Archive for June 2010

The 2010 NHL Draft (from a Coach’s Perspective)

June 27, 2010

Now, before I delve into the title theme, allow me to borrow the old TV expression, “The following is brought to you by…”  🙂

Actually, Anthony Chic had a game the other night in a pro/am hockey league he’s played in for three off-seasons.  (Ya, there are some NHL-ers there, as well as lots of minor pros, European pros, and top college players.  And, ya, it is neat to watch him play at that level.)

However, grrrrrrrrr…  Right after his hockey game, he asked if I would take his gear home so that he could head straight to his girlfriend’s house.  (No problem, right?)

Well, there WASN’T a problem until I climbed into my SUV the next morning (after the sun had beaten on the tightly locked car)…

Peeeeeeeee-U —  I thought I’d faint, the odor was so bad!

Geeeeeze!

Now, you’re probably going to tell me that I’ve previously hyped the value of the SportzGemz Deodorizer for taking care of such stuff.  But (after the dawgoned fact), Anthony told me that his packets had either been stolen or lost over the past winter.  Ugh.

No big deal, I guess (so long as my car is still salvageable — in a month or so).  A SportzGemz Deodorizer 5-pouch is only $37.95, and it lasts almost forever (as long as your knucklehead college guy doesn’t lose them or have them swiped)!  (By the way, for you tennis players, runners and folks who don’t use as much gear, fewer pouches are available for drastically less.)

*

Okay, so I want to offer some of my thoughts on the just completed NHL Draft.  However, I’m sure your local newspapers and other news outlets have given you your fill of how each team did according to their needs.  And, frankly, there’s no way I could even get into that argument.  (My mind no longer travels in that realm.)

As an aside here, I mentioned earlier today — on Twitter and Facebook — that I planned to do an article on this subject.  And, don’t you know, two Twitter friends, Mike M and Jane Mc, both contacted me almost immediately.

Jane put it straight to the old coach, “Be sure to mention the California Wave! Young West Coast talent is taking the entry draft by storm! That’s what I am talking about!”

And, my buddy, Mike — forever giving me a hard time, asked, “Coach, you finally figured out that this side of the country is good for hockey?”

Aaaaaah, the abuse I put-up with in cyber space.

Anyway, although Mike said that I seldom surprise him, I think both he and Jane were taken aback — at least a little — when I suggested that the so-called “California Wave” is exactly what I want to talk about.

So, with that, allow me to take you back to a couple of events from very long ago that are still very fresh in my mind.  And, with all due regards for the ways others will comment on the recent draft, please allow me to approach things from the perspective of a “teaching coaching”, or a guy who mostly cares about the development of ice hockey players…

1)  Back when I was coaching in college, I mentioned to my Athletic Director that I would probably have to soon change my recruiting focus.  Yes, for sure, Massachusetts and the surrounding New England states have always produced their share of hockey players.  However, I could see some things changing…  You see, with the NHL’s expansion to places like Pittsburgh and Long Island and Dallas and even Tampa and Miami, I knew something was going to happen that I’d seen happen before.  I mean, little kids were going to see the likes of a Mario Lemieux, and they were all going to want to be him.  And, with the rise in popularity of the sport in those new areas, rinks were going to be built — and filled, meaning it was only a matter of time before the new hockey hotbed produced quite a few talented young hockey players.  (As it so happened, I made of a point of mentioning Long Island to my AD, and darned if players didn’t start pouring out of that area within a few years — as in carbon copies of Bossy, Trottier, Potvin, and others.)

2) I can’t put my finger on the year, but it was a pretty long time ago when I was asked to speak at an advanced hockey coaching symposium down in New Jersey.  What the organizers wanted me to talk about to their audience was ways the coaches could train their players without costly ice.  (Ha!  Ha!  Does the subject sound familiar to you?  See my free “You Don’t Need Ice!” video series to see if it isn’t one of my favorites!)  Understand that there were several hundred coaches in attendance.  But, what really got my interest was that they were from all over the eastern seaboard — including Florida, and from as far west as Texas.  Hmmmmm…  Florida?  Texas?  Anyway, once I knew that, I set things straight with my audience….  As I suggested to them, “Ice is nice, but my money is ultimately on those guys with the good weather!”  In other words, while some youth teams might get three or four “skates” per week, the guys in the warm climes could train just about any time they wanted.  (But, more on that a little later.)

