Month: November 2010

NHL COACHES…ONE DOWN…WHO’S NEXT?

In an era where coaches in the NHL get fired as easily and frequently as stepping on an ant farm, I had a feeling that this season might be different. As I was analyzing the NHL coaches roster, I felt that management would exercise more patience this year. I was surprised to learn of Scott Gordon’s firing. Injuries to key players on a team with already very little talent and depth, can be very devastating. In this case, the coach suffered the consequences. For one thing, most teams are very budget conscious. Coaches make more money now and firing a coach means breaking the budget. But beyond the economics, there are circumstances very specific to this season that should allow more time for many NHL coaches this season. 

Several coaches are still “HONEYMOONERS” with their respective team. They are the ones who were recently hired. They will benefit from an evaluation time from their new boss.

There are coaches who are entrenched strongly IN CEMENT with their organization and it would take a total disaster for management to even contemplate a firing . . . at least this season.

Other NHL coaches are “ON THE ROPE”.  The length of the rope will depend on performance. Management is keeping a close eye to see if the message is still getting through. Some of these coaches have the benefit of a “long rope”, either because of their past record or their relationship with management.

Finally, there are coaches who are “ON THE ROCKS”. One coach is on the hot seat right now. Things better improve in New Jersey or John MacLean’s tenure has their head coach will have been short lived.

Here is my list of coaches in 4 different groups:  HONEYMOONERS, IN CEMENT, ON THE ROPE and ON THE ROCKS.

 

HONEYMOONERS

Craig Ramsay-Atl,  Joe Sacco-Col,  Scott Arniel-Clb,  Tom Renney-Edm,  Peter Laviolette-Phi,  Davis Payne-Stl,Guy Boucher-Tbl

IN CEMENT

Lindy Ruff-Buf,  Paul Maurice-Car,  Joel Quenneville-Chi,  Mike Babcock-Det,  Peter Deboer-Fla,  Terry Murray-Lak,

Jacques Martin-mtl,  Dave Tippett-Dal,  Dan Bylsma-Pit,  Ron Wilson-Tor,  Bruce Boudreau-Was

 ON THE ROPE

Randy Carlyle-Ana,  Claude Julien-Bos,  Brent Sutter-Clg,  Marc Crawford-Dal,  Barry Trotz-Nsh,  Cory Clouston-Ott,

Alain Vigneault-Van,  John Tortorella-Nyr,  Todd Richards-Min,  Todd McLellan-Sjs

 ON THE ROCKS

John MacLean   Njd

I’ve been on teams when coaches were fired. One of the most celebrated and surprising was the firing of Al MacNeil in Montreal after he led the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup in 1971. Al had some veterans on the team who didn’t support his philosophies and he was replaced by Scotty Bowman for the next season even after he won the Cup.

In total, I played for 16 coaches in 16 years of Pro hockey. Other coaches who were fired when I was a player were Bernard Geoffrion and Fred Creighton in Atlanta, Leo Boivin in St-Louis.

The mood in the dressing room after a coach gets fired goes from deception to hope and then to adjustment. Players move on very quickly. They’re so focused on their own play, on their own career and on the team that they must go on. Players get new opportunities. Those who were in the “dog house” with the former coach want to redeem themselves and gain the new coach’s confidence. The players who were in the coach’s favor must find ways to keep their position. It often produces a short term resurgence of energy but in most cases, the cream comes to the top and the best players are the ones who move the team. The coach who can push the right buttons to get the top players to perform and support him normally gets the most success.

HAVE A GREAT HOCKEY DAY!

Phil Myre

RED WINGS A MEASURING STICK

I attended the game between the Detroit Redwings and the Edmonton Oilers last night. Frankly, it seemed like men playing boys. The Oilers younger players who played at the Joe for the first time will remember this moment for a long time. It may not be a pleasant memory as the Oilers dropped a 6-2 loss but it will stay on their mind as a measuring stick to where they need to be as a player and as a team.  

Playing without Shawn Horcoff, their most experienced forward, the youthful Oilers struggled to defend against the Wings movement, speed and great passing. The Wings superior experience was evident as they controlled the puck most of the night. Covering the Detroit area as a Pro Scout for a long time, I witnessed this phenomenon many times. There are many games where it is difficult to rate puck skills and offensive instincts on the visiting team because they get very little puck possession. Teams come in this city feeling pretty good and after playing the Mighty Wings on their home turf, realize that they have a long way to go before they’re a good team.   

Taylor Hall, who played Jr. hockey in neighboring Windsor, is one of the newcomers who faced the Redwings at the Joe for the first time. It was my first viewing of this first overall pick in the 2010 draft. He ended the game with a -3 and no point. He also appeared nervous and rushed his moves at times. He didn’t use his creativity when he had puck and missed the net or had shots blocked; a definite sign that a player is not executing with confidence. He is a cerebral player with a strong skating stride and I’m sure better than he showed in this game.

