his staff do not interact with the players, giving them space and time.
  • Phase One is October through December. The staff is very hands on with the players: teaching, going to lifting sessions, attending study halls, etc
  • Phase Two is the “Dog Days” – they let the captains take control with more team activities and some practice planning
  • Phase Three is the “Home Stretch” – coaches jump back in and really drive the ship through the end of the season

He thought it was important to give every player a chance to play early in the season – “fall on a grenade” and play a player even if it means you lose a game. This way all players are given an opportunity and experience for when they might be needed.

They hold meetings with their captains on a regular basis and with individuals once a month. CC will use meetings as a way to help get players to buy-in (sitting in on decision making process, understanding what goes on behind closed doors) with players who need it. The constant and consistent individual feedback helps players understand where they fit and where they excel and where they need to improve.

Throughout the season they will do things to break up the monotony of the year. They will have relays and games, bring in non-hockey related speakers, have non-hockey trivia sessions, etc. The importance of bonding over non-hockey events was emphasized.

Overall, it was clear that Colorado College puts a lot of thought into the things they do throughout the year. Every “Phase” of the season has a plan and there is solid reasoning behind the plan. Frequent communication with the players helps them to learn and develop.

On a personal level, I love learning about the approaches that other coaches and programs take to their season. While there is not necessarily a right or a wrong way, the different methods are good to see. There may be one thing that is a great idea, or something that triggers a thought process that will help improve the way I work and function in the future. I’d love to know what you think – leave a comment about your season planning or what you think of CC.

I’ll have more posts from the Convention in the next few days. There was a lot of good information and lots to share. Stay Tuned!