Observations From the Rink

Forward 

 We all see the it differently. I was always fascinated with the world of scouting well before my introduction into the fraternity four years ago. It’s been an incredible journey of growth and knowledge with so many amazing mentors willing to give back and teach me the finer aspects of the business. Nevertheless, when it comes right down to it, we all see the game differently.  

We all rely on our instincts.  We all rely on our own experiences within the game. 

From our playing days, from our coaching days and beyond, we are always extremely confident with our assessments, evaluations, observations and projections. 

Nonetheless, as scouts we all know it’s not an exact art or science. We also realize how wrong our projections can be as well.  There are so many intangibles, so many variables that are out of our control.  

Projections aren’t perfect. Comparisons aren’t full proof, but we always rely on our instincts and we can never doubt those. Over the past several years as a writer, color analyst and scout I’ve gained amazing insight from combining all three areas in the search for broader knowledge in every role that I have within the game.  

I felt compelled to write about what I was seeing in the game from all three angles. In 2017-18, I wrote and filmed a series of brief assessments as an overview of what I was observing players and the game from the Midget AAA to the QMJHL ranks. 

Observations from the Rink” was one way of sharing my perspective on the game and players today.

When I first started posting my observations I had a lot of people tell me to stop due to many different viewpoints and opinions on the subject. 

“Scouts just don’t do that Craig.” 

If I have learned anything over the past few years in the hockey business, it’s that you have to trust your instincts. 

I don’t write my observations to be negative, I write them because I want people to understand where the game is trending from various angles. These are some of my observations, we may all see it differently, but we all the love the game and what to see it flourish. 

Chapter 1 Yelling and Knowledgeable Today’s Hockey Parents and Coaches

Do your f%$king job! Do your f%$king job! 

That’s what I heard Sunday morning at the rink during a Major Midget Semi Final Game. 

The coach was trying to protect his player after a knee-to-knee collision at the teams blue line.  A few players were standing close to the injured player, I’m not sure if words were exchanged, but the coach may have had a point to get the attention of the officials, but yelling like that was very inappropriate, in my opinion. Emotions run high, I know, I’ve played and coached the game. 

The young linesmen were busy doing what they do after a stoppage and one referee was at the timekeeper, while the other one was in position over seeing the entire ice waiting for play to resume. 

Could they have been more proactive, probably, but who am I to judge that. I’m not an official. 

Did the coach have a point to yell and scream? 

There’s a big difference between yelling to get an officials attention to protect his player and probably what he thought was the integrity of the game. 

Now saying do your f%$king job five times at the top of your lungs during a stoppage like that was clearly inappropriate and has really no place in the game. 

To be honest, nothing really surprises me any more. 

I love the game and I love going to the rink, but it’s difficult to watch hockey sometimes when everyone around you is yelling and screaming. 

Is it ever going to end?  

The game has changed, but some aspects will never change and I’m afraid yelling and screaming at officials is one of them. 

It appears to be the one constant in the game and unfortunately it really doesn’t matter where you go, you can guarantee someone will be blasting the officials, opposing players and coaches. 

It’s rare these days to go to the rink and never hear it, but last weekend was another constant reminder of how bad some “hockey parents” and coaches can actually be!  

Clearly by writing this article, I’m probably going to ruffle some feathers, but seriously the yelling and screaming is getting really old and I would love to see it stop. 

During my coaching days I would often look up in the stands and hear parents yelling at their own, yelling at others on their own team and the opposition, that kind of stuff really bothered me and obviously it still does. 

That type of behavior isn’t as bad at the Midget Major level, but it obviously still goes on. 

During that time I knew it was getting really bad when I saw young girls and boys (siblings of the players) repeating exactly what they heard from the parents. 

It was just absurd.  

To be brutally honest I try to avoid everyone when I go to the rink, but that doesn’t mean I don’t see what’s going on. 

To hear the constant negativity directed towards referees is just downright ignorant in my opinion. 

I’m no stranger to the emotional side of hockey, but you can show emotion by being a knowledgeable parent, fan or coach. 

Instead of yelling at every penalty call even when obviously it’s a penalty, try yelling “ok let’s kill this off.” Nonetheless, the abuse still reins down throughout the rink!  

“Come on ref open your eyes”

“There’s two teams out there ref” 

The latter has to be my favorite, you know the game is getting out of hand when that one starts. I know you have probably have heard them all. 

I couldn’t believe my eyes this past weekend when two parents of one team came to the opposite end of the ice. I just knew what was next. 

You see yelling parents or I like to call them “ice level parents” know where to hide, they know exactly where to stand.  These two crazed hockey fathers were yellers and at one point one of them even hit the glass. 

I quickly got up and walked away and sat on the opposite side of the rink. 

It’s not much wonder hockey parents are known around the sports community as being just that “hockey parents.”    

A few weeks ago I was leaving the rink and was stopped by a couple of parents talking about the officiating. Trust me it wasn’t the greatest that night. The zebras were struggling because of a multitude of bad behaviour on both sides. 

One of the fathers said ‘Craig you are shaking your head, do you disagree with what he’s saying about the officiating, what do you think’?

I looked at the parent and said, “I’m just here to scout players, not evaluate officials, safe travels guys and have a good night,” I continued down the stairs and outside. I see the missed calls, I see the cheap shots that are called that you may disagree with, I see it all, because I’m watching the game, but I’m not about to throw the officials to the curb. 

Referees are under tremendous scrutiny these days. Do their calls or miscalls effect the outcome of a game? 

Yes, sometimes they do, there’s no question, but we have to understand why the game of hockey is struggling to find highly qualified officials nowadays. 

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

Ask yourself this question would you want to be yelled at constantly? 

Oh but Craig they are the only ones getting paid, they should be great at what they do! 

So I’ll ask the question over again would you want to be yelled at constantly? Oh shit that’s a bad comparison, maybe ask your son or daughter how they feel to be yelled at all the time while they are at the rink, maybe then you will get your answer.

Can you imagine being the hockey parent of a young referee? I couldn’t imagine, try to imagine that drive home. Now that would be a great subject for an article. 

For the purpose of this article and being involved in the game all my life I have made my own classifications/categories for “hockey parents”.   I’m sure if you have been in a rink you will be familiar with some of my classifications.

The first classification and my next rant is about the “ice level parent.” 

 These parents  stand ice level and yell and scream, bang  on the glass and comment on every aspect of the game.  These are the parents that sometime confront refs and the opposition as they come off the ice.   Some of these people claimed to have played the game at a high level in their past, but don’t necessarily have the patience it takes to become coaches.

Another great example of the “over knowledgeable ice level parent.” 

They are always around to offer advice, motivation and of course criticism to their child while they come off between periods!  

Next up on the list of “ice level parent” is of course parents of the goaltenders.  They are usually quiet and try to blend in with the “over knowledgeable” so not to be seen by coaches, but are always there for that eye to eye contact with their puck stopper!  

It’s incredible that these “ice level parents” are constantly migrating to opposite ends of the rink for support of course never adding pressure to the most complex position on the ice.   

The second of my classifications can be found in separate rows much like any government assembly, the screaming “hockey moms” and the “stand alone brotherhood of the hockey dads.”  

Both parties claim to be more knowledgeable then the other and often communicate in a weird way to each other throughout the game.   The “hockey moms” are the sport psychologists and always know what every child on their team is thinking while the “brotherhood of the hockey dads” criticize everything that happens on the ice. 

Don’t believe me just watch the next time you go to the rink. 

Nevertheless, there are the exceptions to the rule. Throughout the years many people have approached me asking what my parents were like as “hockey parents.”

 Well they were the complete opposite to everything written above actually.  My dad was a “stand alone hockey dad”who only cheered once or twice a game for the entire team and stood at the opposite end of the rink even away from our opposition’s fans.   

My mother sat in “hockey mom alley” but never would participate in yelling or screaming just a lot of movement actually.   I almost compared it to my grandfather watching World Grand Prix Wrestling.  

She would move, duck and actually throw her shoulder into other “hockey moms” so by the end of a physical game my mother could be spotted in the stands of a jammed packed arena with a foot of space on each side of her.    

I never knew what my dad was thinking during the post-game drive home.  He was always so quiet at the rink and away from it!  

On the odd occasion he would just say you need to “hit the road” simply put, you need to do some dry-land to get stronger. 

I often wondered when I was a coach what was actually being said on the drive home from these classifications of “hockey parents” that yell and scream during games.   

Clearly hockey continues to have a massive problem with it’s off- ice antics and the over involvement of some parents and coaches alike.  

Where does the coach stand in all of this?  What role if any does the coach have?  Should the coach have control over their player’s parents?  

For the final few years of my coaching career during our introductory parent meeting, I really tried to incorporate the same belief system in the parents as in our players. 

I would always end the meeting by saying “be vocal but be positive.”  

It really serves no purpose in yelling at your son or daughter, and especially others on the team.  I would always emphasize, “we can only control what we can control”.    

I would always mention the word “class” and that I was going to try to teach that aspect of the game to the players and that I would need their help in that area as well.   

Far too many times the yelling and screaming from parent’s filters down to the coach and of course to the players.

 I truly believe we are on a slippery slope in this aspect of our amazing game. 

Unfortunately it’s casting an even darker shadow over a game full of its share of off – ice controversy.   

This former coach, writer, broadcaster and scout really hope it’s not too late and the yelling and screaming haven’t become bigger than the game. 

Oh and by the way yelling do your f%$king job, do your f%$king job, at the top of your lungs disrespects the game. 

The refs that game were trying to do their job to protect all the players on the ice and the integrity of the game. 

Did the coach do his f%$king job? 

Did he control his bench? 

Sure I was a coach, and I’m not going to lie, I raised my voice multiple times at officials over the years, but through it all I never disrespected the game. 

Here’s a blog I wrote during the 2012-2013 season discussing a few poorly officiated Bantam AAA Girls Games.

Good Morning, 

Well given our experience yesterday, one can never down play the importance of qualified officials.  We often forget that the officials are under constant scrutiny and when we question their calls they automatically assume it’s a personal attack on skill set.  

We may not always agree with their call of the game or may not see it the same way they do, and it usually drives coaches, players and parents crazy but we have to remember that to gain experience and knowledge of the game they have to put in that situation.   

Game in game out this year we have seen younger and younger officials, don’t get me wrong it is very challenging for coaches to keep our emotions in check when you clearly disagree with a call! 

 Case in point yesterday, those disallowed goals could have changed the complexion of the game.  4 games ago an official clearly made an incorrect call on a goal, we lost that game 2 to 1.  Those 2pts might come back and bite a team at the end of the season. 

The best piece of advice that I ever received was from a former coach, “You’re the player, I’m the coach, you play….I coach.”

The same can be said about the officials unfortunately they do control the outcome of the game by their judgement. Nevertheless, the players and coaches also control the outcome of the game by their judgement.

 The challenge is not letting the officials dictate the behaviour of the players, and as coaches controlling the bench is a must in these situations, far too many players lose focus while the coaches are yelling and screaming at the refs.  An extra challenge must be made to the players, “looks like we have to play against the officials as well today, let’s focus on our brand of hockey”  I have often found that this approach helps!  But a little bit of adversity never hurts!

Yours in not yelling at the officials, Craig 

Chapter 2 It’s Not So Black and White

Minor hockey associations need young officials now more than ever. The game of hockey needs them more than ever, but let’s face it would you want your son or daughter to be an official? 

We all know the answer to that.

Sure there’s a percentage of parents out there that believe it’s great and extremely rewarding and an honourable job and you know something they are right.

Nevertheless, the game of hockey has a unique way of closing the door on its young officials.

Where lies the problem?

Obviously, it all starts with abusive aspects and total bull shit referees and young officials are confronted with.

Unfortunately, I’ve had my share of run ins with officials over the years.

I’m certainly not proud of it.

