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[Archive] 2012 interview with Ken Hitchcock

August 13, 2014 Leave a comment

My 2012  interview with St. Louis Blues’ head coach Ken Hitchcock posted on The Score’s Backhand Shelf blog on September 19, just prior to the NHL and NHLPA coming to terms with each other to stop hockey’s latest work stoppage. Since we spoke, the St. Louis Blues have twice finished 2nd in the Central Division, and in the Western Conference top 4 two times as well, but found themselves bounced from the playoffs in the first round on both attempts.

On a brighter note, “Hitch” was named assistant coach for Team Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where he and the team won gold. He also rose to 8th all-time in coaching wins (2nd amongst active coaches) shortly after he collected his 600th NHL win — one of only 11 NHL coaches to do so. 

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Interview with Ken Hitchcock: “In this business, you learn not to hang pictures.”

(Follow Dave Cunning’s blog “Serenity Now,” and follow him on Twitter here)

While the NHL lockout rolls on, fans may forget there is a group of personnel that is not aligned with either the NHLPA or team owners in CBA negotiations, yet is directly affected by the league’s labor stall – NHL coaches.

Nearly a year after taking over as head coach of the St. Louis Blues, guiding his team to a second round playoff appearance, and winning the Jack Adams Award for the NHL’s Coach of the Year, Ken Hitchcock is just as busy preparing for a season with an unknown start date as he would be if it were already underway.

I had a chance to interview Hitchcock and he gave me his thoughts on his coaching philosophy, on replacing Davis Payne in St. Louis during last season, and other topics.

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Hitchcock on evaluating his team during training camp:

“When you start your training camp, you know within three or four players what your team’s going to be like. You’re not working from a base of 60 players, you’re working from a base of 30 players — you’re trying to educate all 60 that attend, but you know the 30 that are going to try out for the 22 or 23 spots. Every coach visualizes what his lines will look like, and what his team will look like; you already know them in your mind, so those are the players you observe. We watch them whether they are already in St. Louis, or in junior, the American Hockey League, Europe – they could be anywhere – those few are the guys we keep our eye on.”

On what role he plays in scouting for the Blues:

“I stay out of it. There are other people who have that duty, and we stay in our own area of expertise. Everyone else has a job to do – our scouts have their own responsibilities, and ours as coaches don’t include scouting. Other people do that and do it well. All we would do is get in the way.”

On the fact that he is still learning as a coach:

“I have a thirst to learn, and to be part of a team – whether it’s as the head coach, assistant, associate, consultant, or whatever – I love being part of a team. I find great joy in being a small part of something pretty big, and having to work together. My thirst for knowledge leads me to try and find out why teams in all kinds of activities – in sports, business, or whatever – are successful. I want to learn that stuff. Part of that is the technical package –the systems of play and everything, but a big part of it is the synergy or the chemistry that goes on with your hockey club. I want to learn why certain people are successful, why they continue to succeed, and what they’ve learned. I know I don’t have all the answers, and I know I don’t have all the experiences, so I seek them out instead. I enjoy the journey of seeking out information and other people’s opinions, and watching other people perform.”

“Talking with my peers and watching how my peers practice and play feeds the hunger for learning that I have. I talk with other coaches all the time. As long as you’re in that constant learning path, you stay fresh, you stay energized, and you stay current. The minute you get satisfied, or the minute you lose your flexibility and feel like you don’t have to learn, in our business, I think that’s when you become very stagnant. If you stand still, the game starts to go by you.”

On coming in and replacing the previous coach (Davis Payne):

“Over time, you learn what sells to your players and what doesn’t. One of the things that experience tells you is that when you’re in a critical situation, or one where there’s a lot of anxiousness and anxiety, you find out that less is more – that less information and keeping it simple becomes more effective over time. The other aspect is – and I don’t want to call it luck – but when there’s a change, your players need to see instant success for them to buy in. We simplified, and in the four games we played in the first eight days we had wins over Chicago, Detroit, and Pittsburgh, and an overtime loss. Because of that immediate success, the buy-in became a lot easier and more black and white for the players. Every new coach that comes in sells a new program, and if there’s no success early, the buy-in takes longer.”