Jordan Eberle, a first round selection in 2009, made quite an impression on me. What an explosive player! I had “flash backs” of seeing Patrick Marleau for the first time. He has speed, skills, very creative and he competes.

The Oilers are faced with a familiar dilemma that several teams have experienced over the last few years. They are very proud of the group of young players they have acquired and excited at the prospect of a bright future. But how long do you take for the rebuilding? A team takes the risk of taking too long to start winning and their young players develop bad habits, bad attitudes and lack leadership. They never learn to work beyond their comfort level. The best example of failing to grow with their young stars is the Florida Panthers. Jay Bowmeester and Nathan Horton among others, who had so much great promise, are now performing on other teams and the Panthers are still rebuilding. Conversely, the Chicago Blackhawks were able to surround their great young players, acquired when they were a bad team, with high end veterans. They created a winning environment with veteran leadership and skill, enough to win the Stanley cup. The Colorado Rockies appear to be going in the right direction with their young stars. What about the New York Islanders? What direction are they taking with their young draft picks? ? ? To follow up…

PHIL-BITS

–          Great move by Tom Renney not to pull his goalie Nikolai Khabibulin when he was down 5-0 after two periods. The “Bulin Wall” had been pulled in the previous game against Carolina. Pulling your #1 goalie two games in a row sends the wrong message and would be very risky.

–          Ales Hemsky is a magician with the puck but has no idea in the defensive zone. One consolation is that he did compete in this game and was one of their better players offensively.

–          The Oilers want to play a high pace, speed game but they need a lot of work in their own end.

HAVE A GOOD HOCKEY DAY

Phil Myre

CICCARELLI WORTHY OF HALL OF FAME

Dino scoring

Dino scoring

I was one of the fortunate few to have the opportunity to work with Dino Ciccarelli. Dino came to Detroit in 1992 when I was an assistant/goalie coach for the Redwings. He was the optimum competitor, goal scorer and teammate

He competed hard every practice. There was no rest for Dino; he wanted to score a goal every time he skated up the ice. He would often pick up a second puck and put it in the net if he didn’t succeed in the drill, just to get the feeling of scoring a goal. He was the best at deflecting pucks in front of the net. It wasn’t by chance either; he practiced it every time he had a chance. 

After practice, he would get defensemen to shoot from the point and he would stand in front of the net and deflect pucks. It didn’t matter if they were low or high, he would get a piece of the puck somehow. When the defensemen left, he often recruited me to pass some pucks from behind the goal line. Not your ordinary passout, he wanted passes in the air and he would bat the puck into the net. He didn’t miss many. He would get a piece of the puck at least 7 out of 10 times. 

He loved to play the games and he played very few bad ones. You knew exactly what you would get from Dino. He wasn’t exactly a big player. Generously listed at 5’10”, he played a giant game. His strength has been underrated however. He had great balance on his skates and worked hard on his upper body to get stronger. He never took any abuse from anybody and he dished out some of his own. . . 

During the era in which Dino played, the front of the net was a “WAR ZONE”. THERE WAS A GREAT PRICE TO PAY for forwards, like Dino, who went to the net and made their presence felt there. Physical battles were admissible and viewed as part of the game. Crosschecking, slashing by defensemen were tolerated. Spearing and punching were penalized but only when the referee took the time to look to the front of the net. Dino took some shots and he gave it back with one thing on his mind: “SCORE”. 

He scored 608 goals, 1,200 points and 1,425 penalty minutes in 1,232 games. He knew what he had to do to succeed. He couldn’t beat opponents with his speed or fancy stick handling. He wasn’t a fancy passer or play maker. HE WAS A FINISHER! Most of his goals might have come within ten feet of the net and I would venture to say that most of his penalties were not for “holding or interference. He used the stick as an equalizer for his lack of size and he was involved in many “scuffles” or “altercations” in his 19 year career. That was the acceptable culture in the NHL in those days. I witnessed many ugly stick incidents and fights in the 70’s and 80’s and 90’s. One of Dino’s stick incidents got him in some trouble with the law, when he retaliated on Luke Richardson of the Toronto Maple leafs with a high stick to the helmet. It was the first time that an NHL incident went to the courts. He received one day in jail and $1,000 fine but the case should have never gone outside the NHL.

Dino never had the chance to win a Stanley Cup like many of his peers in the Hall of Fame. 

 “I’m fortunate that I played this game for 19 years and had success at it. The only thing I didn’t do was win the Cup, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. I was very satisfied with my career and getting the call from the Hall makes me feel just a little more accomplished, a last piece of the pie kind of thing.”                         Dino Ciccarelli  

“One thing for sure, Dino, Cup winner or not, YOU’RE A WINNER IN MY BOOK!” 