Actually looking back on it, I probably meant well, was trying to protect my players, but it’s still kind of embarrassing.

I was never assessed a bench minor. I was never ever thrown out of a game. I never verbally abused an official, but I did raise my voice a time or two.

I guess it all comes down to this foundation question.

Would you want to put your child in that situation?

Would you want adults yelling and screaming at your kid if they missed a call, a penalty or an offside?

You see it’s not so black and white. The game is in desperate need of officials, but the game is desperate need of cultural shift.

I’ve gone on record countless times harping on the importance of player development, what about developmental programming for young officials?

It exists and there are some exceptional resources out there.

You see the hockey playing world don’t always hear about that, because they’re too busy trying to get to the next level.

Some associations make it mandatory for their young elite players to take officiating courses and try putting on the stripes.

Personally I wish more associations would implement that, but again things aren’t always black and white.

You can search for the solutions and all the reasons why associations across the country and world for that matter are starving for young upcoming officials, but let’s face it we all know why and we have turned a blind eye to it for so long that the day of reckoning is upon us.

The game now more than ever needs to welcome and embrace young officials.

We need to give them room to grow.

We need to support and left them up, instead of grounding them before they can take flight.

The game of hockey needs to look at itself in the mirror and realize it’s not all about the players and coaches journey, that there’s another team in play.

Some may even argue the stripes are the most important team of them all.

The game doesn’t exist without the stripes, how’s that for being black and white?

Oh and the next time you hear a hockey crazed parent or fan belittle yell and scream at a young official, just imagine if it was your son or daughter how you would feel, but more importantly how would they feel?

Try this on for size, this comes from a long-time official.

“Imagine the father of the 16-year-old referee screaming at your son the 14 year old defensemen when he coughs one up in the middle of the ice, what would you have to say or think then? Shoes on the other foot isn’t it?”

It’s time to take-action and change the cultural norm and acceptance around abusing officials once and for all.

It’s time that more kids feel empowered and comfortable when it comes to putting on the stripes, but most of all it’s time for the adults to grow up, unfortunately some things aren’t so black and white.

Chapter 3 So You Want to Take Long Shifts!

So you want to take long shifts? 

There’s a big difference between logging massive minutes, being a horse and being selfish. Who’s responsible for long shifts? 

The coach or the player? 

Who’s in charge anyway, that’s hard to figure out sometimes isn’t it?  You know what the difference is between being a horse and a selfish player staying on the ice way too long? 

Entitlement, that’s the difference. 

So many young players get to the next level and just assume because of their resume they are going to play and are entitled to stay on the ice for as long as they see fit. Quietly honestly in my opinion, that’s bull shit, but where’s the coach in all of this? 

Playing the entire two-minutes of power play just because you were a top point getter in Pee Wee, Bantam or Midget, are you kidding me, get the hell off the ice. 

I get it, it’s up to the coach. The coach dictates shift length and ice time. I know what it’s like, I’ve been there. Plenty of years I coached basically a one-line team at the high school level so I know all about, but near the end of my minor hockey coaching days, I quickly realized that we were going to win a lot of games, but could we win the ones that it mattered most if I only played the shit out of my top one or two lines, obviously the answer was no. 

You’re only as good as your weakest link.  Hockey is a team game, each piece of the puzzle is equally as important.  Nevertheless, at the end of the day, it’s all about winning. I remember trying to do everything I could during those coaching days in high school, I tried everything I could to stay competitive to squeak out the victory. 

Taking time outs to rest players, double shifting players non-stop, matching lines, budgeting their ice time, letting them go easy in practice because we needed them on the weekend.

Trust me, I tried everything. 

Listen I get it, it’s all about wining, but what about when you have a deep team, in a developmental league? As a coach you know what you do, you try to win, win at all cost, you play your horses, you go with the players that are going on a nightly basis, but you always play your top guys. 

I can use all that cliché bullshit and it may never change, but there are some programs out there and some coaching philosophies that understand, they just get it and you know what, in the long run they will win,  and develop better players at a greater frequency. That being said it still doesn’t explain why young players still don’t understand and value the importance of short shifts.

Obviously, they have to be told, it has to be explained, taught and part of the team culture. Quick shifts are paramount, “on, off, let’s go”, should be a common theme throughout all levels of the game. 

Sure, I get the coaches side and I understand the players perspective in all of this, I logged big minutes the last few years of my playing days, but seriously, who’s keeping track of all of this?

Obviously, some parents are with stop watches and all of that stuff, but seriously who’s keeping track in the Bantam, Midget and Junior ranks? 

I’m sure all the analytics crowd are out there evaluating, recording and making bar graphs to display the linear progression, negative and positive factors, and every possible strategy from an offensive standpoint, but is there’s a reason why major junior hockey across this country doesn’t keep time on ice or do they? 

I’m sure if you took a private poll of all the CHL teams you would find out they track TOI all season long.  There are companies out there that use advanced technology to track that information through the use of microchips sewed into jerseys, so trust me CHL teams are keeping track. 

We all know shift length is critical in all aspects of the game. Gone are the days of Phil Esposito playing through two other lines and staying out there for three minutes.  Sure, there are players at the elite levels of the game that can log incredible amounts of ice time without showing any fatigue.

They have the ability to log massive minutes while playing at their best So how do they do it? 

They monitor their shift length, they pace themselves, they work together with the coaching staff. They understand the game, they go hard in every shift and they are incredible athletes that know their bodies well. Obviously, those players have probably logged massive minutes at every level coming up through. However, to see Midget aged kids not backcheck, coast on the forecheck and not have anything left in the tank in the 3rd period is a perfect indicator that they aren’t in shape, lack of bench management by the coach or they have stayed on the ice way too long. 

Pick your poison, trust me, it’s all of above. You see that’s undoubtedly where the bad habits creep into young players games. That’s where you see the tired mistakes, the careless mistakes or the bad penalties. 

That’s where the entitlement comes into effect as well. Those entitled players have always logged big minutes, so they should keep playing that way, they should stay on the ice, but what they don’t realize is with big minutes come big mistakes and really bad habits. 

Why aren’t those mistakes or bad habits corrected or dealt with at lower levels?  Well that’s easy, the coaches are too hung up winning, hell everyone is fixated on winning. 

The coaches that play their entire benches are thought to be subpar because of their “win-loss” records.  Everyone assumes they can’t coach because they can’t win, while they are winning on a developmental front, that’s the battle that no one sees or appreciates. 

I’m not saying the best players shouldn’t play more in critical situations or when the game is on the line, I’m not saying that at all. 

Are coaches really preparing players for the next level if they play the shit out of their top players and limit other players opportunities? Whatever happened to playing big minutes, but short shifts?  Whatever happened to earning your ice time, but playing short shifts? 

Whatever happened to holding players accountable for their play on the ice and their behaviour off of it, by taking away their ice time? 

Why do some coaches still “ghost bench” players?  Hey coaches let’s be honest and transparent with players instead of “ghost benching” them for no apparent reason. 

Whatever happened to creating a culture of unity and team first, rather than labelling and typecasting players? Whatever happened to teaching every single player the power play and penalty kill and giving them all an opportunity? Whatever happened to playing the game the right way? 

“Oh if I stay on longer, I’ll get noticed more.”  Yeah probably for all the wrong reasons. 

Get the hell of the ice, take shorter shifts, trust me you will be a lot better for it. 

“Oh, if I take short shifts, the other guys will stay out longer.”  Yeah that sucks and unfortunately, it’s probably true, hopefully your coach will figure that out and fix it once and for all. 

All of this reminds me of watching “Days of Thunder” Harry and Cole arguing about tires, speed and how to win a race.

“His way, my way, I was six seconds faster,” Harry said. 

Cole Trickle’s tires were wore all to hell, Harry’s were like brand new! Do you want to be wore out or have energy for when it’s winning time? 

You be the judge, hopefully your coach will, but I doubt it.

If everyone knows the value and importance of short shifts, why the hell haven’t more coaches and selfish players not figured out it yet? 

So you want to take long shifts eh?  Good luck with that, trust me, that shit doesn’t float at the next level. 

Chapter 4 Hockey and Politics, Where the Hell is the Mediator?

It’s unfortunate that politics exists in the game of hockey.

I learned this lesson at a very young age, when my brother who had a tremendous skill set was repeatedly “cut” from provincial teams over his career.

I idolized my brother growing up and tried to emulate him in every facet of the game.

I didn’t understand why he wasn’t making these teams. At a young age he handled this like a true professional. I would go to his games and he would be the best player on this ice.

So when it came time for me to take my crack at provincial, I really felt that I was playing for the both of us.

When I got cut my first year Pee Wee I was devastated. Looking back on it I wasn’t ready.

It was a very difficult season.

I never went through what my brother experienced and resentment was never present in our house hold.

My brother always took the time to teach me the finer points of the game, while I was getting more advanced coaching he was struggling to understand why he wasn’t given a fair shake in the game.

The game of hockey that was so rewarding from my perspective, but yet for my brother it was punishing. He was mistreated or not given a fair shot year after year because coaches would automatically ignore him during the tryout process due to the previous year’s team.

As I referred to in a previous articles the “pecking order” usually starts with the coach’s son, this was always the case for my brother, his skill set was clearly more suited for the higher level, but the political aspect of hockey continued to rear its ugly head.

The cyclical nature of the tryout process in my opinion is also a major flaw in today’s hockey world and existed back then as well.

Is it really who you know?

Do coaches make personal decisions rather than hockey decisions?

I was on both sides of this argument for many years and have a vested interest in both sides. I have coached players that didn’t play at the highest level the year before and they arrive during the tryout process an empty shell of themselves.

The hockey world has changed the name several times to try to spice it up but when “house league or recreational hockey” or even when a single letter is associated with the player or mentioned, provincial coaches automatically assume the player won’t be ready to play at the next level.

From a coaches perspective I used to evaluate every player on the ice and I didn’t look at their previous year’s team when selecting my club.

I realize that I’m opening a can of worms here and that it may be hockey’s little white lie or darkest secret.

Nonetheless, it all goes back to what I’ve said previously about branding players and the political aspect is part of this growing epidemic in our game.

The selection process is difficult enough without bringing personal feelings and emotions thus clouding our judgments.

Hockey shouldn’t be about who you know or creating clicks or only having the self imposed “popular kids” or “popular parents” make teams solely on that premise.

I’ve known kids personally that I’ve cut or released it is never a good feeling and causes a lot of sleepless nights, but as a coach you have to go with the hockey decision, and in most aspects you must use your head rather than your heart.

Let me tell you right now, the hardest thing I have ever done as a coach is cut someone.

It’s never a good day when you basically tell a player and their family that they aren’t good enough.

The controversial aspects of hockey are endless, but the selection process in youth hockey usually is where one would see the most political issues surface.

So is politics still running wild in the game today.

I’ve been told it’s perhaps worse than it’s ever been which is awful when you think about it.

Getting back to the selection process, to avoid this some associations have appointed people to help the coach select their club, in my opinion this is “adds fuel to fire” and the politics rage on.

I get why associations do it, but let’s try leaving the names off the list and evaluate by numbers.

Plus most of the so called independent evaluators are in the same associations and have a history of coaching meaning they know the kids and the parents.

That’s why it adds fuel to the fire, it reeks of politics.

I don’t have all the answers, but we have to discuss this aspect of the game, before it essentially ruins the game.

I think the hockey world has come to accept politics when picking teams is the new normal and most people are too worried about questioning the process because of fear of being listed as a trouble maker and in the back of their minds are always thinking about next year and all the what ifs that go along with that.

Case in point, look at the World Jr.’s and the cuts they have made in that past few years. Are they hockey decisions, political decisions or do they have a “ghost roster” already created before the tryouts even take place I’ve never been a big fan of how they select that team and I hate ghost rosters.Hockey decisions need to be made free of political influence.

Politics has no place in our great game.