“When you look at the history of coaching, usually what happened when a coach had success is his players bought in, starting with the leaders. When the leaders buy in, the rest of the players have no choice but to come along. When you have great leadership, and you have cooperative leadership with the staff, you usually have a very successful team. What happens to a lot of coaches is their leadership changes – through trades, retirement, or whatever – that’s when you reach a crisis stage. Your team’s chemistry starts to change, the way of doing business changes, and a transition phase begins. Coaches get fired in that transition phase. Trying to create new synergy and new energy while going through a leadership change and missing a bunch of guys because of it is hard to do. You win in the National Hockey League because a team’s leaders follow their coach, and the players follow the leaders. When there’s a vacuum effect taking place, that’s when it gets chaotic.”

On what happened with Bruce Boudreau in Washington:

“He’s a good coach. Sometimes there are certain horses for certain riders. Sometimes good coaches don’t fit with the personnel that’s on the team, and sometimes they fit perfect. Once you’re a good coach, you don’t all of a sudden become a bad coach. Sometimes change is good for both parties – the players and the coach. It doesn’t mean it’s a matter of bad people, it just means a fresh approach might work better. You can find other ways to do it than changing the coach, and usually if a guy’s a good coach, that option is a last resort.”

What he thinks of the level of play in hockey today:

“This is an unbelievable time to be a hockey fan – this is the highest skill level I’ve ever seen and worked with. Everybody’s a good skater, the knowledge on the players that come from junior and college is at a high level, so they’re able to adapt much quicker. The whole game is at an incredible level. I don’t care how many goals get scored, it’s all about the intensity level and the execution – this is as high as I’ve ever seen it in my life.”

His opinion on the Kings who defeated the Blues in the second round of the Western conference playoffs:

“Nothing they did surprised anybody. The division they played in was incredible — really high end teams. Just getting points out of their own division was a struggle. When they made their personnel changes with about 25 games left in the season, they became big and fast. Anybody who played them in the last 20 games knew exactly how good they were. We played them twice, and we left both games going ‘Oh my god, are they ever a good team’. Nothing they did in the playoffs was surprising.”

On the stress of coaching and how it affects you:

“Coaching requires a lot of focus, a lot of energy, and a lot of work. There’s a tremendous amount of stress on coaches, especially in our sport because there’s so many teams that can win the Stanley Cup. Quite frankly, sometimes coaches lose their energy, get frustrated, or they get critical or cynical because of the stress, the demand, and the combination of everything.  Sometimes, the energy level that was there at the start isn’t there at the end. Teams decide to make changes to create a higher energy level. We all think that we should coach forever, and we all think that we should never get fired, but we don’t see the things that other people see. We don’t see the read that players have of our body language, or the little things that ownership or management see.”

On his energy level when he coached in Dallas and Columbus:

“When I got the job in Dallas, I thought that would be my first and last job. I thought I was going to coach there forever. I never thought I’d be let go in a million years. But I did.  And as disappointed as I was getting let go in Columbus, the year and a half I had off gave me energy for the next five or six years. It gave me a freshness, an energy, and an enthusiasm that is necessary to coach in the NHL. As a coach, you’ve got to look in the mirror – it’s a hard look, but you have to if you want to stay current.”

On the transient nature of coaching in the NHL:

“In this business, you learn not to hang pictures. We love St. Louis and I hope I stay here forever, but you come to understand that you’re in a transient situation, and that’s just the way it is. That’s the nature of our business, and we’ve gone about living that life. I’ve got great energy right now, but the moment my energy drops, I’ll be the first guy to knock on the General Manager’s door. But the way I feel now, I feel like I could coach a long time. The players have given me faith and hope, and that’s really rejuvenated me. The players have really created an enthusiasm for me, and I can hardly wait for the season to get going. I’m going to get every ounce out of this team and myself.”