3) I think Anthony Chic was 9-years old (so it was about 12-years ago) when I offered to coach his Squirt A team.  During that season, we did pretty well, and we reached the finals in a tournament I’m now recalling, whereby a team from outside New York City took us to the cleaners.  Actually, we’d managed to tie them in a preliminary game, but we just couldn’t do it a second time.  So again, they killed us in the finals.  An interesting thing happened right after the game, though…  The NYC-area coach came over to shake my hand, and he thanked me (huh?).  Ya, he said, “I’ve been reading your magazine column for years, and my team trains twice per week extra, using all of your off-ice training ideas!”  (Holy mackerel!  The guy beat my pants off with all my stuff.  🙂  And, why?  Because it just so happened that MY team parents really didn’t want to spend the extra time I’d offered to do some off-ice training.  Oh, well…)

Okay, and that brings me to Jane’s “California Wave” of players who just suddenly burst into the major hockey spotlight.  Yup, Jane’s Cali-kids were drafted by the boat loads over the past weekend.  Of course, if you didn’t get to catch the live broadcasts and all the commentary surrounding those surprising (to some) explanations, I’ll tell you that quite a lot was made about the West Coast kids’ opportunities to train with in-line (or roller) skates.  In fact, one analyst attributed a top draft choice’s speed to his upbringing on wheels.

Okay, so by now my buddy, Mike M, has to be shaking his head and thinking, “Son of a gun, Dennis knew it was coming all along!”  Well, not really, Mike.  Or, should I say, not specifically — as in my knowing that it would be California’s time this year.

I did kinda predict it long ago, however…

I mean, I knew my college recruiting had to be re-focused, because there were new hockey hotbeds springing-up all over the country, and it was just a matter of time before some of those were going to start producing good players in pretty good numbers.

Better yet, I’d suggested at that New Jersey coaching seminar that it was just a matter of time before the warmer climate hockey folks were going to take advantage of in-lining and other off-ice training methods to bypass those who still had their minds stuck on ice-time, ice-time, ice-time.  (Ya, I sometimes feel badly for those who are still stuck in the 1970’s.  However, they are going to keep paying a price until they realize 30-years have passed, and that some of us are taking advantage of the sciences.)

Speaking of the 1970’s…  I’m guessing that’s the best way to describe the parents I had involved with my long ago Squirt team — or the team that got squashed by the off-ice training New York kids.

Anyway, I will continue to do tons of off-ice training with my New England Hockey Institute players, in a school I’ll be running next month, and I plan to also try to sell the extra off-ice training concept to my new Mite AAA families.  (I don’t care if I am 105-years old; I keep on changing with the times.)

Then, if you want my further impressions…  California only caught me by surprise because it’s hard for this East Coast guy to keep close tabs on them.  I can tell you, though, that it’s just a matter of time before (at least) Texas and Florida start pouring-out their own versions of Jane’s Wave.

Finally, if you think I’m unaware of older players and older teams — from all over North America — undertaking rigorous off-ice training, you’re wrong.  I know exactly what the pro, college and junior teams are doing, and they’re all doing it right.  That stuff, to me, is a given.  (Actually, those stuck in the 70’s have no say at those levels, so everything is done according to the very latest known to science.)

What I have been talking about all along are the developmental age groups.  In other words, 10- to 13-year old Cali-kids — and those all around the South — have the chance to twirl around and fiddle with balls nearly every waking hour if they so choose.  And those years — as well as the earlier ones — are when all the fine motor skills are developed.  Or, should I say, those early years are the times when future draft choices are likely made.

PS:  I’ve been sitting on another VERY closely related subject that I’d like to address in a few days.  So, please stay tuned (or subscribe to this blog => RSS – Posts).

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A Thank You to My Dad

June 20, 2010

It’s ironic I thought of this story early today…

I really wasn’t thinking in the realm of Father’s Day at all.  Instead, my grandson had just given me the latest news from around the sports world (he likes doing that), and it caused me to think of the way I was as a kid.

Hmmmmmm, though…  Where DID that fascination with the latest sports news come from, anyway?