As for my brother, he was in every way a better hockey player than I was, I look back at my playing days with great memories, on the other hand my brother had the game of hockey somewhat stolen from him by the dark side of a sport.

I have been shielded from the political side of the game for the past few years given my roles within the game, but don’t you worry I have still witnessed it trying to seep into my world as well.

I had one player agent say “oh Craig you should write a story on Player A now that would be a great story.”

Clearly Player A was one of his guys.

I have to yet to write that story and perhaps I may never write it. As Clint Eastwood said in Magnum Force, “A good man always knows his limitations.” or as John Vernon said in the Outlaw Josey Wales “Don’t piss my back and tell me it’s raining.”

Hockey and politics, where the hell is a mediator?

Quick Hits

1. For all those Coaches out there just pick the best player

2. For all those parents out there that their kid may not deserve to be on that team, wake up do you really want your child to be given a spot on a team when they didn’t earn it?

3. For the player and their family that always get cut do in large part to politics, keep your chin up, keep working, you will be a better player and person because of it, and trust me good hockey people will notice you. They will appreciate your journey.

4. Coaches forget the hockey resumes of players trying out for your teams, pick the best players you will probably sleep a hell of a lot better at night because it

5. To the associations, how about going to retired non-parent coaches or scouts in your community to help select your teams, everyone might learn something

Chapter 5 So You Want to Be a Trash Talker!

We have all done it. We have all heard the epic stories of various sporting legends trash talking their way to greatest. It’s part of the game, it’s part of the sport, but when does it cross the line? 

Some do it to gain an upper hand. Some do it because they claim it fires them up. Some do it because it’s funny to them. Some do it to send a message. Some do it because they are insecure with themselves and their own talents. 

Do young aspiring players these days understand the nuances of trash talking? 

How do they learn it? 

Who do they learn it from?

Do they know when trash talking is at it’s most effective or when to just shut up and play the game? 

I realize that I’m far removed from the war, but I’ve seen my fair share of battles when it comes to trashing talking within the game of hockey. 

I seldomly trashed talked anyone, because I wasn’t a star player and believed that wasn’t my place. 

What player or players should be granted a license to trash talk or have their license revoked? 

Now don’t get me wrong, I still trashed talked at times and I certainly didn’t take shit from anyone, but I went with the smile and laugh at approach during a discussion or a fracas, that always seemed to work the best and would ultimately infuriate the opposition. 

The opposition didn’t really know what to think, when you just smile and laugh at them. 

Another approach that was truly one of my favourites that really messed with the opponent’s minds was the ongoing conversation approach. 

I would strike up a conversation with my opposition and keep it going throughout the contest.  

They didn’t really know what to think. 

I always tried to keep them guessing. 

Trust me, I learned very quickly when to talk, who to talk to, who not to talk to and when to shut up. 

I knew exactly what I needed to do to get prepared, play on that edge and play at my best. 

Times have certainly changed and it would appear at every stoppage pleasantries are exchanged. 

What’s being said? 

Who’s talking and who should just shut up and skate away? 

From a scouting perspective, I’m strictly there to evaluate, project and report, but you can guarantee I’m paying attention to everything that goes on during the game. 

I try to observe every aspect of a player’s personality, character and behaviour on and off the ice, when I’m at the rink. 

Every attribute is important. 

When any player opens their mouth, I try to listen and observe. 

I’m looking for the reaction of the opposition, but I’m also observing how their own teammates react to their constant banter. 

You see now a day’s the respect factor between players is almost null and void. 

Every time a smart-ass trash talker who has NO business opening their mouth tries to put a player down or make fun of them, they simply put a target on themselves and their teammates, mostly their own best players. 

In the past it was all about the 1-1 battles or feuds. 

That was always the most intriguing aspects of trash talking incidents. 

You see highly skilled players would trash their counterparts, while the energy players would square off against their own. 

It was a level playing field. 

Every once and while that dynamic would change, and when it does, that’s when shit usually hit the fan. 

That’s when the order of the trash talking worlds would collide. 

Now a days, there are no boundaries. 

There’s no respect amongst trash talkers and their targets and that’s why we have players running their mouths for the entire 60 minutes and beyond. 

They run their mouths non-stop. 

There’s zero effectiveness, to that. 

Zero impact. 

It’s like they have verbal diarrhea. 

It’s uncontrollable and even their own teammates get sick and tired of hearing them go on endlessly not making any sense. 

The “F” word is their word of choice, due in large part to their limited vocabulary. 

It’s clear there’s no creativity to the trash-talking world anymore in the minor ranks. 

It’s just the same random shit over and over again. 

God forbid someone trash talk “the trash talker”, that’s when they go crying to the ref or skate back to the bench to hide or when it’s time to respond they don’t. 

Unfortunately, you can still hear those players blabbering away to themselves or calling out their next target. 

Why can’t they just shut up? 

The subtle and quietly effective world of trash talking in hockey appears to be over. 

I’m sure there are some odd great ones still out there in the Midget and Junior ranks, but the real effective trash talker is truly saved for the pros. 

We only hear those beauties when the odd live mic is picked up at ice level. 

You want to start a great conversation between hockey people? 

Simply ask them this;

Who’s the best trash talker you ever played against or played with? 

They will be quick to answer and they will also tell you about the wannabe’s.

Why can’t players just keep their mouths shut and play the game? 

Quick Hits:

1) The trash talker that trash talks when the game is out of reach, is just an loud mouth pre-Madonna that will probably get what’s coming to them. 

2) It’s easy to determine the quiet skilled trash talker because they cause people to freak out like when Hans Gruber tells Karl his brother is dead in Die Hard. 

3) The best trash talker’s won’t boast or brag about it, they just go about their business pissing people off and taking their opposition off their game, while scoring and setting up goals like it was going out of style. 

Chapter 6 Is the Stay at Home Defensive Defenceman Extinct?

The defensive defenceman is extinct. They’re gone and they aren’t coming back! 

Like what the hell?

That’s what most of the uneducated hockey world want to believe.

There’s a misconception in some parts of the hockey world that the stay at home defencemen that makes the simple play, that takes the body, that’s physical and moves the puck is totally obsolete and in fact extinct.

It would appear the stay at home honest defender’s importance doesn’t exist in the minds of young players and coaches in today’s era.

We all know better right?

As one NHL Scout told me, “they think it’s an insult when we say that they are defensive defencemen.”

There has been so much emphasis on the highly skilled puck moving defencemen these days, that young draft eligible defenders and defencemen throughout every level in the game have a preconceived notion that they have to be totally committed offensively to get noticed, appreciated and in many cases drafted and play at the next level.

That’s simply not the case.

The need for the defensive defencemen that are committed to their own zone is as valuable now or even more valuable than ever before.

The NHL Scout then said something that I never ever considered.

You see when you are surrounded by knowledgeable hockey people you have to be like a sponge, you have to take it all in and ask the right questions and sometimes the tough questions.

When you can talk hockey with NHL Scouts you better damn well listen, especially the ones that are open to sharing.

You see sharing is learning, learning is growing and when it comes to the scouting world, any new philosophical perspective is critical not only for personal growth in the field, but it vastly increases the evaluation and projection process.

When NHL Scouts talk, I listen.

This long-time scout discussed their organizations new philosophy to describe defencemen and their focus moving forward.

It may very well be an old philosophical observation or mindset or it may very well be cutting edge, either way it’s brilliant and it’s the first time I’ve ever heard defencemen classified in that way.

The NHL organization in question can’t lay claim to the analogy or the origin of the concept, but they have certainly implemented it and there’s no doubt it will bolster their draft productivity.

The origins of the concept has to remain off the record, but let’s just say I’m truly not surprised where it came from because it’s truly brilliant.

The NHL organization have starting to discuss zones when identifying, evaluating and projecting defencemen.

Yes, zones quite simply put, how many zone defencemen are you?

You see the term defensive defencemen might be extinct in some people’s minds, but the need and their value is still ever present.

The NHL organization’s focus moving forward will be identifying defencemen as a one, two or three zone defencemen.

It removes the perceived stigma with being identified or labeled as a stay at home defensive defencemen.

Again it might not sound ground-breaking and you may have heard it used before, but I think it’s freaking earth shattering.

Ok let’s try to apply the concept and evaluation tool on an active NHL defender.

Let’s use future Hall of Famer Zdeno Chara.

Would you consider Chara to be a stay at home, defensive defencemen?

Would Chara be insulted being an classified like that?

First off, who gives a “rats ass”, how they define you as a player, if you have the talent at skill to be drafted into the NHL I wouldn’t give two shits what they called me, but you see the agents would beg to differ on that one.

Smoke and mirrors can only get you so far.

Ok, back to Chara, where would categorize him.

In this framework, Chara would be a two and half zone defencemen.

Chara has the ability to make plays and move the puck efficiently and effectively in his zone and the neutral zone.

Nevertheless, he’s not going to be a dynamic offensive force or elusive offensive threat in the “O zone”, but he will still bring offence with his mobility and ability to move the puck and generate offence with his amazing shot.

That being said, in this classification system, Zdeno Chara is a two and half zone defencemen.

It’s as simple as that.

There’s no grey area or augmented bull shit, in that evaluation or projection. What you see is what you get, it’s a realistic qualification of what the player brings to the table.

So what current NHL defencemen are full three-zone defencemen?

Thomas Chabot? Samuel Girard? Roman Josi? or Torey Krug?

You see today’s players are trying to conform to the stereotypical hockey rhetoric rather than just focusing on their strengths, playing to their identity and working on their weaknesses.

Why try to be something you are not?

The stay at home, defensive defencemen is fully extinct, in the minds of many, because coaches believe they have to have a defence corps full of outstanding puck moving offensive defencmen that can generate offence or can rush the puck at a moment’s notice.

Clearly, it’s just not the case.

The game needs one and half or two zone defencemen just as much as the flashy three zone defender.

What about Drew Doughty? The LA King defender was named to all Decade Team.What classification would he have? You see this system allows players to progress and regress or settle into their rightful category.

There’s always room to improve, but it also potentially signifies the ceiling for the defender as well. Think about it, how much do you think a solid two zone defencemen deserves to make in today’s NHL?

How much would a one and a half zone defencemen make?

If you are great in your own zone, and a good puck mover on top of that with some sandpaper to your game and you’re mobile, you’ll probably get a pretty damn good pay day when the time comes.

Who wouldn’t want to get paid anywhere from 2.25 million to 5 million a year for being a dominant two zone defencemen?

The next time you want to typecast a young passionate defenceman think about this technique instead of planting tons of bull shit into their minds.

Maybe let the kid figure out what type of defencemen they want to become rather than forcing the issue and always leaning towards an offensive puck mover.

How about teaching them the game in all three zones?

How about giving every defender on the team a chance to experience every zone to see how they handle the puck, pressure and different in game situations?

Wow, what a concept, growth and development.

The defensive defencemen will go extinct if we continue to get backward thinking coaches pressuring kids in becoming something they are not.

Can you imagine a Head Coach of a Midget AAA or Bantam AAA Program or junior hockey for that matter not giving their young defencemen time to develop or enhance their skills in all three zones?

Is it about developing, winning or typecasting, you be the judge?

Don’t worry about the stay at home defensive minded defenders they still exist, they are just criticized and unappreciated by the masses for not being flashy enough, but trust me they are as valuable now more than ever before.

Let’s start developing defencemen, let’s explain the importance of being a well-rounded complete defensive player first rather than strictly a one-dimensional player jumping into the play and making poor decisions with the puck.

Let’s show them video of their mistakes, let’s provide instant feedback during the game and practice so they can adapt, grow and trust the process, the position and their role on the team.

What a concept! It’s all about the zones, that’s how NHL Scouts are evaluating and projecting draft eligible defencemen. 

Chapter 7 What the Hell Does “Playing Fast” Actually Mean?

Other than the word “obviously” replacing “you know,” the hockey world’s vernacular never really changes until now. 