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[Archive] 2012 interview with Mark Recchi

August 11, 2014 Leave a comment

My 2012 interview with Mark Recchi posted on The Score’s Backhand Shelf blog on February 1st of that year, shortly after his retirement from the NHL. At that time, Recchi denied foraying into the coaching world, but the co-owner of the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers has since worked for the Dallas Stars as their Advisor to Hockey Operations, and the Pittsburgh Penguins as a player development coach.

The audio of this interview can be heard here:

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Backhand Shelf speaks with Mark Recchi at the CHL Prospects Game

 

Usually when people retire from their line of work, they cease continuing to labor in their field of employment. Mark Recchi may have missed this memo.

Although his competitive hockey days are behind him, Recchi continues to be active in hockey. Since his Swan Song Stanley Cup, Recchi has been a participant in the 2012 Winter Classic Alumni Game, Mario Lemieux’s Fantasy Camp, and most recently was a guest coach for Team Cherry at the 2012 CHL/NHL Prospects Game in Kelowna, BC.

The Kamloops Blazers alumnus has always followed his old squad closely, and has finally had the opportunity to attend junior hockey games now that he’s not travelling the continent as a player.

“I always watch. I pay attention,” admitted Recchi. “I know what’s going on, especially in the WHL and all the different teams – that’s the great thing about the internet, you can watch all kinds of different games. I watch all the Blazers games. It’s exciting. I’ve had the opportunity to come back three times and watch the team live, which obviously I wasn’t able to do before. It was really neat for me to get in the building and watch some games.”

Those thinking that this two-day stint as a coach may be foreshadowing a return to hockey for Recchi as a coach can hold on to their rumors – for now. Even though at age 43 he’s becoming farther removed than the younger generation of hockey player, Recchi knows he could still find common ground with players if he did choose to pursue a coaching career.

“No. Not yet anyways,” said Recchi, quelling the coaching notion. “I like the building side more than I do the coaching right now, but you never know. I think everything’s definitely changed since I played junior hockey and over the last number of years, but that’s like anything. I have five children, and I know how to handle young kids. I played with a lot of young players too – Steven Stamkos, Tyler Seguin – I’ve been involved with these younger players coming in and tried to help them. You can see it in their eyes whether they’re a deer in the headlights, or whether they take it all in and do the right things. That’s the stuff I really like to see. Most of these kids will have a great chance to play in the NHL for a number of years if they can keep doing the right things, keep maturing, and stay headed in the right direction. It’s nice to see how they react to it and to see how they handle it. Bottom line is they’re all good kids and they want to learn and get better. Yes, it is a little different world than what I had and I understand that, but you can still talk the same language. I’m 43 going on 25, so I still feel young.”

Some players who have won multiple Stanley Cups fondly remember their first as their favorite. After playing for seven different teams over twenty-two seasons and winning three Cups, Recchi feels his teams’ championship victories grew sweeter each time — and so did his appreciation for the effort it took to achieve them.

“They are all special,” Recchi acknowledged. “The first one’s great, but I thought every other one got better after that. I was 22 years old when I won my first Stanley Cup. I had won in the minors two years before that, and won the World Juniors… and then all of a sudden I didn’t win anything for the next fifteen years. We won the World Championships in 1997, but it was a long time until I won the Cup again in 2006. That one was special. Then to retire on a winning note, and to go out with a bang – I went to Boston to give it that one last chance, and it came through. They’re all totally different. It makes you appreciate how hard it really is to win the Stanley Cup – especially when you go fifteen years between winning another.”

His most recent Cup inscription of course came while he was a member of the Boston Bruins last season. While many have scrutinized the Bruins for being a reckless and dirty team that plays a “bad guy” role in the NHL (see: Lucic vs. Miller), Recchi contends people have those criticisms confused with their deep commitment to teamwork.