Aaaaah…  Flash-back to a summer day when I was about 10-years old.  Our family was packed into the classic sedan, winding our way through the hilly country of Central Massachusetts, and on our way to what had become a traditional summer vacation in those days.  Come to think of it, I can pretty closely fix the date, because we always headed to my uncle’s farm up in Vermont for the two weeks surrounding the July 4th holiday.

If there was anything unusual about that vacation, it’s that we were delayed a bit when the car broke down in a quaint little town (Orange, MA, I believe).  Darn, that place was beautiful.  But, more on that a little later.

One thing you ought to know is that most folks who lived in farm country back in those days could do most of their own auto repairs (and so could I by the time I was a teen).  I suppose it was a necessity for many, although it was also possible back then — before the auto industry complicated matters.  (Ya, I look under a hood nowadays and I can’t find or see half of what makes the car run; a lot of years ago, the space under a hood was almost empty, with nearly every part pretty easy to find and access.)

Anyway, we were probably fortunate to have the family car falter close to town.  And, with that, dad managed to find a service station that promised to repair things — within the day.  Yup, just imagine…  Mom, dad and us kids (although I can’t remember how many of the five ultimate Chighisola kids were born by then and on that trip).

Thankfully, it was a beautiful sunny day.  Still, what was a family to do to kill almost an entire day, and in a strange town to boot?

Well, when dad returned from the service station, he and mom announced that we were going to spend the day having a picnic in the town park.  (All right!)

Did I say we were fortunate to get plunked in that tiny burg?  You bet!  For, everything — I mean, absolutely everything we needed — was within easy walking distance.  I recall that mom (and some younger ones) headed to a small grocery store located just across from the park, while dad and I browsed through the magazine racks at the nearby newsstand.

Okay, so here’s where that getting-hooked-on-sports-news thing comes into play…  While I recall dad grabbing a newspaper or two for himself, he also asked if I’d like to buy something to read.  Ha.  I didn’t have a clue, really.  But, I ultimately settled for a thick baseball magazine that promised to help kill plenty of hours.

Shortly later, mom spread a blanket (she’d remembered to grab from the car), and then she began making sandwiches, these accompanied by chips, sodas, and even a few after lunch sweets.  Darn, could it get any better for a 10-year old?

Oh, I can still remember the scene today…  We’re laying there on that blanket in the park, and from there one could see the rustic downtown to one side, plus a river and a mountain to the other side.  And, to top it all off, I had a very, very interesting baseball magazine to peruse.

Ya, that magazine…  I wonder to this day if it was just fate that had me grab a mag that gave a breakdown on every single Major League team, and every single Major League baseball player.  Man, I devoured that thing (maybe more than once).  And, by the end of the day, I knew every player in baseball, including the guys who sat on the bench.

It’s possible that the above doesn’t really click with a lot of my readers.  I don’t blame you if it doesn’t.  But, you may have had a similar experience — with one special book, one special movie, one special whatever.  In other words, something that really hooked you, or really changed your life (either in a big or small way).

I’m sure mom and dad were relieved that we were finally able to resume our journey to Townsend, VT by early evening.  Nor was I disappointed to ultimately get to my uncle’s farm.  Ya, when you’re 10-years old, it’s a pretty big deal to help milk cows, watch deer come down from the mountain near dusk, to splash and chase fish in a frigid mountain stream, to watch the loggers work in Uncle John’s woods, to see his team of horses pull a plow, to…

Still, after all these years, why is it I haven’t forgotten that sunny day in Central Mass?  Hmmmmm…

This aside…  Dad passed away from Parkinson’s Disease about a year and a half ago.  I’m still able to call my mom every few days, though, since she’s down in Florida where she and dad had ultimately settled.

Stories like the one I’ve just shared with you make her sad, however (darn).  They only remind her of how much she misses dad, while I keep on trying to convince her that we have memories a lot of others don’t.  (Oh, I could go on about the family cookouts, camping trips, Whiffle Ball games or games of Home Run Derby in the backyard, Christmas Eve at mom’s and dad’s house — even when I was older.)

Okay, so you’re wondering why this story is really about dad.  After all, he didn’t pick the town we’d be marooned in, nor did he pick the magazine that would at least slightly hook me on sport (and maybe even on someday being a coach?).