The newest trendy phrase in the game is really starting to piss me off. 

“Play fast.” 

What the hell does “playing fast” actually mean and why the hell are we seeing it being thrown around the hockey world like a box of Crackerjacks at a Major League game? 

Do hockey coaches, players and fans alike even know what “play fast” means? 

 “We really want to play fast.” 

“Wow, that team really plays fast, they are going to be tough to play against.” 

Ok, I understand trying to “play fast” is critical to win in the new game and I understand the game has changed and its more skilled and faster, but honestly what the hell does “play fast” actually mean? 

Do you really need to play fast to win hockey games nowadays? 

Playing fast? Does it mean turn pucks over? Does it mean that an indirect pass should be option one instead of “tape to tape” pass coming out of your own zone? 

Does it mean that we stretch the opponent out and “cherry pick” all night and not take care of your zone?

Seriously what the F%$# does “play fast” mean? 

For the last four years from a scouting perspective, I’ve witnessed teams trying to “play fast”. 

Trust me it’s not hockey, it’s more like controlled chaos. 

In effort to “play fast” teams have totally ignored the true fundamentals of the game. 

There’s no flow. There’s no team game. There’s no attack. There’s no organized offensive zone entries There’s no possession time. There’s no passing!

There’s hardly any individual skill on display, but holy shit they are playing fast. 

In my opinion “playing fast” is one of the most misunderstood misused phrases in the game today. 

In my opinion “Playing fast” essentially means, A) Throw the puck away, B) Chase it down, and C) Skate real fast when attempting to do A and B. 

In all honesty the game has changed. I get that, but come on.

Sure it’s faster, but are we really teaching young players how to think the game by making it a prerequisite as soon as you touch the puck, to move it without processing the game and making the best possible play?

In effort to “play fast” the game is starting to see one of the most fundamental skills that has stood the test of time deteriorate. 

The skill of passing is a lost art within today’s game. 

It’s the first thing that jumps off the page when I sit down and scout/watch a Midget game, really any game or level for that matter. 

Players that control the puck and move it with relative ease truly jump off the page. 

So the burning question remains did we play fast? 

How much has the game really changed? Playing fast in the 80’s and 90’s meant moving the puck. It meant moving the puck quickly and precisely.  It meant skating into space and accelerating to get into position to receive another pass. 

In my opinion, playing fast was just sound fundamental transitional hockey. 

It meant playing the game the right way. It meant coming back to pucks. It meant supporting the puck carrier. It meant accelerating into open space making yourself available to receive a pass. It meant being able to receive a pass at full speed. It meant head manning the puck. It meant attacking as a 5-player unit. It meant quick ups, in the neutral zone and executing solid regroups. It meant taking care of the puck. 

It meant dumping the puck in with purpose. It meant forechecking with purpose and being physical when got there.  That’s what “playing fast” meant to me when I laced them up.

You want to know why players can’t make a pass? You want to know why players can’t receive a pass?  You want to know why players can’t adjust to the speed of the game while the puck is on their stick? 

They are all trying to “play fast” that’s why! 

Let’s play fast, but let’s play the game the right way. Let’s pass the puck, let’s not just throw it away. Let’s work on skating and passing the puck at top speed. Let’s teach transitional hockey.  Let’s teach players how to think and not be indirect hockey playing robots. 

Good Luck Playing Fast!

Chapter 8 Your Attitude is Getting In the Way

So you think you are really good eh? You think you’re the best player on the ice? You think you’re so damn good you can afford to run your mouth the entire game? Some people think that’s confidence, compete level and grit. Others see it for what it really is, immaturity, cockiness and a bad attitude. 

Trust me your attitude is getting in the way or it will eventually get in the way. Oh that rights you know best, you’re a star. 

You da man. 

You think you can do it all by yourself, that’s probably why you wait until the last second to passYou give the impression of being tough by throwing the big hit late or behind the play, but how many times are you first to pucks or take a hit to make a play? 

How many primary assists do you have? How many face-offs have you won? What’s your plus minus? 

How many blocked shots do you have this season? How many bad penalties have you taken? Oh it’s probably the refs fault right, because you mouth off at them to.

Why do you always miss the open man or the window to pass the puck?

It’s too late when you pass, it’s always too late, but it’s never too late to change your ways.

It’s never too late to change your attitude, but hey, you know best. Sure you have phenomenal talent, but that’s not going to be enough at the next level.

Don’t believe me?  That’s ok, you’re learn the hard way or maybe you won’t.Trust me your attitude is getting in the way and it will continue to get in the way, if you don’t change it.

It’s not grit, it’s not compete level, it’s selfishness and undisciplined play and it’s starting to shine through brighter than your talent. To be brutally honest that’s really too bad, it’s a shame actually, because you are probably one of the best I’ve seen.

You really have the potential to be a star. If you want to be? You have all the tools, all the attributes to play at the next level, if you really want to? 

You see you still have so much to learn. Every time you mouth off or run your mouth you put a target on yourself and your teammates. Every time you laugh at your opponent you are disrespecting them and the game.Every time you don’t pass the puck you reveal your true character and personality.

I realize perception isn’t the greatest indicator of future behaviour, and you will probably mature and grow up a lot in the next few months and year, but your antics are getting old, and may very well hinder your development. 

You see your attitude is getting in the way. 

Speaking of perception. Do you think you are a good teammate? Do your teammates want to play with you? Do you criticize your teammates? How’s your relationship with your coaches? 

Do you criticize them to? How coachable are you? How do you think your teammates and coaches describe you as a person and as a player? What do you think they would say about you if a team from the next level asked them? 

Do you run your mouth in practice the same way you run it in a game? Do you trash talk your own goaltenders when you score in practice?  Do you honestly think that will float at the next level? 

How do you think you will be received at the next level by your coaches and teammates?

You see maybe your attitude is or will get in the way? How would you handle getting healthy scratched as a rookie? How would you handle limited playing time next year? How would handle being put in a checking role or taken off speciality teams? What leadership qualities do you have? How would you describe yourself as a player? How do you handle adversity? 

How’s your attitude? 

What’s your greatest attribute other than your skill? 

Good luck the rest of the way, I really hope your attitude doesn’t get in the way. 

Chapter 9 Hockey Tendencies Detrimental For Players and Coaches

Tendencies among athletes and coaches are some of greatest indicators of success and failure.   The ability to commit to and trust your culture as a coach and not buckle under pressure from outside forces is definitely one tendency that most young coaches fail to accomplish.  

As for athletes, tendencies in practice reveal themselves time and time again in game situations.   Over the years I’ve coached a lot of skilled athletes, but the most skilled players comprised of the least amount of negative tendencies within their entire game.  

Now don’t get me wrong they made their fair share of mistakes, but they were quick to correct the glaring tendencies within their game and were very expedient to deduce the game on both the physical and mental side. 

So what do tendencies mean within the game of hockey and how can they be corrected to ensure success and overall individual skill development?   

A great example of a tendency within the game of hockey is a player’s inability to play and understand both the offensive and defensive side of the game. 

Case in point, I watched an up and coming player score goals at an amazing clip but his inability to play both sides of the puck was evident.  The following year I selected him to play on my team, based on his skill set he deserved an opportunity to showcase his skills at that level.   

I had to teach and develop his entire hockey sense and it wasn’t a smooth transition and his goal production went down significantly. Here’s a player that was told at the Atom Prov. Level to stay at the blue line and go score goals. Suffice to say he had a great scoring touch and wicked shot but his overall game lacked the diversity that is needed to succeed at the next level.  

His tendencies as a young player were based on the offensive side of the game; instead of making a responsible play off the boards as a winger he would try the chip and chase method to produce individual offense rather than making the correct play and taking the hit to make a play.   

As a coach it would have been easy for me to overlook his defensive shortcomings and focus on his offence, but that was clearly not how I coached or what I believed in.   

My coaching philosophy and culture is based on the total development of the individual within the team system.  As I have mentioned countless times my primary focus as a coach is to prepare the player for the next level and winning will take care of itself.  

It’s easy for coaches to take the low road and in some ways ignore the negative tendencies of individual player’s if it doesn’t hinder the chances of overall team success.  

Quite frankly I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror as a coach if that was the case.   

To prepare every individual for the next level should be the ultimate goal for all coaches but in some strange way winning prompts coaches to accept negative tendencies thus vastly hindering the individual players ability to develop, improve and progress.  

It was a tremendously difficult transition for this first year player, he knew he could score but the tendencies within his individual skill set were easy to game plan against and teams simply eliminated his offensive chances because of his lack of diversity within his game.  As a coach, it was difficult to play him in certain situations in tight games due to his offensive tendencies and poor decision-making based on his lack of experience playing in the defensive zone.   

I continued to reassure him and his parents throughout the season that by the end of that year he would be a very well rounded player and would excel at both ends.   From an offensive perspective he struggled as well because of a dip in confidence from not scoring goals at the same clip and a lack of diversity in his scoring touch. 

As coaches this is the fine line we walk, from the player’s camp they believe and witness their son or daughter’s production drastically decline and automatically look at time on ice and opportunities given by the coach.  From a coaching perspective it may seem clear, but if it’s a common tendency not to communicate to parents then friction can quickly surface.  

Tendencies in players and coaches can be equally detrimental for both parties involved. As coaches we have to be fully committed to our culture and philosophy and stay within those parameters throughout the entire season to promote consistency, individual success, but more importantly overall team success.  

We have to stress the importance and identify negative tendencies within players to ensure progression within the game and strive for individual skill development and improvement.   

As coaches we have to be able to explain, diagnosis and evaluate player tendencies and thoroughly review and communicate them to parents and players so everyone involved is on the same page.    

The overall outcome and goal to develop the player should take precedence over personal stats and winning.  To eliminate detrimental tendencies within young players is greatest attribute a coach can possess.  

Unfortunately, tendencies amongst coaches determine alternative results in overall skill development of the individual.  

Chapter 10 So You Want to Be An Offensive Defenceman!

So what you want to be an offensive defencemen? What the hell does that even mean in this day and age? Isn’t every defencemen nowadays considered an offensive?  Isn’t that just the norm in the new era of the game?  Where has the solid stay at home two-way offensively opportunistic mobile defender gone? 

Is that type of player becoming extinct or obsolete? 

I don’t think so they are as valuable as ever! 

You see the game may have changed, but there will always be a need for defencemen who take pride in playing a solid two-way game chipping from time to time offensively rather than trying to do way too much for the sake of generating offence.

Torey Krug, Samuel Girard, Erik Karlasson, John Carlson, Morgan Rielly, Roman Josi and Charlie McAvoy.

The list goes on and on if you are looking at the NHL’s elite offensively gifted rear guards.

Obviously they are all outstanding defencemen in their own right, but they all have to defend, every single one of them have to defend and aren’t purely one-dimensional.

Those outstanding defenders play both sides of the puck or they simply don’t play. 

That’s life in the NHL. It’s unfortunate that the hockey world starts typecasting players at such an early age.

That’s the real problem.

Around this neck of the woods, young players are growing up wanting to be like Phillipe Myers, Noah Dobson, Lukas Cormier, Charlie DesRoches, Jordan Spence, or Justin Barron which is awesome really, however there’s a big difference between emulation, admiration and reality.

What about trying emulate Adam McQuaid? He’s a Stanley Cup Champion! You need that type of defencemen to win to. You see maybe Quaider wasn’t flashy enough for this generation to take notice? 

You see Cormier, Spence, Dobson, Barron, DesRoches and Myers are forging their own unique paths in the game.

Sure they had their idols, that they emulated growing up, but all those players quickly found out that you better play both sides puck.

A matter of fact every offensive minded or gifted defencemen that I have had the privilege of interviewing or talking with over the past five years covering the QMJHL have all said that they have to concentrate on the defensive side of the game and playing without the puck to get to the next level.