Phil Myre 

THE BALANCED ATHLETE

I’ve seen a lot of players come and go during my 42 year career, many of them with enough talent to play in the NHL but could never make the big step to stay. Physical talent and skill alone can’t carry a player in the NHL. The emphasis of coaches and players is on the physical skills and system development. But the elite player must have balance between the physical, mental and emotional skills.

John Phelan, now with the Vancouver Canucks, was our mental skills coach in Ottawa while I was their goalie coach. He compared the three qualities for the balanced athlete (physical, mental, emotional) to a three-legged stool. If one or two of the legs are shorter, the balance is gone and the chair will fall. So players  who can’t find that balance between the physical development, the mental approach and the emotional commitment fail to reach their full potential.

Mentally strong players are those who play hard every game, finish checks, fight through checks and never give up. They can play through adversity, injuries, success and failure. They’re not influenced by outside interferences like family, media, fans, injuries, coaches decisions and competition for ice time with teammates. I often thought that the time spent on the ice was the best part of being a hockey player. Putting up with all the other “bull” off the ice was the tougher part. Coaches are in tune with the mentally strong player. They nurture it, encourage it and they guide their players to help them become mentally strong.  

The emotional part of the game is where coaches spend very little time on. Yet, emotions play a very important part in the development of players. Every shift, every play, there is a positive or a negative stimulus. A good pass, a strong shot, a goal and a good hit can ignite a reaction.  

We, as coaches, must teach our players that it’s OK to celebrate, it’s OK to be sad and it’s OK to be “pissed off”. It’s all part of our competitive spirit and makes our game fun. But they must learn to control those emotions and know where the limits are.  

I’ve had some emotional reactions through my career that may have been different had I had better guidance or training to help me control those emotions. Working with 13 and 14 year olds boys the last few months has convinced me that learning how to control emotions is a crucial part of the development for a young player. I think it should start with youth hockey coaches.  Kids tend to be very emotional and quick at reacting to hits, goals and cheap shots. I’ve seen many kids reacting violently to “cheap shots” with the stick, or over reacting to calls by the referee; players banging their stick on the ice or the boards following a goal against or a bad play. Youth hockey and minor hockey coaches must learn to recognize the signs and guide their players to control emotions to achieve higher success.

Coaches and athletes must find the balance between the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Neither should interfere with our next shift, our next game, or our next challenge.

Focus and Positioning key to goalies success

Goaltending Tips:

NHL goalies are part of a special group.There are only 60 people in the world (2 goalies per team) who can call themselves NHL goalies.   They have reached a plateau that very few people in the world could attain…or even want to.  Most people would never dream of standing in front of hockey pucks shot at them at 100 mph.

All NHL goalies have worked hard to reach this pinnacle. They must have exceptional skills and athletic ability. Competitiveness is a quality necessary to make your way to the NHL as a goalie.  

So, what makes some NHL goalies better than others? Skills and competitiveness being equal, from my point of view, there are two elements that separate the best from the rest:

Focus and Positioning.

Having FOCUS for a goalie means the ability to concentrate on the task at hand for a full game and to perform under tremendous pressure. The focused goalie has to maintain composure and control through adversity, through failure, every time he allows a goal and through great physical demands and rapidly changing situations. Hall of Famer and former teammate, Ken Dryden, had exceptional concentration and focus. He could describe a play resulting in a goal from it’s conception. He didn’t like to look at the clock so that he could keep the same level of concentration no matter how much time was left in the game. He could keep his focus whether he had 45 shots or 12 shots. Many goalies have difficulty keeping their concentration when not getting many shots. Goalies like Dominic Hasek had great anticipation of the play because of his ability to focus and concentrate on the moment.

POSITIONING is also a key to achieving higher levels of performance for a goalie. I learned a lot from Jacques Plante on positioning when he was my coach in Philadelphia. He taught me how to use markings on the ice, when to stay back and when to be aggressive. The idea that goalies have quicker reflexes than other athletes is really a myth. It’s particularly true of today’s butterfly goalies. Since they are down on their knees for most saves, it’s crucial that their position be perfect at all times. Too deep in the net exposes the top, too far out makes them vulnerable to being deeked .

During the many years that I’ve coached goalies and still today, I spend a lot of time doing what I call “ORIENTATION DRILLS” to help build confidence in positioning. The ideal save is to let the puck hit the goalie with minimal movement and great control of movement.  

Goalies are drafted because of the saves they make and their ability to keep the puck out of the net. Once they reach the NHL, things change. They are expected to make saves and are rated on the GOALS THEY GIVE UP. A goalie can make 40 great saves but if he gives up a soft goal, coaches and fans will remember the bad goal easier than the great saves, especially if it was influential in the outcome of the game. Goalies that don’t beat themselves with many bad goals are those who achieve superior performances. Focus and strong positioning are essential to minimize bad goals and to make key saves that change the game.