Naw, what I’d like anyone who passes by here to appreciate is that different human beings could have reacted very differently to that kind of setback.  Ya, can’t you just hear someone you know swearing bloody blue murder, because fate screwed-up their vacation?

Nope, not my dad.  It never crossed my mind that day that anything was all that wrong.  He just kept smiling and making the most of things.

Oh, as a grown-up myself now, my guess is that the whole scenario was eating at his insides.  But, he wasn’t about to let-on; nor was he about to let something like that affect his family in any way.  Again, he just kept smiling and making the most of things.

Lastly, my mom was certainly a party to all I’ve described.  But, I’ll bet she’d also feel that my dad was the one who could make the most of a bad situation.  In a way, that was HIM.

So, on this special day — especially since I’m not able to get to visit his faraway grave, I want to say, “Thanks, Dad.  I can only hope a little of you has rubbed-off on me.”

*

A very Happy Father’s Day to all of my friends out there!

Do Hockey Coaches Matter? (It Depends!)

June 18, 2010

Ugh…  I got myself into a Facebook hockey forum exchange that I might ultimately rue.

The question I was asked to address had to do with whether coaches in the now-just-completed Stanley Cup Finals really had an impact on the game.

For a very good reason (as you’ll discover shortly), I suggested that the pro coaches did impact on the game, but that the results were marginal.  From there, you should have seen some of the replies…  Geeeeeeeze…  I mean there were coaches jumping into the discussion with stories about how they heroically duped some other coach in a youth hockey summer league, what have you.

That as my introduction, I thought my friends here might like to see what I hope will be my final reply on that subject (starting with my addressing Dean, a guy I believe is a fan, not a coach)…

Dean (et al), I’m not sure anyone here has said that coaches don’t make a difference. If there’s any disagreement, it will likely be a matter of how much, it would have a lot to do with what level a coach is working at, and it would especially have to do with one’s involvement with the game.

On that latter statement, what I’m getting at is that there’s going to be a huge difference between the way a fan sees things, how players feel, and how coaches at the various levels compare their own abilities. Frankly, I think fans are entitled to rant and rave about every aspect of the game they’re watching (they aren’t always correct, but they still deserve the right). Players probably judge coaches more on their “people skills”, how much ice-time they get, and whether the coach helps or hinders their progress (to move-up, to make more money, etc; I might even suggest that a lot of players put winning after at least those two points).

I might then just preface the following by saying that I’ve head coached through all levels of amateur hockey — through juniors and college, I had a number of pro interviews, I’ve taught or coached a number of players you’ve watched on TV through the years, and I’ve even worked with a number of guys who went on to become pro coaches, GMs and scouts.

Getting past all that, I’ve really perceived my job through most of the years as a teacher. And, one of the most important things I do towards that end is to know where I am (or whom I’m talking to). In other words, I surely couldn’t talk to a group of 8-year olds in the same way I would a college or pro player.

Along that same line of thinking, the advice or suggestions I’d give in observation of the pro game would be totally different from the way I’d address things with the coach of a 10- or 12-year old team.

And (at least hopefully), that pretty much explains some of the things I previously wrote…

– Yes, for sure, there are always subtle things happening on a pro bench, some of them already described above by countless contributors. (I might suggest that none of us at home — including me — actually know the reasons coaches are doing certain things — like unknown injuries, fatigue, player history, etc.) And, while some of those can impact on the game, we all have to wonder how many points a coach actually gets to “steal” over the course of a long season. (As an FYI… If there are a dozen coaches now being considered for NHL head coaching positions, I can tell you that they all know the X’s and O’s of the game, they all are experienced at matching lines, etc. This is a new day in sport, however, and the deciding factor in some new hirings just might be due to a coach’s organizational skills, and the aforementioned people skills.)

– Finally, my biggest fear in writing or speaking anywhere is that coaches of younger players will get the wrong impression, or get the sense that their game is anything like that in the NHL. Trust me, they are two very different games. That’s part of the reason I’ve attempted to explain things the way I have, just so a youth coach doesn’t start believing his or her main function is to dupe opposing coaches. Frankly, while a youth coach might steal a point or two here and there, his or her players don’t gain anything they can take with them — to the next games, or to the next levels.

From all the above, I hope my Hockey Diary readers appreciate my fears.  And, those fears are real.