If that’s the case why the hell are minor hockey coaches and parents alike putting so much emphasis or pressure on the offensive side of the game when it comes to defencemen.

Comparisons and projections are part of the game, I get that, but I think many coaches are doing players an injustice by not teaching both sides of the puck.

Forcing the issue or letting things happen naturally when it comes to a skilled offensive minded d man are two completely different things.

Coaches at every level these days understand the importance of having mobile defencemen and generating offence from the backend especially off the rush, but are they willing to sacrifice that for sound defensive play? 

Rushing the puck constantly, not moving the puck, cheating on the offensive side and getting caught up ice, over-handling the puck and committing grave mistakes at the most inappropriate times, do you really think any coach would be willing to put up with that for the sake of a few points?

Is that going to win you hockey games? 

Is that development?

Is that preparing the player for the next level? Giving free reign to one or two offensively gifted defencemen just doesn’t work.

In my opinion its a formula for failure.

Failing the player, failing the team and failing the game, that’s exactly what’s going to happen if you create a culture of promoting one dimensional offensively minded defencemen.

Mistakes and turnovers are going to happen, risks will be taken and poor decisions will be made.

As a coach you can live with all that if there’s a commitment to playing the game the right way. In this day and age we should be more concerned with a defencemen’s instinct, intuition and processing.

We all know if you want to play at the next level you have to be able to skate, but it’s the instincts the player possesses that truly separates them.

That’s where their true identity lies.

Listen there’s only one Bobby Orr. 

Just like there’s only one Noah Dobson or Phil Myers or Lukas Cormier etc. Sure they all have similarities or common traits, but they are all unique. I’ve compared Lukas Cormier to Kevin Gagne.

That’s right I compared their skating abilities, I compared that skill. Is Zdeno Chara an offensively minded defencemen? 

Where would you categorize the big man? What about Seth Jones or Tyler Myers or Johnny Boychuck? 

You see when we start making comparisons and type casting players it’s like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

Earlier this season I had an opportunity to talk with someone that spent time with Buffalo Sabres star defencemen Rasmus Dahlin’s father. The question quickly came up about being offensive and decision making. Dahlin’s father told my friend that Rasmus usually picks one to three times a game where the timing is right to take the puck and go.

One to three times a game, at the highest level. Not all game long, not forcing the issue, not lugging the puck through traffic when it’s unnecessary.

Two to three times a game. You might ask what does he do for the rest of the game?

Well that’s a pretty easy question to answer, he moves the puck and plays defence.One of the best young offensively gifted defencemen to burst on the scene in quite some time uses his instincts and his skill to chose when to be dynamic. 

What a concept! What’s your definition of an offensive defencemen? 

Why aren’t we comparing young offensively gifted defencemen to Bobby Orr?  Hello there was only one Bobby Orr So you want to be an offensive defencemen? Let’s just try to move the puck, skate well, defend and see where your instincts will take you. 

Chapter 11 I Love the Game, But I Hate the Culture

I fell in love with a different game. The game I love seems like it’s going to hell. The game I love can’t handle any more scandals. The game of hockey in one way or other has always been a part of my life.  Player, coach, scout, analyst and writer. I love the game of hockey, but I hate its culture. 

You see I fell in love with a different game. The game I fell in love with was fun, competitive, developmental, free of politics and free of abuse and bullying.

Wait a minute, no wasn’t. 

The game I love had every bit of that and more. You see I had amazing hockey parents and predominately outstanding coaching throughout my so-called career. My family and Dale Turner my longtime coach and mentor guided me through all the hard times and adversity the game threw at me.

Collectively they helped me confront and conquer all the adversity.Looking back on it now my obstacles were nothing compared to what other players have gone through and in some cases still go through in the game in this country.

Just think of every story of abuse or abuse of power surrounding the games history. It’s repulsive and unacceptable.

Canada’s game has a history of very dark secrets. That’s the problem right there, secrets. A keep your mouth shut mentality.  Hockey culture equals cover up, it always has. 

As a kid we believed the game and those that play it were larger than life.

Were we too naive? 

Of course. 

We didn’t know the dark side of the game, we saw and experienced glimpses of it, but every step of the way as you climbed the ranks we continued to see inside hockey’s dark side, it’s untold story, the untold culture. 

The dark undercurrent of the game was always there and if you had high quality coaching and support staff surrounding you, you probably had a completely different experience. 

You see you were probably never exposed to the true hockey culture.

Everyone that has ever played the game has experienced their own run in with hockey culture. That’s the sad reality of playing a sport with such a dark undercurrent of cover up, deception and code of silence. 

Will the game of hockey ever change? 

Will It’s culture ever move away from one of silence, and cover up? 

I sure hope so. I love the game, but I hate its culture. You see the game may not need any more scandals, but that might be exactly what it needs to rid itself from its own toxic self imposed culture. 

The game I loved hasn’t really changed, its toxic undercurrent still exists. 

It’s still as powerful as ever.

I’ll never forget my first year teaching at Moncton High, I was on outdoor duty with my principal and we started to reminisce about my experiences at MHS as a student.

She was my principal as a student and as a teacher and let me tell you she was one respected and feared lady. 

I still remember telling her that I didn’t remember drugs being an issue in the mid 90’s like it was at that time. 

She looked at me and said “Craig, you never experienced or saw drugs because of the people you were associated with at that time, drugs were always an issue, they were always there you just didn’t see them.” 

Hockey’s brutal culture and code of silence was always lurking ready to rare its ugly head. 

Near the end of my playing days I experienced the worse side of dressing room culture, but that all went away because of my coach and mentor. When I stepped away from the game I knew what the game had given me, I knew what it meant to me, what it had taught me about life and myself. 

I was the lucky one that still loved the game after I was finished playing it, that’s simply not the case for a lot of people in this country.

Actually it was a dream of mine to some day give back to the game and coach. 

I knew what I had been through, I knew what I had experienced being coached by one of the best ever in this region, but I knew that I also experienced some aspects of the dark side of the game.

When it came time to give back to the game, my moral hockey compass was in the right place.

I knew what kind of coach I wanted to be, I knew what type of culture I wanted to grow and I really hope I delivered on that every day as a coach. Unfortunately, I’m human and made my share of mistakes, but I tried to learn from those mistakes the best I could.

I hope I provided my players with a positive experience in the game and that their experience was as positive as mine. Looking back on it now I hope that they didn’t experience the dark side of the game and if they did, knew they had an ally in their coach. 

The years have gone by and my role in the game is ever changing.  I love the game more than ever, but I still hate its culture. 

Chapter 12 Poor Practice Habits Continue to Kill Player Development

Flow Drills: A Coaches Ally or the Teams Dark Enemy

Are you sick of watching flow drills? Are flow drills killing the game of hockey and player development? 

Every coach wants “good flow” and I’m not talking about hockey hair. Every coach wants “good flow” to their practices, but at what cost?  

How does one create a well balance practice that works on every aspect of the game?  With the cost of ice time on the rise, coaches have pressure to create a well-run practice every time out!   

You got to keep them moving, right? 

Flow drills can be your worst enemy, I know that this goes against conventional wisdom and if some coaches read this they will probably take a shit fit.” 

The benefits of flow drills” are endless, but when I was associated with teams as an assistant coach in the past some coaches were just content running continuous “flow drills” during every practice. 

I couldn’t believe it. 

It wasn’t my place to say anything, but I really couldn’t believe it. 

Running flow drills like that, just leads to lack of execution and “bad hockey habits” like not stopping on pucks and lack of focus during the drill especially when each drill is done without resistance.    

I still remember that season, players got caught up into the flow and focused to much attention making cross ice passes and the perfect play rather then focusing on going hard to the net and taking quality shot opportunities.  

Whatever happened to you practice like you play? 

Oh that’s cliché, I think not. 

To many flow or continuous drills” can also cause complacent play especially if they are not performed against resistance as I’ve already mentioned. 

 From previous articles everyone is well aware of my philosophy of “defence first”, so when I see teams running flow drills for over half their practice I just don’t understand and usually walk out of the rink.  

Don’t get me wrong flow drills definitely have purpose, but one aspect that could make flow drills more effective is adding variations to hook the interest of the players.  

 The drill should be “short and sweet” and of course change the side or flow of the drill 3 or 4 mins in and never do one “flow drill” for more than 6 mins.

 To limit the length of the drill will also increase the teams intensity and execution.  Whether you think “flow drills” are your ally, be careful because the enemy is lurking. 

The misconception that teams with good flow during their practices will be “tough to play against” is slightly exaggerated and often times overrated.

Far too many coaches look to textbooks for the answer to solve their team’s weaknesses.  

Be innovative and create your own personal drills that focus on the aspect of the game that your team needs to work on.  Whether they are your ally or your enemy, flow drills can be critical in a teams success, but coaches please change up your practice plans and differentiate your drills, just imagine if they are boring to watch, how would you feel being on the ice.  

The Julien Era in Boston Changed My Approach as A Coach

“Practice, you talking bout Practice” 

The famous quote by one Allen Iverson, which will never be utter by a professional hockey player or coach. 

In my opinion, practice is the single most important aspect of a coach’s role and is the main reason why the game of hockey is struggling. 

I have written tons of articles about drills and the importance of practice in establishing discipline, individual skill set and team concepts over the years, but   

with the inappropriate cost of ice time on the rise, the value of practice is finally gaining traction in the hockey world.  

“Practice with a purpose, practice like you play, perfect practice is the key.”

 All those sayings are important, but quite frankly are not worth a “tinkers damn” if you don’t execute in practice.  

Execution is the key in any practice scenario, whether it is individual skill set or team systems. Coaches have to emphasize the importance of execution in every aspect in every drill in every practice.   

I can honestly say that I became a better practice coach every year that I coached because I held players accountable by making them execute in practice.  

I take an enormous amount of pride in that even today.

To excel as a practice coach you don’t need flow drills or drills that make your team look good, you need to simply work on aspects that your team struggles with and try to implement structure and routine within your practice around a framework derived out of execution.  

My strategy to become a better practice coach was simple, watch and dissect upper level practices and always be observant in and around the rink.  I learned so much during my playing days from one of the best practices coaches ever in Dale Turner. 

Being a student of the game came easy to me because of Dale’s philosophies, but also becoming a “practice junky” didn’t hurt either.  

I took full advantage of the opportunity to watch the New York Islanders conduct their Training Camp here in Moncton in 2008-2009.

I substantially grew as a practice coach around that time period. 

Over the years I have also been fortunate enough to watch my beloved Bruins practice several times and have been equally fascinated by observing NHL players and coaches apply their trade.  

Watching true professionals conduct their business is fascinating and very intriguing. By studying and watching NHL practices very closely I observed how players and coaches interact.  I also gained an appreciation on how these coaches explained each drill and how they emphasized the teaching points that accompanied each drill.  I watched the players and how they conducted themselves in practice in all areas, before, during and after the drill.

Probably the most important aspect that I learned from watching NHL teams practice is the coach’s awareness and timing when to stop a drill.  

This is one the most critical skills a coach can possess.  The knowledge and experience to know when the drill has reached its climax on all levels with regards to skill development and team systems is vital to any coach.   

To manage your practice and cover all those skills and team systems is very difficult, but for NHL coaches the transition appeared naturally seamless.   

As mentioned previously, my belief in execution was evident in NHL practices.  I will never forget watching a Bruins practice and hearing Claude Julien lose it on the team right after practice in 2009. 

 His feedback was direct, honest and intense.   

It was clear that he didn’t like the execution and tempo of the practice.

This knowledgeable B’s fan and then amateur coach stole three drills that practice and used every drill for the next several years. 

Julien’s practice routine and intensity is really the stuff of legend around the NHL.   It has become such a given that Julien works on battle type drills every practice that reporters always comment and add pictures of those drills on social media.  

The battle drills of the Boston Bruins under Julien’s regime gave the team an identity and persona that matches the legendary status of the Big Bad Bruins.