“I don’t think they have a “bad guy” mentality, I think they have an all-in team mentality,” Recchi countered. “We took care of business when it needed to be taken care of, but what people didn’t understand was how good of a team we were, and how good of skaters we were. We had better skaters and were deeper than people thought. People overlooked what we had on our team, especially in the Stanley Cup Finals. We were four lines and eight defencemen deep. We were a deep hockey team that was big, and we could skate. We felt in seven game series, we would come out on top because of it. We could skate and play with anybody. We definitely had some incidents though the year where we looked after each other, but we weren’t a highly penalized team overall. But when things needed to be taken care of, or if someone had problems with one of our teammates, we took care of it. We helped each other, and that’s why we were able to build something very special. We had each other’s backs – we knew management had our backs, we knew the coaching staff had our backs, and we had theirs in return. It was an all-in attitude.”

Recchi himself was not without receiving his own criticism in last year’s playoffs – he made a memorable comment that Montreal’s Max Pacioretty may have been embellishing his neck and head injuries after receiving a hit from Zdeno Chara. Recchi admits now that is was indeed a calculated veteran move on his part to deflect heat away from his captain.

“I was doing it to deflect some things,” Recchi conceded. “[Chara] was our captain, and he was very upset about the whole thing. It was a very hard thing for him to handle. He didn’t mean to and doesn’t want to hurt anybody. ‘Z’ is a great person. I said it to take the attention away from him. Pacioretty’s a heck of a player. I felt bad doing it, but at the same time, I had my teammates to protect – that’s the bottom line. ‘Z’ would have done it for me. Anybody would have done it for each other in our dressing room. We were there to look after each other, deflect pressure, deflect criticism, or whatever was needed. That’s what we did, and that’s why we were successful.”

Recchi’s former teammates continue to draw attention to themselves – most recently Tim Thomas, who declined his invitation to meet US President Barack Obama while the rest of his teammates showed up. Recchi was in attendance, but respects Thomas’ exercising of his right to choose.

“That’s Timmy’s choice. I was there, but that’s Timmy’s decision. I respect Timmy for what he is as a person, and as a goalie. Everyone has their own opinions. I would have went, but that’s your right as a person. He’s a terrific goalie – he stops the puck and he’s a great teammate to the guys. It didn’t have any effect with them.”

In addition to his Stanley Cup championships, Recchi was a seven time all-star. His 1,533 career points place him 12th on the all-time NHL scoring list. He’s also 19th in goals (577), 14th in assists (956), 15th in power play goals (200), and tied for 14th with Wayne Gretzky in game-winning goals (91). One would have to think a Hockey Hall of Fame nomination for Recchi wouldn’t be out of the question when time comes.

2nd Quadrennial Double Championship Challenge!

May 20, 2014 5 comments

cup goldWell it’s getting on in the 2014 NHL playoffs, and it’s about time to dust of the old Double Championship Challenge for it’s second quadrennial go-round. If this seems Greek to you, click here to catch up on what the 1st Quadrennial Double Championship Challenge was all about. You may recall Rich Abney walked away with a championship t-shirt and four years of bragging rights in 2010 after picking the Chicago Blackhawks’ Canadian Olympic team members to win gold and the Stanley Cup in the same season.

So let’s have at it — cast your votes on who will win this quadrennial’s crown as outright best in the world.

Here’s who’s left:

Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp — Chicago Blackhawks [note: Keith & Toews can repeat as back-to-back DCC champs]

Drew Doughty, Jeff Carter — Los Angeles Kings 

Martin St-Louis, Rick Nash — New York Rangers

 Carey Price, P.K. Subban — Montreal Canadiens

Here’s who’s eliminated:

Marc-Édouard Vlasic, Patrick Marleau — San Jose Sharks

Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz — Pittsburgh Penguins

Jay Bouwmeester, Alex Pietrangelo — St. Louis Blues

Ryan Getzlaf , Corey Perry — Anaheim Ducks

Matt Duchene — Colorado Avalanche

  Jamie Benn — Dallas Stars

Patrice Bergeron — Boston Bruins

Here’s who did not qualify: 

Roberto Luongo — Vancouver Canucks

Mike Smith — Phoenix Coyotes

Shea Weber — Nashville Predators

John Tavares — New York Islanders

And unlike 2010 when Corey Perry joined Canada’s World Championship roster after winning Olympic gold in Vancouver, there are no players or staff that are representing Canada twice in the same season this time around.