In fact, a lot of the so-called wives tales I constantly try to overcome are the result of folks watching higher level games and trying to translate the things the pros do to what a developmental level player (or coach) should do.

So, while I might be considered the world’s worst dancer, I find in absolutely necessary in my line of work to really tip-toe lightly with my hockey advice.  (Thank God I get to deal with better questions over at CoachChic.com! 🙂

PS:  Ooooops (you jerk, Dennis)!  I just received some feedback on my last forum post, and it was the nicest message from Dean (the young guy I mentioned in the start).  Actually, I was partly wrong in describing him — he’s a youth coach and a high school coach, although I think some of his earlier comments about the Stanley Cup Playoffs were from the standpoint of a fan.  Anyway, it turns out he’s a really nice young guy, especially since he said some really nice things about this crusty old coach.  🙂

PPS:  Time is running out to get that free multi-part video series, “You Don’t Need Ice!”  I figure that kind of advice is only good for the late spring and early summer months.  So…

– If you’re local to me Join My New England Hockey Institute list;

– If you’re a ways away, Join the CoachChic.com list!

The Problem(s) With Spring Hockey Tryouts

June 12, 2010

My good Twitter and Facebook friend, Mike Mahony (author of the Fitness Expose blog), sort of initiated this post.  Oh, not that the thoughts I’ll note below are recent or new; naw, they’ve irked me for as long as youth hockey programs have been holding spring tryouts.

Anyway, with that…

Starting close to home, my first recollection of an organization discussing springtime tryouts was when my grandson, Anthony Chic, was a 7-year old Mite.

Now, you ought to know that the first thing this idea had going against it was my dislike of — or maybe my lack of respect for — the guys who were championing it.  Ya, they were always looking for shortcuts, and this seemed just another good example.

Oh, don’t think that small collection of board members and coaches didn’t have what they felt was a solid reason for changing the tryouts from fall to spring.  What they did was complain that the local leagues wanted to know far in advance the number of teams each organization would send to them for the next season.  So, under the guise of those administrative pressures, they got the tryouts changed.  (In all honesty, I think they received additional support from other parents for the reason I’ll now explain.)

As I saw it — and I’m pretty sure it’s how those lazy bones had it figured, their kids were going to — for the first time in eons — have what they at least thought was an even playing field.  In other words, everyone heading to tryouts would now be coming-off the same long hockey season, with none of the kids seemingly having any sort of advantage when it came to conditioning, skill development, what have you.  (If it wasn’t so sad I’d laugh, but…  They were probably figuring that every kid would suffer evenly from their horrible coaching!)

As a first aside, appreciate that I’m not in favor of summer leagues and summer tournaments.  But, I am very much in favor of a player working on his or her game during the off-season months.  As I emphasize in my “You Don’t Need Ice!” video series (free when you join my mailing list), this is a time when a player can either catch or pass others.

Well, the collection of folks I’ve been talking about to this point aren’t much for paying any sort of dues.  And, those sorts especially aren’t about to pass on their own summer activities for the sake of their kids.

Ya, so those morons thought, their kids would have an even playing field, now that the tryouts were going to be switched…  🙂  Ha!

As soon as I had an inkling this was really going to happen, I started plotting a course for young Tony C.

As another aside, CoachChic.com members know well my penchant for planning.  I mean, I like to study a given player (or team) as a season winds down, noting the things he (or they) might work on in order to make the greatest gains.  From there, the amount of time we have to prepare, coupled with the list of skills and physical attributes we need to work on, pretty much determine our course of action.

And, that’s exactly how I handled things for Anthony Chic’s sake.  I think we had something like about 2-months — from the time the organization’s rules changed to the start of tryouts.

My young buddy had already been attending one of my on-ice skills clinics each week for most of the winter.  Then, however, I quickly added a once-per-week clinic at the local roller rink (ya, in-line training is a biggie with me, and I sometimes feel I can accomplish even more in this kind of venue than I can on the ice).  If you click on the photo to the left, it’ll take you to a special “off-ice hockey school” I’m holding for Mites and Squirts this coming summer.

With that, you can just imagine how ready Tony C and my other students were when those spring tryouts rolled around.  Aaaaaah…  It was beau-ti-ful!  🙂

Now, before going on, I should mention that pretty much the same thing was happening in youth organizations across the land.  I mean, it wasn’t long before spring tryouts became the norm in most youth programs.  (Hey, my guess is that there are enough eggheads to go around, and that most youth organizations had plenty enough folks to get that rule passed.)