By watching and studying  “a Julien run” practice, I learned  a lot, he didn’t accept mediocrity, and always and I mean always held players accountable for their role in the practice.  By holding his players accountable he automatically demanded execution. I truly believe a coach that doesn’t stop a drill and correct the most minuscule detail or teaching point is failing their team.  

That’s a really a bold statement, but it’s so true to so many amateur coaches.  It just seems that this generation of athletes and coaches have accepted mediocrity in our practices. 

I was actually criticized by parents early on in my practices for teaching/talking to much while explaining a drill or concept.  It was so rewarding at the time to actually see the parents looking puzzled and confused at my willingness to stop a drill instantly and hold players accountable for their lack of execution.  

By holding them accountable in practice, the parents and other onlookers didn’t realize that the players wouldn’t make those costly mistakes trying to execute in games.

I have learned a lot through countless years of coaching,  but an emphasis on execution in practice creates accountability amongst players which in turn strengthens your hockey club.  So you can say all the clinches you want about practice until your blue in the face, however it is still the single most important aspect of coaching, it’s just too bad more coaches don’t realize it.

The Game Has Changed, but Has Practice? 

The goal of any team in the new era of the game is “transition.” Playing fast, but what type of player are we producing? 

Are coaches too focused on skill development or systems? Sometimes playing fast means playing reckless. Some teams that say they play fast, don’t keep their stats very well because they are turning pucks over like crazy. 

As a scout it’s one of the first aspects I look for during a first viewing of any team really is how they transition the puck. 

When you have a team that always hits the open man and moves the puck “east to west” then attack, it’s really beautiful to watch.   

Where did this concept of a regroup” come from?  What team used it first?  

What other sports use the “Regroup” as a weapon? Do players in today’s game really understand the principle of the regroup? 

To be honest I don’t think they do, they just throw it indirectly and hope for the best. Obviously, the first team to create the “regroup” or moving backwards to initialize forward movement was in fact the Russians.

They would constantly send the puck back in a very discipline way creating havoc for their opposition and with one pass transition into a offensive threat and usually score.   They stole this concept from Soccer believe it or not by using the “weak side” to gain easy access in order to attack. In Soccer the term is to “switch” and usually creates a massive shift in the field.   However, in hockey terms do we use the “regroup” effectively?  

Whether it’s one pass to “weak side winger” or “D to D”  there has to be constant movement and an effort to come back to the puck.   

That’s right coming back to the puck. 

If there’s anything I hate about the game now is the stretch dump, having a guy camped out at the red line and the d quick ups the puck for a dump in. Cripes that’s just turning pucks over. 

Sure use it for a line change and to alleviate pressure, but I’ve some teams use it non-stop.  

When teams struggle in the NHL, they are not supporting the puck hence not coming back to it thus creating gaps in their transition game.  

In 2011 during the B’s Stanley Cup run, they supported the puck very well with short accurate passes throughout the neutral zone and even using the center of the ice on “Breakouts” to create flow on their attack.    

Obviously, team’s emphasis on the transition game has gained popularity since the game opened up and the “red line” was taken away.   In my opinion coaches are still not using or promoting the” D to D” pass enough in effort to attack.   The “cross ice” pass that is open is almost never taken into consideration now due to the fact coaches don’t want to turn the puck over, so this promotes no real organization or attack.  Transition is so important, but if you can’t work as one unit you will never get there, that’s why the Russians were so good at the neutral zone “regroup” they would all come back to the puck and supported the puck carrier all the way up the ice.    

So how did I teach the “regroup” well that’s my little secret, but I will tell you that watching the afore mentioned Boston Bruins practices over the years, I gained valuable experience and knowledge.   I strongly believe that you can’t practice this skill enough and you won’t believe the puck movement created by one simple transition from a “Regroup.” 

Does your son or daughter’s team work on breakouts and regroups every practice? 

Does your son or daughter’s team work on supporting the puck execute transition drills with resistance? 

Are you sick of just watching flow drills? Are you sick of watching poor practices?

Don’t worry you’re not alone, just talk to anyone around the game they will tell you the same thing! 

Chapter 13 It All Starts In Your Own Zone

With the game evolving and the emphasis on individual skill and offensive powerless, young players these days feel pressure to score goals and pad their stats rather than playing the game the right way, a full 200ft game. 

The game has drastically changed for the best, but within that change the focus on offence has over shadowed a defensive mindset that had existed for decades.    

Old school meets new school, but has it gone too far? 

Let me tell you the “old school” approach still works in the game of hockey especially when you are focused on playing the game the right way. 

Fortunately the shift from the clutch and grab game is over and good riddance, but what has this “new school” approach done to the game?  

Obviously, you don’t need to clutch and grab to play good defence. 

 With the game opening up coaches at every level started to shift their mindset to trapping and some people even created a 1-3-1 set to eliminate speed through the neutral zone, so this created offensive players on one side of the fence and defensive robots on the other.

Systematic Hockey vs. Individual and Team Creativity, what’s more effective, where do you want to see the game going? You can be the judge, but let me tell you from my vantage point the offensive side of the game has gone way too far.  

Players at the earliest levels forget how to angle, use their stick and body to eliminate the puck carrier. 

We have seen an increase in stick infractions from players that are still reluctant to play defence and the game the right way.   

Is the defensive side of the game even being taught? Is there an emphasis on defensive skill development? 

Skills, skills, skills. We have to teach them puck skills, we have to teach them how to score. That’s all I hear is skills! 

Have coaches totally forgotten about the defensive side of the game? 

Don’t get me wrong I love teaching the 1-2-2 when I coached to secure leads and take away the oppositions half boards in their zone.  Nevertheless, to trap a team all game long is just plain wrong and bad for the game.   

The art of checking and hard nose defence has translated into covering space on the ice. Are coaches these days too reliant on team defensive systems to bail the team out?  Is that what they call good defence nowadays? 

Where has the quality defensive player or team gone? I believe we have lost that aspect of the game? 

Skill, skill, skill that’s all you hear today. 

What ever happened to defend. If you defend well it will lead to more offence, especially if done the right way. That’s why everything starts in your own zone. 

If you don’t know how to defend, it doesn’t matter how many traps you set, the opposition will be able to break you down and eventually have scoring chances.   It will come down to 1 on 1 battles, and if players don’t know how to defend you will have breakdowns and give up a crazy amount of goals. 

The game has opened up, but coaches just can’t accept it. Trapping and clogging up the neutral zone, have become the only way we teach defence nowadays. Where have the sound defensive principles like “stick on puck” or stick on stick,” angling and the importance of body position gone? 

Those principles are maybe too old school for the game today! 

In my opinion, coaches have to teach the importance of the “defensive side” of the puck in all areas of the ice and how important “shooting lanes and passing lanes” are and eliminate those as well. 

Old school principles or just plain hockey fundamentals.If a team constantly works on their “defensive zone coverage” it will cause the opposition to turn the puck over and you will generate more offence off the rush.

 If you have a strong fore check you don’t need to trap and you can eliminate their odd man rush opportunities by always keeping a player high in the oppositions zone.    

Oh, wow you can’t do that the game is so much faster, you will get beat in transition.  

Coaches these days are all aware of these simple, but effective defensive guidelines, but yet the time spent on defence is nominal at practices, check that it’s downright non-existent.  

How many battle drills does your child’s team work on per practise?  

How many DZC (defensive zone coverage) drills do your child’s team work on per practice? 

How many small area games like 1v1, 2v2, 3v3 drills do your child’s team work on per practice? 

How many drills have resistance, pressure or game like situations in your child’s practices per week? 

I’m not criticizing coaching here, I’m just trying to bring awareness to the paradigm shift where the “new school” of thought has taken in the game today. 

What type of players is the “new school” mentality creating by allowing them only to focus on one side of the game, one side of the puck? 

From a scouting perspective, it’s evident. 

For the most part young talented players are too one-dimensional. Too fixated on offensive numbers to apparently care about the defensive side of things. 

I don’t give a rat’s ass about numbers or stats. Can you defend? If you are a goal scorer, you will probably score goals, but can you defend? 

Of course, play to your identity, but how is that going to translate to the next level?  Can you defend? 

Sure, I evaluate skill and project, that’s my job, but where are you going to be at the next level if you can’t defend. 

Some young players in the game today couldn’t check my coat and you think they are going to have success at the next level? 

Sure, some teams will say, oh yeah Craig, that’s just coaching, but let’s face it, if the kid has been given free rein to play offence all of their lives do you really think they are going to be receptive to change when they get to the next level? 

I think not. They should, but they probably won’t. 

The only way that they will change is if they have tons of “buy in” and want to get better at both ends. 

“Buy in” a phrase that every coach and organization wants to hear, but are they really ready to put in the time on the player to ensure they have success at both ends of the ice? 

I guess there is a demand now for players that just play a defensive role within the game and you rely on your ” Top 6″ to score. 

That’s the biggest misconception in hockey today and don’t get me going on role identity in Pee Wee and Bantam levels. 

“Oh we need you on the PK, you’re a bottom six guy for us.” 

Are you kidding me? 

Has the game all gone to hell? 

Do young talented players truly believe they don’t need to play on defensive side of the puck? 

I’ll be honest, I’m starting to believe they do. You only have to look at the way they backcheck or play in their own end. 

You see it all starts in own zone.

Don’t get me started on shift length either, because that plays into all of this as well. 

Imagine this, what a concept this might be. Just imagine having your top offensive players, seeing the ice in key defensive situations! 

If that is happening that’s when you know a coach has created a “team defence first” mentality.You see every player should be exposed to those situations. To be brutally honest, I haven’t seen that at the Midget level ever since I started scouting. 

Let’s start teaching the defensive fundamentals to every player not just your “bottom six.” Bottom six in Pee Wee or Bantam, cripes, play everyone, give them a chance to develop. If that’s the case today’s coaches are doing these kids an injustice. It all starts in your own zone, everything starts in your own zone. 

Near the end of my coaching career is when the game started to open up. I inherited players that had no idea how to play defensive hockey let alone how to play in their own zone. 

They were lost. 

They were the equivalent to offensive minded hockey playing zombies, only a good a benching would snap them out of their offensively selfish zombie like trance. 

I would imagine the toughest job a coach has these days is to convince a team that to score a lot of goals to defend.

Maybe, I’m just to “Old School”, but seriously where’s the game going? 

I’m not convinced a one-dimensional player at the Midget level is going to embrace a defensive role at the next level. I guess they will if they want to play and not watch from the press box. 

Don’t believe me, ask a first-year kid playing in the QMJHL, they will tell you. It’s not all offensive sunshine and rainbows. Winning hockey is defensive hockey. Oh but, maybe that’s too old school. 

Chapter 15 “The Honest Player”

Everyone wants to win hockey games, everyone believes skill wins you games. Obviously, it does, but you just have to ask all those skilled players who the most important players are on their respective teams and they won’t hesitate in telling you, the energy players. 

You can call them whatever the hell you want, but every time I go to the rink, I evaluate and project, it’s the “honest player” that jumps off the page. 

Being an honest player, energy player and complete player all go hand in hand in my opinion. 

Evaluate, project skill and hockey sense, that’s my job, but there’s a lot more to the game than that.  It’s all about the intangibles. 

Can they think it, can they skate, but can they play both sides? 

You see when I watch hockey I’m watching for all those aspects of the game, but more often than not it’s the “honest player” that catches my eye. 

Sure, you see the skilled players, but does that translate to the next level?

I reflect on the importance of the “honest player” all the time. If you want to win hockey games and now a days everyone is fixated on that, instead of developing, you are going to need a lot of honest players.   

So, what’s my definition of an honest player? 

The “honest player” usually flies under the radar, doesn’t make the flashy play, is consistent and can play in any situation and most importantly can play up and down the line up.  