Who’s your pick? Leave a comment to let us know! Choose correctly and you’ll be eligible to win an exclusive prize from Serenity Now…The SDC Blogs.

Rules: To enter, leave a comment on this post with your name, your pick, and where you’re from. One vote only — no do-overs. Those who select correctly will be entered into a draw for the grand prize. Good luck!

 

Hockey Talkie: Modano Retirement, Flyers Fans’ Final Straw, Marchand Mangling, Upper Body Injuries, and The Bourne-Gillies Wedding!

September 26, 2011 1 comment

Isn’t it wonderful to see hockey highlights on Sportscentre again? I know it’s only preseason, but sports highlights are 1000 times better to watch with NHL clips included, wouldn’t you say?

Speaking of the NHL…

On Mike Modano’s retirement: I always wanted to cheer for Modano as he was a great player and wore my number 9, but I was always held back by that American factor. Regardless, he had a phenomenal career, despite my fringe support. I had a couple thoughts when I heard about his announcement. First was that I predicted this day was looming in a previous blog before he was dealt to Detroit. Second was that I thought the Dallas Stars paying him $999,999 for one day of no service was absolutely ludicrous, especially if it ate at the Stars’ salary cap. Luckily, I was assured by @capgeek on Twitter that Modano won’t actually see a near million-dollar day, as I asked if Modano will actually be able to cash that cheque. His response was,

“@capgeek @davecunning No he won’t and it doesn’t affect the Stars’ cap at all.”

So there’s obviously some sort of “out” that teams get on contracts when a player “hangs ‘em up”, which I don’t totally understand. Anyone out there know the deal?

Thirdly, on Modano retiring as a Dallas Star, I thought to myself, isn’t that the team that told Modano he wasn’t going to be included in the further development of the team and subsequently did not offer him a new contract, and also once stripped him of his captaincy? It is definitely noble to have played with one franchise for that long, and in the end the move makes the most sense, but I’m sure Mike’s got a few axes to grind with the organization that he has retired with.

Moving on….

I wonder how long it will take before the “upper/lower body injury” player report becomes too specific, and teams just say a hurt player has a “body injury”. Upper and lower still gives dirty players a fairly sizeable target to hack and to try and mangle, doesn’t it?

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Considering how annoying the “pest” players of the NHL are (see: Esa Tikkanen, Claude Lemieux, etc), doesn’t it warm your heart just a little to know that the Bruins’ pest, Brad Marchand, got a misspelled tattoo permanently engraved on his flesh?  Apparently it got rectified, but if you were going to wish that kind of misfortune on a current NHL player, the only guy ahead of Marchand would be, like, Matt Cooke, wouldn’t you say?  I think even some Bruins fans could bring themselves to admit that. 

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I feel like Philadelphia Flyers fans might burn down the Wells Fargo Center after this season if Ilya Bryzgalov turns out to be a dud. That team has been one good goaltender away from a Stanley Cup so many times, that this might be the year Flyer fans make the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup riot look like a little girls’ teddy bear tea party if their team can’t get it done. They really don’t have any excuses any more.

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And finally….

Close friends of ours, Justin Bourne (son of 4-time Stanley Cup champ and NY Islander Hall of Fame member, Bob Bourne) and Brianna Gillies (daughter of 4-time Stanley Cup champ and Hockey Hall of Fame member, Clark Gillies) were married on September 17th in Long Island, NY! I was humbled and honoured to have been included in the wedding party as a groomsman for a very fun weekend. Still no word on whether the Islanders fronted the cash in exchange for the rights to the couple’s offspring, as was proposed at one time.  Bourne will be working for The Score this year, so be sure to keep up with him there. In the meantime, follow both Justin and Brianna on Twitter!

Sports Shorts: Brian Burke Getting Trump-ed, Hometown Hockey Allegiances Query, Basketball Beaks, Marion Jones, and more.

