My Coaching Perspective
Every coach is different.
Every coach has a different set of ideals, values, or motivations that define them as a coach. To me, that's one of the things that makes coaching so interesting.
For me, I think a lot of my perspective has been driven by experiences as a player.
I've always been a very observant person...even as a little kid.
When I was little I used to love to watch NHL hockey (still do today as well, you can ask my wife...). But I used to love to watch the game to try and pick up little tips or tricks that I would see on TV. Whether it was trying to mimic how they would protect the puck, or even just a little trick that they would use to get a slight advantage.
One example that I succinctly remember was watching an Avalanche game and seeing Shjon Podein use a trick on the backcheck. He was trying to stay with his man all the way back into his own zone but was caught at the end of his shift. He ended up getting next to the player and sliding the butt end of his stick across the front of the other players thigh and using that to slow him down a bit. From the refs perspective, he wasn't hooking, slashing, or holding. He still had two hands on his stick and his feet were still moving so he never got called.
Of course, then I would try and emulate them in my own play. And I'm not going to lie, as I got older, that little trick on the backcheck was extremely helpful ;)
I've been asked before about where my coaching style comes from and I think a lot of it is driven from when I was a player. I really try to look at things from a players perspective and remember when I was playing how I dealt, or would have dealt, with that situation as a player.
I also feel like I have a very unique perspective because throughout my playing career I played just about every role there was on a team. Through midgets I was always a scorer, putting up a lot of points, getting a ton of ice and looked to as a leader. After I finished my senior year, I left to go to school and play hockey at Culver Academy for one year (a post grad year).
I was told during my visit with the school that they had me pegged for a third line guy who would probably be able to help them on the penalty kill. That was going to be a new role for me, but one that I was excited about because it was going to be good hockey with really good players and coaches. It turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life, (and probably a good topic for another blog post) but long story short, I had an amazing time and learned from one of the best coaches I ever had in my life, Al Clark.
He was an extremely quiet coach, just always watching and observing. But he never missed a thing and was so good about connecting and teaching the game. He didn't talk much, but when he did, you listened.
But, that third line role was short lived and I ended up returning to a role on a top line and playing on the powerplay and eventually leading the team in scoring that season.
College, however, was a different story and perspective. My freshman year I only played two games. I broke my wrist the second week of the year and had to have surgery and was done for the year. That was a tough year. It was the first time I really dealt with a serious injury that kept me off the ice. In the past, I had always been able to play through things. So that was a big learning experience.
My sophomore year, was filled with a role that was all over the map. From playing on the first line, to the powerplay, then back to the 3rd or 4th line. It was a bit of a roller coaster that looking back at now, I wish I would have known what I know now and been able to handle the ride a bit better. Looking back at it now, I put to much thought into where I was in the lineup instead of just going out and playing and focusing on controlling the things that I could control.
My junior year was another battle. It was magnified by the fact that we weren't a very good team and if my memory is correct we only won 3 games that season...ouch. This was a tough year because my role was pretty much set as a fourth liner from the get go. I even got healthy scratched twice that season. That was tough.
As crazy as it may sound, that year was maybe the best year for me as far as growth was concerned. I learned a lot that year. I learned what it was like to be healthy scratched for no apparent reason except "they wanted to look at a few different things". Those were the only two times in my entire life I was ever healthy scratched.
I also learned a lot about staying in the game. When you're only getting a shift or two a period, it can be tough to stay motivated and in the game. You also learn about the battle of sitting for 40 minutes at a time in a cold rink and then getting your name called and have to get on the ice and go 100mph and be productive because you know that any future shifts that game are riding on those 30-45 seconds.
That year challenged me as a player and made me grow up a lot. I was left with two options. I could either bitch and complain and be a distraction, or I could suck it up, look at the positive and realize that I was still getting to play the game I loved with some of the best guys I've ever met and make the most of every opportunity I had. I chose the second option and I think it really helped define me as a player, coach and person.
Finally, my senior year rolled around and my ice time started to increase and my role with the team felt like it was growing every week. I killed a lot of penalties, played a regular shift, and felt like I was gaining more responsibility. It was a lot of fun to feel like the confidence I had always had playing was coming back. Then the meaningless minute (as my dad likes to call it) came and I got hit and tore my ACL in my knee and like that, my playing career was over.
I know that was a long winded explanation of the perspective I gained while being a player, but I think it really tells my story and helps define me as a coach.
I feel like I can connect better with players because at one time or another I was in there shoes. I feel like I can connect to guys that play a lot of minutes and have the pressure to produce for their team, because I've been there. But on the flip side, I also feel like I can connect with those players who don't get as much ice time or don't suit at all. I feel like I know what they're feeling. That doesn't necessarily make the conversations or feelings of those players any better, but I honestly do understand how they are feeling.
For me, going through all the different things that I have as a player has really helped me ensure that I'm as up front, honest, and transparent with players. I always remember wanting to know exactly where I stood on things. It didn't mean that I always agreed, or that I expect players today to understand or agree, but looking back at it now, I really did come to at least respect the honesty.
Like my hockey career, I fully expect my coaching career to keep evolving as I grow and experience more things. One thing continues to hold true, and that's that my passion for the game through teaching and trying to make an impact is as strong as ever.