The “honest player” doesn’t take any short cuts to pucks, is responsible in all three zones. Holds his teammates accountable both in practice and games. 

Can you say character! 

You are probably thinking that every player at the next level or the professional ranks should be that type of player, but for the most part that’s certainly not the case in today’s game.  

The unheralded and underrated player seemingly never gets the spotlight and is under appreciated by those analytic types solely focused on the stat sheet.   

From a scouting perspective those players jump off the page. 

Sure, they may not have as high of a skill set as their counterparts, but they are equally important if not more important to team success in my opinion. Their skill set is in different areas of the game.  Coaches these days should be promoting and acknowledging the skill set of the honest player at every turn. 

It doesn’t matter what the hell you call them, energy player, complete player, or honest player, you need them to win at any level.   

I believe the ultimate goal of any coaching staff at any level is to create an entire team of “honest players.” 

Now that’s accountability. 

With speed and skill emphasized as the new formula of winning in today’s game an element of flashiness draws the collective eyes of scouts and organizations, but deep down they all understand the value and importance of the honest player.  

Organizations sometimes overlook and cover up the glaring inadequacy of a young skilled player and try to hide that skill and talent within their line up or showcase it by trying to surround that player with honest line mates.

Believe me there’s no hiding in the game today, especially at the next level, when you are solely a one-dimensional player.   

You will get exposed really fast and will probably find yourself on the bench or in the stands. That’s just what happens, it’s part of the process, if you aren’t willing to adjust and embrace the full 200ft game at the next level. 

Clearly every player has a role, but within the framework of team systems and philosophy there should always be an element of accountability amongst every player.   The complexion of a team that takes pride in being honest is evident and directly correlated with their place in the standings and their ability to produce as many “200 ft” game style of players”. 

The complete “200 ft” game style of player is wanted commodity in this day and age, but it all boils down to being honest and accountable in all three zones. 

So you are probably wondering what a prototypical “honest player” does in the run of a game to draw the attention of those that appreciate their contributions?  

For the casual onlooker it’s hard to determine exactly what they do because they are so consistent in every facet of the game that it becomes almost a normal occurrence.  It’s only until an injury to these types of players that it becomes a massive and sometimes-insurmountable void within the line up that one gains an appreciation for their understated role.  

Moncton Wildcats and Calgary Flames Jakob Pelletier is another perfect example of a highly skilled player who plays the game the right way, the honest way. 

To win when it matters most you need honesty amongst your group.  The coach/organization that promotes, praises and appreciates the “honest player” throughout the season will definitely benefit in the long run.  The “honest player” most certainly doesn’t need to flip the switch or need to modify their game come playoff time they are fully aware and understand what it takes to win. 

If you are still having difficulty grasping the concept discussed try considering the following characteristics of the players in question.  The player that takes pivotal face offs, kills penalties, passes the puck, uses their teammates at every turn, blocks shots, takes a hit to make a play, is always on the ice to start periods, on the ice after goals, responsible for changing the momentum of the game, is on the ice late in periods and at the end of games and is accountable in their zone.   Honesty as a player isn’t seen on the stat sheet, it may not always appear in scouting reports, but trust me it’s a very valued commodity. 

The value of the honest player can only truly be appreciated and measured in an environment that promotes it.  

Skill may win you a lot of games, but character and honesty will win you games when it matters most. 

Chapter 16 “The Monctonian Edition”

As hundreds of players and their families converge on the Superior Propane Centre for the Monctonian Challenge it’s easy to see the passion and love for the game.  Hockey dreams live on in so many of us, in so many different ways.

From the coach, to the player, to referee, to the scout and even the player agent or family advisor, the game offers so many different opportunities for growth and development. Tournaments like the Monctonian showcase the game in so many different ways.

As scouts are trying to identify the prospects and make their early season lists we shouldn’t lose sight of the value of growth and development. Of course, everyone wants to win, but at the end of the day, what’s the game all about? 

What’s the purpose of these showcase tournaments? 

Win at all cost or expose the players to the best competition possible to ensure they develop and continue to grow.

You see everyone wins when that’s the main objective. The Monctonian is excellent Tournament to set a benchmark for player development.

As teams are gearing up for the rest of the season, draft eligible players have experienced their first major test under the scouting microscope and scrutiny of that process.

One can only imagine the self-imposed pressure they felt this weekend.

Hopefully that never over shadows the experience of the game, but for many I’m sure it does.

Over the multitude of games this weekend, there were some very impressive performances by countless players.  On Friday night I had the opportunity to speak to a Major Bantam team. I thought it would a quick 10 to 15-minute meeting with the team after their game in the dressing room. 

I didn’t realize my long-time friend and the coach of the team had invited the parents as well. 

As I stood there talking about the scouting process and what I’m looking for when I go to the rink, I couldn’t help to think about my journey in the game and all the people that made that possible. 

You see I never thought I would ever have the opportunity to talk to people about my journey, my philosophy and perspective of the game.

I feel so fortunate to scout, write, and broadcast the game.

It may have been the three hours of sleep I got the night before, but right at the end of my talk I thanked them for the opportunity to speak and told them it was an honour, I couldn’t say another word, I would have broken down. 

You may wonder why I’m telling you this little personal story. In my opinion the game of hockey is way more than wins and losses. It’s way more than draft rankings and identifying the best players with pro aspirations or targeting a kid that you believe could make it to the show. It’s more than standing up for your player to ensure they have the best chances of getting drafted or setting up the best team systems or shortening your bench in the 2nd period to get the win. 

One of the last things I told the group of players and their parents is that the game will take you where you want to go. 

We all share hockey dreams, we all share a love for the game. The pivot point of my message to these young aspiring players was to embrace the journey, embrace the grind and work on the intangibles, play to your identity and never forget the value of hard work.

We all have a job to do, we all have great intentions to fulfill our role within the game, but at the end of the day no one is bigger than the game itself. I would love to think the future of the game is in great hands, but is it? 

Some aspects of the game have changed, some aspects will never change.

We all have our place in the game. We all have hockey dreams and aspirations. We all share the love and passion for the game.  We all have unique journeys within the game, that’s what makes the game so special. We all have a place in the game, and when the focus remains on growth and development everyone wins, but most importantly the game wins and that’s what matters most. 

Chapter 17 So You Don’t You Want to Pass the Puck!

So You Don’t Want to Pass the Puck? Does it start in IP or Novice when parents put money down for goals? 

Does it start because they are head and shoulders better than everyone else and no one can keep up with them? 

Does it continue in Pee Wee and Bantam because they are head and shoulders bigger than everyone else? 

OR 

Is it just plain old selfishness? You can be the judge, but I know where I stand.

I was taught a long time ago to pass the puck. If you didn’t pass the puck you were told. That’s right there was actually feedback given when a player or players didn’t move the puck. We didn’t have IPads or fancy technology, we had coaches that held us accountable.

Funny, my longtime coach and mentor Dale Turner’s son Ryan played with us all the way up through. Dale God rest his soul was equally hard if not harder on Ryan than all of us. Ryan was a special player, he had elite level skill and it seemed like Ryan always had the puck on his stick like many skilled players do.

You see Ryan felt the wrath of his father on a few occasions when he didn’t move it quick enough.

The yell/command reigned down from the bench it.

“Move it up”

“For crying out loud, pass the puck” 

By the time any of us who held on to the puck or took an ill-advised shot on net when we should of passed it Dale would meet us as soon as we came off the ice. 

I’m not seeing that coaching style anymore.  It’s gone and it would appear the urgency to move the puck has gone along with it. I don’t give a rats ass how good you are or think you are, pass the damn puck.

I realize that as a scout, I’m supposed to be invisible, file my reports and keep my thoughts to myself, but this is an epidemic. It’s ruining the game.

It’s like I’m watching NBA basketball and there’s a set play for isolation. That’s not hockey. For the last three years, I’ve written several articles and made several “Observations from the Rink” on this very topic.

I tried to make them sound as original as I could every time, but to be brutally honest I just shake my head.  I just want to scream at the top of my lungs “Pass the damn puck.” So many players these days feel compelled to over handle the puck. 

Overhandling the puck sure as hell isn’t creativity and it is sure as hell not offensive upside. It’s selfishness. I’ll tell you right now it won’t float at the next level. You better believe people that know the game, see it.

Your subtle selfishness is as clear as day. There are some people out there that assume the problem will fix itself when they make the jump to the next level.

Let me be the first, because coaches aren’t, that doesn’t translate to the next level. It just doesn’t.

You will get rocked, you won’t see the ice and maybe the worst of all is being called out not by the coach, but by the players. At the next level, you will get “freezed out.”

When you get called out by your line mates for not passing that’s the ultimate insult.

You see more and more players are trying to implement the “look off or look away” move to their repertoire. Trust me, it’s not working. Those same players that tried all the dekes, toe drags, head fakes then shoot from a brutal angle or turn the puck over.

What really gets me and is the most perplexing of all of this is their teammates reaction.

They don’t say anything. Trust me their body language says it all.

Puck movement during the Prospects game was outstanding!  What boggles my mind even more is the lack of feedback from the bench. Coaches these days seem oblivious to selfish play. 

So, you don’t want to pass the puck? Oh well, maybe the player doesn’t think it very well. Oh, that’s horseshit to.

They know damn well they could have moved it, but maybe I’ll get noticed more if I have the puck on my stick the most.

WRONG. 

I notice the kid that moves it quick, jumps into the play, doesn’t over handle it. You see friends, that translates to the next level.

The best players at the Midget level don’t have the puck on their stick a long time because they move it. 

Don’t believe me just watch the game. Oh, if you’re an analytics person, look at the numbers, do your thing. Quality shots, oh so and so had 12 shots in the game yeah how many goals could his/her winger have if they would have passed the puck. 

The old adage “the puck moves faster than the man” rang true this past weekend or did it? 

Game after game you begin to notice a team’s culture.  Do they share the wealth or are they a bunch of puck hogs? You don’t have to look any farther then the power play. It’s a perfect indicator. Do they look for option four or five hell no, they just try to create offence for themselves, it’s sad really. 

The same old play time and time again, let me do my thing and try to get my shot through, let me take over the game with my skill. 

I’ll let you in on a little secret your skill will only translate to the next level if you pass the puck. 

All the time and space that they might have had while being the “best” player at the Bantam level drastically reduces in Midget, that’s why first year kids struggle so much for the first few games. 

Oh, does it seem more physical. 

Why yes it does. Why would that be? Maybe because your overhanding of the puck causes you to skate into trouble and get hit.

Seriously maybe the iPad or video will tell you that if you need more convincing.

Look at the film.

These days every team has access to video. 

The absolute worst aspect of all of this, is the lack puck movement and willingness to share the wealth spreads, it becomes a pandemic.

A form of hockey greed takes over, and you get players thinking they are more skilled then the other teammates and then that’s when the freezing out starts.

It’s subtle, but you can see it, especially on the power play. 

“Yeah I saw you open, but that guy was closing in on you and had his stick in the passing lane.“ Listen, I’ve heard all the excuses. Just pass the damn puck. Culture. You want to talk about culture, I’m convinced one of largest reasons for conflict on highly skilled teams is an unwillingness to play as a team.

Everyone talks about personalities or ego, that should all go away when they step on the ice, but it doesn’t. When teams and organizations become fixated on offensive numbers and stats that throws team chemistry for a loop.

To be honest it ruins it.  Stat driven teams never fully grasp the concept of growth and development, it cultivates “an all about me” mentality. 

Good luck trying to win with that atmosphere and team culture.

Don’t believe me. Just watch after that kind of team scores you can see all the players looking at each other trying to figure if they got the secondary assists and see how everything worked out before heading down the bench for handshakes.  So you don’t want to pass the puck? 

Pretty simple response to that from my perspective. Sit your ass down here for a while and figure shit out, or you will develop a really bad case of “Splintericitis” a condition that arises in some hockey players that are selfish puck-hogs. 