December 1, 2010 5 comments

Sometimes while watching late-night hockey highlights, I’ll zone out and come to again right in the middle of NBA highlights.  As I shake the cobwebs, it’s always a mad dash to get that channel changed asap to something more worthy of my attention (so, pretty much anything else on any other channel, except more NBA highlights).  So, here are some recent sports observations…

Does Brian Burke not ever have 5 minutes to comb his hair and freshen up?  Can we give this guy a 10 minute break for a shower so he can clean up and make himself presentable?  I know it’s a hair-tearing-out environment in Toronto these days, but come on Burkey, you’re getting a little Donald Trump-ish.  I’m sure the potential pending sale of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment isn’t helping either. 

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So the Canucks were the heavy pre-season prediction favourite to win the Stanley Cup, then they lost a few, won a few, lost a few more, and now the discussion is that this may be Alain Vigneault’s last season as Canucks coach if they don’t deliver.  Oh, predictable Vancouver bandwagon dumpings…

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If a team moves, and then a new team starts in the same city, should fans cheer for the team that used to be there (which is inherently the same group of people that left), or stay true to the city and cheer for the new one?  Example: Atlanta Flames move to Calgary, become the Calgary Flames.  Atlanta eventually incarnates the Thrashers; so should those original Atlanta Flames fans now return to the homeland and cheer for the Thrashers, or are they justified in staying Calgary fans?  Same scenario in Minnesota (North Stars to Dallas, Wild now in Minny), and Colorado (Rockies to NJ in ’82, Avalanche sprout up) in recent history.

Mitch Pollock is the inspiration for the "Mitch Pollock Made Me Hate The Calgary Flames" facebook group.

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Based purely on talent and consistency, the Detroit Red Wings are the most overall dominant team of the modern age of hockey, agreed?  From the Yzerman and Federov era to the current Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Franzen et al generation, all mixed in with a handful of Stanley Cup wins, it’s tough to argue this isn’t hockey’s version of the New York Yankees.

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The people who broke into Pat Burns’ widow’s car and stole his stuff booked themselves a one-way, non-refundable ticket to hell, did they not?  I’m still rattled at the Hall of Fame that they couldn’t do that guy the favour of waiving his mandatory waiting period or whatever so he could enter the Hall of Fame WHILE HE WAS ALIVE.  3 Jack Adams Trophies for coach of the year honors (on three different teams), and a Stanley Cup; are there deeper pre-requisites for HOF entrance? 

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I recently saw Marion Jones’ ESPN 30 for 30 special… does it say more about Marion Jones and her athletic ability that she walked on to a WNBA with very little previous basketball experience (played with UNC); or less about the WNBA, a league that is supposed to boast the best female basketball players in the world, yet people can just walk on and make their teams, as Jones has done with the Tulsa Shock?

The Hockey Tryout: Even The Best In The Game Still Have To Prove Their Worth (And advice for keeping your sanity through hockey’s trial period).

September 30, 2010 8 comments

 

With the opening of the 2010-11 NHL season looming, fake-meaningless tease pre-season hockey is all us stick-and-puck fans have to tide us over until that first puck drops.  We’ve endured baseball highlights on Sportscentre for long enough, it’s time to get some real sports going!

Yeah hi Bill, so camp registration fee is $250, and make sure the form is signed by a parent of legal guardian and returned by Aug 1. Good luck!

One interesting notable for me looking at the pre-season has been the boggling number of established NHL veterans still looking for a job – and their only option, seemingly, is to “tryout” for an NHL team.  Good luck trying to get Stanley Cup champ and former NHL All-Star Bill Guerin to fill out and mail in his registration form and camp fee in a self-addressed, stamped return envelope, in exchange for a free camp jersey and four guaranteed ice-times.

I count upwards of 20 NHL vets now fighting for their right to stay active in the world’s best hockey league:

Anaheim — Joe DiPenta (1 Cup), Stephane Veilleux; Atlanta — Enver Lisin, Kyle McLaren; Boston — Brian McGrattan; Columbus — Dan Fritsche; Dallas — Jonathan Cheechoo (All-Star, Rocket Richard Trophy); Florida — Tyler Arnason; New Jersey — Marcus Nilsson; N.Y. Rangers — Garnet Exelby, Ruslan Fedotenko (2 Cups, Olympian), Alexei Semenov; Philadelphia — Bill Guerin (2 Cups, All-Star, Olympian); Phoenix — Shane Hnidy, Kyle Wellwood; San Jose — Andreas Lilja (1 Cup); Tampa — Eric Perrin (1 Cup); Vancouver — Brendan Morrison, Peter Schaefer; Washington — Matt Hendricks.  ( from TSN.ca )

Fist pumping because he thinks he nailed the audition, or slipping on a banana peel back to reality?