In yet another aside, I am personally thankful that I use an entirely different thought process when I come upon a sticky issue (otherwise I’d have been out of coaching and out of business a lot of years ago).

Take, for example, the matter of satisfying local leagues with an early team count.  Hmmmmm…  I can appreciate that the leagues would need to know something like that, just so that they might purchase the appropriate amount of ice to accommodate the expected teams.

At the same time, I am going to guess that a youth program’s brain trust could predict the number of teams within a matter of minutes, and not have to go to all the bother of actually forming them.

Still, even if it wasn’t quite THAT easy to predict a count, here’s where my thought process kicks-in…  To take the easy route — and go to something like spring tryouts — is going to eventually have a negative impact on hockey (more on that in a sec).  On the other hand, somehow solving that problem would keep things going in the way God had intended (more on that in awhile, also).  My point:  if there’s a huge difference between two options, it seems to me a little (or even a lot) of effort is well worth it if we can do the right thing for the long term.

Okay, so now you know my close-to-home feelings, as well as how I’ve personally dealt with the issue of spring tryouts.  However, I haven’t yet really answered Mike Mahony’s question.  For, in our brief talks, I’d hinted that the switch in tryouts has had a profound (negative) impact on all of United States hockey.  And, I truly believe this to be so.

To begin, if I had to guess, I’d suggest that amateur hockey is composed of something like four types of parents (who drive the cars or write the checks for kids to do the extras):

  1. the REALLY-into-it ones;
  2. those who are kinda into-it;
  3. those who are kinda lukewarm;
  4. those who aren’t into-it at all.

Then, in reference to whether they’d likely take off-season training seriously, I would further suggest that:

  1. those in this group will train, no matter what;
  2. those in this group will probably do some training, no matter what;
  3. those in this group will probably only train if there’s a real reason;
  4. those in this group will do the absolute minimum, no matter what.

Now, whether you agree with my assumptions or not, anyone close to youth hockey will have to agree that the incentive to improve over the off-season has been entirely removed with the switch to spring tryouts.

Oh, just in case you’ve passed through here and you don’t understand what I mean by incentive…

Throughout hockey’s history, tryouts were held just before the start of a new season — usually right after Labor Day.  (Geeeeze, so does every major sport, all colleges and all high schools hold a pre-season “training camp” whereby players “try out” for a few precious roster spots.)  Anyway, most youth players used to really worry about making the team of their choice, and they worked hard during the off-season months to prepare for their big fall audition.

Okay, so let’s forget history here, and let’s fast-forward to about the mid-1990’s…   Kids (of all ages) are henceforth placed on teams by late March or early April.  In other words, no matter what happens to their game over the next 4-plus months, they are going to report to their assigned team.

That established, I wonder how many folks have thought about these little tidbits…

  • The REALLY-into-it kid is probably still going to train and improve, while the lazy ones surely will not (they’re even likely to go backwards).  If there’s a small problem with this, those drastically different kids just may be placed on the same roster, this based on a long ago tryout.
  • Over my 40-ish years in the game, I’ve noticed that a lot of kids really shoot-up during the summer months.  So, what if a player gets drastically bigger and stronger, and his game really skyrockets to another level over those 4 summer months?  Tough luck, buddy; you’re still relegated to the same team as dictated back in the spring!
  • If you want to hear something truly absurd…  I have seen a number of really good players move into a town during the summer months.  And, although he (or she) should probably play on an “A” team, organization rules frequently dictate that he (or she) must report to the lower team, because that’s where the open slots are.  (Now, tell me the inmates aren’t running the asylum in that case!)

Okay, in hopes of further answering Mike’s question…

My feeling is that the incentive to improve over about one-third of each year has drastically reduced the caliber of play — in a given youth program, and nationally.  Oh, maybe a fourth of the kids will continue to train, and maybe another fourth will do a little off-season work.  However, it’s quite likely that half of the kids in the US won’t do much of anything to better themselves each year, from May through August, and from their earliest years until they leave the game.

As for this thing having a national impact…  Remember that we are talking the span of an entire generation here — from the mid-1990’s to 2010.  And, we are basically talking about every kid in the US not being pushed for that 15-ish year period.