I just gotta wonder what the real likelihood of these guys making these teams really is (see: Theo Fleury, Flames tryout).  I mean, it’s not like they’re new players that no one’s had a chance to see because they’ve been playing in an obscure minor league and there are only a handful of youtube videos on them.  These guys have all been around the league, and coaches and scouts already know what they’re all about.

And in reality, that’s the shitty thing about trying out for ANY team at ANY level.  In most cases, teams are already all but finalized before you show up at camp.  Guys have been committed to in the off-season, or re-signed from last year.  With only a few spots open from trades, injuries, or releases, if your resume isn’t already speaking for you, your only hope is to be so awesome that you out-perform a seasoned veteran, or that a vet gets hurt and you’ve looked good enough to be a lock for a call-up spot.  And that’s just the honest truth.

Do yourself a favor and at least look the part. If you show up wearing one of these, kindly show yourself out the door.

Too many young, good hockey players have had their hockey dreams dashed at an early or mid-point level because a team apparently already committed a starting spot and full PP/PK time to a player; who then walks out of camp a week later headed back on the 12-hour long bus to the team he was playing for before because things “didn’t work out” the way he was told they were going to at their tryout.  To be fair though, the onus is on the player to perform; if he can’t do that during that evaluation period, then the chances of that player being a team fixture do fade, no matter how highly touted or decorated they are.  As a coach now myself, I’ve had to weigh-in on some tough (and not so tough) decisions about who will play for our team.  While it’s easy to strike a guy off on paper, no one wants to be the guy who has to tell the player that he’s not we’re looking for.  It’s easy to tell that a guy wants to make the team, but it’s unfortunate when that’s just not a realistic possibility.  I’m sure many teams don’t mind collecting those “camp fees” to pad their team’s budget for the year though.

And that’s where hockey, more so at the minor-pro level, can really get quite exploitive.  Hockey is a game that players are passionate about.  I mean, blindingly passionate about.  So much so that they’ll jump at any chance to play for any team, anywhere.  From Northern Saskatchewan to Southern Alabama, if you’ve got a team and a training camp, chances are there are players willing to un-bank their life savings and drive to your hole-in-the-wall town from the exact opposite point on the continent for that one chance to be part of the team and to seek their fame and glory.  And chances are also that that team is probably full, despite their advertising to “leave no stone unturned” in hopes of finding talent.

Free-agent camps are tricky too, because they’ll mention how many coaches, scouts, and GM’s will be watching you, and how many were signed out of last year’s camp; and when you show up, there’s only one scout (maybe just a guy wearing a team jacket) from a crappy team that only sticks around for 1 period (this happened to a player I know this past summer) and doesn’t give anyone a fair look.

The third axis is the agent.  Many free agents will seek a player agent to represent them in pursuit of a contract.  The first tip-off here is the player pursuing the agent, not the agent pursuing the player.  If players are not careful, they can get mixed up with people/con-men who will take their money in exchange for promises of placement, and then never hear from the agent again, see their money again, or sign a contract (happened to me).  There are lots of good, credible agents and agencies out there, but you really gotta be careful, that’s all.  And again, it’s tough because players want to play so bad because of their love for the game and their emotional attachment to it; that pursuit and their trustworthiness is easily abused when it aligns with a person or team who doesn’t mind separating you from your money in exchange only for false hope and promises.

So, aspiring players who have not had the luxury of being drafted and/or a phenom from a young age, here’s your tryout camp mental checklist to review before filling out that form and sending in your cheque:

1)     Are you good enough?

2)     Ask yourself again, no really, are you good enough to make this team?

3)     Are you willing to endure failure and rejection, and self-improvement for what might be years until you do make this or another team?

4)     Can you fiscally, and mentally, afford it?

5)     Are you willing to live and play in the middle of no-where for an extended period of time, for next to no money?

6)     What is your goal is hockey?  Will you settle for anything below the NHL in the end?

7)     Do the rewards that come with being a hockey player outweigh the benefits to you?

8)     If you’re not single, what does your significant other think of all this?

I’m sure I could think of more, but if you’ve answered yes to all the above questions, then you should pursue your hockey dreams, no matter what they are, and no matter what they call for.  If you’re hesitant, then you may want to re-evaluate your path in the game.  But when it comes to camp time, always do your homework on the team, and be realistic (even if your realism would be described as crazy by others).  Other than that, let your heart and passion for the game, combined with your abilities and talents take you as far as they will lead; just don’t be afraid to follow them!  Being able to play the game of hockey is a very temporary privilege that only a very small percentage of people will ever have the opportunity to do at any level, so don’t take your remaining time in the game for granted.  If opportunity knocks, open the door; just make sure you let the right people in.

 

Bye-Bye Byng, Dallas Deterioration, Jersey Originality FAIL, and the PIM Ploy.

January 31, 2010 9 comments

Is it just me, or did the Pittsburgh Penguins, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, and Colorado Avalanche all get lazy when it came to 3rd jersey design time?  Maybe they just had nothing at the deadline, and blindly approved blue uniforms; when blue isn’t even one of their official team colors?  Did the Predators just rip off a Maple Leafs symbol and stitch on that stupid prehistoric cat with the major incisor issue? Did Florida not notice that Chicago, Minnesota, St Louis, and Pittsburgh all already did the emblem with the symbol in the middle and team name circled around it, and that the Blues and Pens already did it with the same colors?  How many people in the NHL were asleep at the wheel here?   

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If I were the type of person who was looking for players to make my team better, why in the world would I want to be on the lookout for a player with a lot of PIM’s?  Isn’t getting penalties, sitting in the box for varying periods of time, and making your team play with a man down because of your error, and increasing the likelihood of being scored on, a bad thing?  It boggles my mind that players will get chosen over others based on this stat, because the player with high PIM’s is supposed to make the team “tougher”.  There are lots of players who play a physical style that can make a team tougher and don’t have to sit in the penalty box to show it.   I just saw a sidebar on TV that said Keith Tkachuk moved into the top 5 all-time PIM leaders with just shy of 2200.  Errm… congrats, Keith, you sat in the penalty box for 36 games worth of time.  Thanks for helping out…

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Now that Wayne Gretzky and Joe Sakic have both retired, and Pavel Datsyuk has won the trophy three years in a row, is it time to do away with the Lady Byng Award for the NHL’s most gentlemanly player?  Does anyone in the league care, or aspire to win it anymore (did they ever?)?  Like WWE did with the European and Light Heavyweight championship belts; maybe the NHL should slowly stop talking about it, never show it on camera, and very sneakily just phase it out.  In the era of the Sean Avery’s, Steve Downie’s, and Dan Carcillo’s, maybe the NHL should in contrast introduce the Johnny Knoxville Award for biggest jackass of the year; as hockey tips slightly closer to “entertainment” for the sake of selling the game in an American market, and is certainly not dissuading the behaviour.    

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Marty Turco is the most over-rated goalie in the NHL.  For a guy considered for Team Canada a few times, he really doesn’t ever get it done, does he? 

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Speaking of Dallas Stars, Mike Modano seems to be just hanging on to that spot of his (and a few other classics in the league, I might add) in Dallas, doesn’t he?  He’s earning his keep, but as that era of players seems to be drawing to a close, it’s enough to wonder how much longer he can keep from going the way of the dinosaur.  He’s always been a really good player; recently I heard him described as “the best skater I ever saw” by a former NHL’er.  For some reason, he could never keep that Captain’s “C” on his jersey.  I always secretly liked him as a player (it helped that he wears my number); but as an American, my Canadian pride refused to allow it.   

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