Of course, I’d probably better explain that latter statement… So, what I’m suggesting is that even the best players in the land aren’t being pushed nearly as much as those who played a generation earlier.  (Sadly, I even see this difference between my son and my grandson.)  In other words, the best players in earlier generations were surrounded by really talented teammates and opponents, which just helped push each player’s game to a higher level.  Unfortunately, the same favor isn’t being done for today’s better kids.

These final asides…

There will be those out who’ll say that they belong to a high powered program where good players ARE surrounded by other good players.  Sure, that may be (partially?) so.  However, today’s “good players” are still the result of the “no incentive” way of doing things.  So, while a given kid today might be really talented — and he might be surrounded by other talented kids, I’m going to suggest that the kids from an earlier generation would have them for lunch.  Sorry.

In a way, I get a kick out of the USA Hockey developmental teams — I mean the ones where the best players from across the US are gathered together on so-called “Select Teams” to train and play together.  Well, the fact remains, USA Hockey does NOT develop those players prior to their selection.  I don’t care how much credit they want to take; players who do ultimately make such squads were developed in a number of ways, with the best of these kids often being trained far outside USA Hockey‘s control.

No matter their high level designation, I have to suggest that players on the top “AAA” and “Select Team” rosters of today grew-up in the spring tryout system, and they suffer all the problems I’ve described above.

Then, I’d like Mike and all my other hockey friends to appreciate that I’m really talking numbers here.  In other words, the removal of incentive has basically affected the entire youth hockey population, and for a complete generation.  And, whether anyone wants to admit it or not, the best players in our country actually rely on the lesser players to help them get better.  Yes, the better the entire lot, the better the cream of the crop will be.  And, the more good players, the better for all.

Finally, when I go-off on a tear such as tonight’s, I still don’t want anyone to think that I don’t love hockey players — past and present.  And, if I’ve seemed hard on some players or programs, I’m not in any way suggesting they haven’t done their absolute best to improve.  (Actually, I’m well aware of some players who are busting their buns to improve during every waking moment; still your generation’s numbers work against you.)  What I have attempted to point-out — and to skewer, if necessary — are the ones who take seemingly selfish shortcuts, and make stupid rules that ultimately hurt a lot of hard working folks.  Consequently, I stand by my feelings on spring tryouts, and I truly believe they’ve had an awful impact on an entire generation of US hockey players.

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You’re not going to believe this story, but…

– My son was one of the very first in the Massachusetts area to wear a glass shield.  True enough.  The dad of a young hockey player on my team at that time had a friend who dealt in plastics, and he asked the guy to concoct a mask for his son and mine.  And, would you believe, that thing looked an awful lot like the half-shields worn by most pros today?   The year my son and the other boy donned their masks?  1975!  Did I realize back then that such a device would become mandatory for all hockey players?  Not in a million years.

– Long before anyone had ever heard of such a thing, I read a story about a young Canadian junior goaltender who had had his throat slashed by a skate.  His dad, a fireman up in Ontario, rushed to devise something that would henceforth protect all hockey players from similar injuries.  Ironically, two of my former students had been injured (and thankfully survived) in similar accidents during a local practice and a local game.  So, I hurriedly imported the first of the “Kim Crouch Collars” and distributed them throughout the Massachusetts and Rhode Island area.  Did I realize then that such a thing would one day be mandatory at many hockey levels.  Never.

– Okay, so lately I’ve about had it with the rash of spinal cord injuries I’ve seen occurring in various contact sports, including ice hockey.  And I am once again fortunate to find a device that will pretty likely be as common as face shields and neck collars, this in the form of the Heads-up Stabilizer.  It’s lightweight and comfortable (and hardly noticeable), and I’m HIGHLY recommending this for all beginner through Squirt/Atom aged players.  My thinking:  if a youngster gets used to wearing it when young, he or she will continue to do so when the game gets a little more nerve wracking for us parents.   Oh, and it’s also rather inexpensive.  So, take a look…

Oh, will this sort of device someday be mandatory for all hockey players?  Ha, I’m betting it will be.

A Hectic Hockey Week (believe it or not)!

June 5, 2010

Ya, I know it’s just the start of June, and most amateur hockey programs have long since wound down.  However, while others might sleep, this old coach is looking to catch or pass his counterparts (in spades).  Actually, so are my hockey players gradually starting to ready for their next season.

Kicking things off for my High School Prep guys, I had each of them stop by my little off-ice training facility, The MOTION Lab, to do what I’ve referred to as an orientation session.

Oh, there’s a method to the old coach’s madness (or more than one)…  First, I think it’s a good idea to just gradually get the kids’ heads back into the swing of training, without them having to kill themselves in the initial session.  Secondly, I find this relaxed meeting reminds the guys of the gear they’ll need to bring for now on, which clothes might suit them best, etc.  Thirdly, because I’m always changing our routine in some way, I used this week’s sessions to emphasize the way we’ll do things this season.  Fourthly, because we always have a few new players joining us, they need a chance to find the office and Lab, and they usually need the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the atmosphere, etc.  (Actually, I find these relaxed sessions are a neat way for new kids to meet some of our returning guys.)

As an aside here, I noticed something this past week that shouldn’t have surprised me, even though it did catch me off balance.

You see, we’ll start using an awesome training device shortly, namely the T-cords I described in an earlier post.  (Oh, we’ll also be incorporating T-cord training with the use of our slideboards.)

So, with that in mind, I’m having my guys prepare by doing an exercise I call “T-cord Simulations”.  Basically, each player assumes a posture as if he’s just landed towards one side of his stride, and then he smoothly and powerfully strides in the other direction.  There’s more to it, of course, but you might get the gist of it, at least.

Anyway, my returning players didn’t look too bad as they got back into the swing of that exercise.  However, several of the newer players did fine with their lower body movements, while looking absolutely awful trying to get their upper bodies in sync.

Gulp.  I knew I’d fouled-up the first time I saw a new player struggle, mainly because I’d excluded an exercise I’ve always used as a lead-up to all this kind of training.

What I’m talking about is something called the Skater’s Rhythm-bar.  It’s my own invention (and it actually sold around the world before I took it off the market).  I’m going to explain it a little over on CoachChic.com early next week, and I’m even going to show members how they can make their own.  Just wait until you see it, and see what it does for a skater.

Of course, starting our Lab training wasn’t the only thing on my agenda this week.

I’ve been doing a lot of doodling — of new drills and new plays — for the Mite AAA team I’ll coach next season.  That squad also gets underway this week, and I suspect readers are going to enjoy hearing how things progress with those young ones.

Then, while you might think my days and nights are filled with strictly hockey, there’s always plenty of administrative or background work to be done…

Tops on my list this past week was to totally redo my small home office area.  Yes, I have a pretty big place about 6- or 7-blocks from home, right near the center of town.  But, I’ve just never been able to do really creative stuff in that kind of atmosphere.  Thusly, I have two spots where I can comfortably write or design things — at home, either in my backyard “bunker” or inside in a hard to define little nook.

As another aside…  People might think I’m nuts that I actually use four laptops for my home work.  There are two reasons for this, however.  Number one, audio and video files can be huge, and so can the kzillion programs I like to use to create all sorts of special effects.  So, two of my little PCs are designated solely for audio and for video, a third is purely for writing, and the fourth is mainly my on-line laptop.  My second reason for splitting the work between four machines is that the winter calls for me to kill lots of time between hockey assignments.  Like, I might have to run a practice in one location, and then coach a game elsewhere three or four hours later.  So, instead of totally wasting that time, I’ll bring along a laptop, and either do some writing or work on my next video.

Okay, so why did I mention all that?  It’s because I’ve always only had one or two PCs at a time out at home, but it’s started to become a hassle to keep switching them as my work changed.  So, I spent this past week re-arranging my home office area to house all four laptops in a row.  (Yup, all I’ll have to do now is turn to my left and start writing, turn to my right and start editing a new video!)  Everything is pretty much in place as I write right now, but there’s still plenty of tidying to do, as well as a lot of accessories to find new homes for.

Well, I guess that’s about it for catching you up on my latest goings on.  As you can see, though, my hockey never really ends; it just changes a little, from week to week.

PS:  I just wrote what I consider to be a career-saving post over at CoachChic.com.  It’s about the “Underlying Problems in Hockey Passing“.  (Did I say career-saving?  Yup!)

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