“Splintericitis” has one known cure, passing the puck and gaining back the trust of your coach and teammates. That’s what I’m seeing. Trust me it’s hard to watch, but one can only imagine playing with someone like that on your team. 

Quick Hits 

1. To the player that moves the puck, I see you, I appreciate you more than ever before.

2. Quick puck moving teams are hard to play against, because they are unpredictable.

3. To the selfish puckhog, I see you and I really hope someone shares this with you and by the way pass the damn puck.

Chapter 18 To Hit or Not to Hit, That is the Question: Hockey’s Great Debate

Over the last three years I’ve received a lot of praise and criticism regarding my social media posts titled “Observations From the Rink”, so much so that I didn’t bother posting them for the longest time.  Well, that’s changed this season. 

My observations from the rink are just that my observations, they aren’t meant to be negative or disrespectful, they are just what I see happening in the game based on my experiences as a player, coach, broadcaster, writer and more recently a scout. 

When I wrote my latest “Observations From the Rink” on Sunday, I anticipated some reaction, but I was blown away by people’s comments and how two sided the debate still is. 

The social media post definitely rekindled the debate. To Hit or Not To Hit That is the Question? 

Observations From the Rink: Midget aged players are really struggling taking good routes to pucks, maybe if we still had contact at the Pee Wee level kids would learn the skill quicker, they are putting themselves in vulnerable positions, someone is going to get hurt. 

I wrote the following blog on 5/28/13 a few days after Hockey Canada made the decision to remove hitting from Pee Wee. 

Things haven’t changed that much, neither has my opinion. 

To Hit or Not to Hit?:  Hockey Canada’s Ban on Checking Good or Evil 

Hockey Canada made a bold decision to ban body contact at the Pee Wee level this past weekend.   The ban stretches across the country and will definitely impact hockey moving forward.    The question is will it be detrimental or beneficial?   The percentage of concussions in youth hockey is an alarming and is cause for definite concern!  Nevertheless, fully banning body contact at the Pee Wee and Bantam levels may not be the answer? 

From a personal perspective having played Pee Wee AAA in the non-contact era that was the 90’s, I can honestly say that it was an incredibly fast style of hockey with endless action.  Nevertheless, our coach and my mentor taught us how to give and receive a check even if it was outlawed at the time.   Accepting the fact that body contact is outlawed doesn’t make it ok not to inform and teach players the proper way of giving and receiving a check.   

From a coaching perspective, the Pee Wee level is very diverse and can definitely lend itself to a drastic variety of skill sets, sizes and shapes.  I truly believe to ban contact at the Pee Wee and Bantam levels will cause a major setback in our brand of hockey and development for years to come.    

I am a proponent to start educating players about body contact at a much earlier age.  I strongly believe that if players learn how to respect their opponents and grow up with some contact early on in their careers that they will become accustom and not fearful of that aspect of the game.   Hockey Canada has to look at broadening the knowledge base of amateur coaches and giving them support when teaching the fundamentals of checking.   I was criticized a while back for teaching girls how to take or handle body contact at the high school level.   

I was approached by countless parents wondering why I took the time to actually teach the girls what a body check actually felt like. It was a ground-breaking endeavor because when the girls actually gained some knowledge about the physicality of the game and learned how to “rub out” their opponent.

While discussing this controversial decision with some colleagues at work yesterday that he would promote and support  “directional contact” rather than full-fledged body contact.  In essence this means to reintroduce the “old school” meaning of body contact as a separator from the puck rather than taking “runs” at your opponent.    I really believe they should promote this style of contact at the Pee Wee and Bantam levels.

 For the last two years while coaching Pee Wee I have ran “the gauntlet drill” to educate and promote the proper way to give and receive a check and it was met with enthusiasm from both parents and players.   While teaching defensive zone coverage to those teams, I always stressed the importance of good stick position rather than focusing always on body contact being the primary responsibility.  

 The body check has certainly morphed over the years and with new equipment, new rules and bigger and faster players in the game.  We have seen the check go from its sole purpose of separating player from puck to head shots, blindside hits and hits from behind.   

The latter have no business being in the game and I truly believe if we had more respect and knowledgeable coaches and players within the game that we would still have and subsequently be promoting body contact within our great game.  

You are probably wondering why I haven’t mentioned any aspect of officiating and the role they play in policing our great game. Even though we as coaches don’t always necessarily like their calls with regards to the recent hit to the head legislation they have been on the front lines of these new initiatives and have tried to enforce the rules the best to their ability.  

If you were to ask officials their take on the new decision from Hockey Canada, a vast majority of them would probably say that it’s long overdue!    

Officials have been analyzing poor coaching with regards to the proper techniques of body contact for years and let’s be honest it’s their job to distinguish between an illegal or a solid clean check really is. Clearly some associations have invited officials to their “hitting clinics” to provide the players and coaches with valuable feedback whether a certain type of contact is within the rules of hockey.   

 It goes without saying the importance and critical role body contact plays within our game and to ban such a pivotal aspect is downright scary.  

From players to coaches and officials we all have a role in promoting this aspect of the game and clearly that has ran it’s course.

Don’t get me wrong from playing and coaching this game I have witnessed firsthand some brutal and unfortunate incidents surrounding “body contact” at all levels.   Unfortunately, it would appear Hockey Canada had taken strides to completely ban contact in specific levels of hockey.   

Though the reason for the subsequent ban is justifiable, ultimately the game hockey will never be the same without its physicality. It is our responsibility as coaches to promote respectful and responsible players who know the proper meaning and technique of body contact in relation to the game of hockey.   

 Ultimately, Hockey Canada is trying to revolutionize and promote a safer brand of hockey that this blogger definitely wants to see.  Nevertheless, I really think removing the physicality from the game at any level will be drastically detrimental to player development and is certainly not the appropriate avenue to take at this juncture.   

No one can argue with Hockey Canada’s intentions but it’s the results that will be the true indicator moving forward with this controversial and thought-provoking ruling.  

The debate rages on. Is it a coaching problem? 

Who’s responsible for teaching the skill of checking? When should they start? What about concussions? Why are Midget aged players still struggling with that aspect of the game?  

In an era of the game that concussions are so prevalent why are players still showing no restraint when it comes to head contact? 

Chapter 19 An Art or A Science?

There’s no exact science or is there? Scouting, evaluating, ranking and projecting is all part of the process, it comes with the territory, so you better be prepared.

Many have tried to perfect the art or science of scouting and there’s no doubt experience plays a massive role in that process.

Nevertheless, as one NHL scout told me ‘it’s hard to predict the intangibles.’

Ask any scout and they will probably have a list of names and countless stories of players who they doubted could have had an impact at the next level that eventually surprised them, proved them wrong and excelled.

Mistakes happen, after all we are all human, but in the scouting world those mistakes become magnified.

Missing out on a player or selecting a player that doesn’t make it, is certainly incomprehensible in this day and age especially given each organizations commitment to drafting and developing in the game today, however mistakes still happen.

I’ve always been one to ask a lot of questions.  Don’t ask me why, I guess it’s part of my DNA.  I was the player at practice that always asked questions. I’m sure it drove my teammates and coaches crazy. I wanted to know what to do under every circumstance, every situation. I didn’t want to be the player to let the team down.  I guess wanted to see the game differently.            

As a player, I was so scared to make a mistake, my search for perfection became crippling. When I finally realized mistake free hockey doesn’t exist I progressed drastically as a player. 

Fast-forward three decades, I still ask questions, and I’m getting paid to watch the game, but it goes beyond that.  I take my role as a scout very seriously, it’s not about the money, it’s about the experience and growing, so when I screw up, it hurts. 

Case in point. Last season, the buzz was out on a 16-year-old defencemen that was tearing up the Jr. A ranks in the Maritime Hockey League. The player in question went undrafted in the QMJHL. 

How could I have missed him? 

I went back to look at my notes, I had definitely watched the player on countless occasions, but why didn’t I see it? 

Why didn’t I identify his potential?  That’s my job, and to be brutally honest I felt like a failure. 

Fast forward to June, the night before the QMJHL Draft. As I sat having supper with a CSR colleague in Shawinigan, the player in question’s agent walks past the patio of the restaurant.  We talked about a few players, and he mentioned his player, I’m not sure who asked the question, but it went along the lines of; how high do you think the player would go? 

He gave us a semi cryptic answer, he clearly knew something we didn’t. One team had specifically identified him. 

My colleague had watched the player in question play and was very impressed with his skill and poise with the puck. What team would draft him?  How high would he go? 

How did a player with that skill set get passed over in his draft year?  How could 18 teams miss on a present can’t miss prospect?  Well it happened, and it will probably happen again! 

As hard as all the scouts work putting in all the hours these types of scenarios will happen, I hate to admit it, but it will. 

Oh yeah the 16-year-old phenom in question was Jordan Spence. I guess you could say the rest is history. 

Over the course of the next eight months I would see first hand what kind of player Jordan Spence was and would become at the “Q” level.  

In Spence’s case he developed physically, grew three inches, which in turn led to a quicker first step and stronger skating stride. 

Spence was the prototypical late bloomer, but the skill was always there, how could I have missed him. 18 teams missed out on Jordan Spence, but it’s the intangibles that Spence possessed that propelled him to the success. 

Hard work, dedication, character and determination, but more importantly an unwavering desire and drive to prove to people that he belonged.  Spence channeled all the adversity of being passed over as extra motivation.  The adversity fuelled him, you could say it galvanized him, it help shape the player and person he has become today. 

The young defencemen became relentless in his pursuit to get to the next level.  That’s the intangible, the inner drive of a player possesses that sometimes gets overlooked. 

As scouts we evaluate and project, but we can’t always predict physical growth and development, even if we try, there’s always going to be a case where a kid just develops differently.

We can try to get to the know player, their family, their character and personality, but at the end of the day we can’t predict a players physiological developmental progression.  Now I’m sure there are some exercise physiologists out there that will argue that. 

The first time I saw Jordan Spence play at the QMJHL level in the Moncton Wildcats Training Camp and Exhibition Games I was simply blown away. 

The question continued to haunt me, how could I have missed this guy? After the first week of the regular season, I ventured down to the Wildcats dressing room after yet another impressive performance by the young offensive minded defender.

By this time the secret was out, and many NHL Scouts were fascinated by Spence’s style of play. I wanted to write an article showcasing his journey to the QMJHL. 

After the interview, I shook his hand, thanked him for his time and apologized. ‘Jordan, let me tell you how sorry I am that I didn’t see your potential or have you higher on the list.’  The young soft-spoken defencemen smiled and responded, ‘oh that’s ok, don’t worry about it.’ 

I quickly replied, ‘Jordan I take my job as a regional scout very seriously, I take a lot of pride in it, I missed you big guy and for that I’m truly sorry.’ 

You see I carry Jordan Spence in the back of mind every time I watch a game now, I feel that’s my job, it’s my responsibility. I realize that players develop differently and at their own unique rate. 

I also understand that we can’t always predict a player’s intangibles and that when we rank players we try our hardest to project them at the next level. 

In my opinion, scouting isn’t an exact science, there’s no perfect formula, you can try to perfect it, try to make it as scientific as possible, but what I’ve learned over my time in the scouting game, that it’s an art form. 

Scouting is subjective, it lends itself to interpretation. Scouts project that’s the essence of the job, but that’s still up for interpretation. 

Every team, every scout may have a different list or evaluation of a player.  Every scout, every team has a different approach when formulating their list. There’s so many moving parts to the equation; Where’s the team drafting? What are the organization’s needs? Who’s the coach? What cycle is the team in? What opportunity does the player have going forward? 

There’s always going to be questions, and many of those go unanswered until the player in question steps on to the ice.  

From my experience it’s all about learning and growing, but more importantly learning from your mistakes, gaining experience and channeling that into the next scouting experience. 

Every scout may have their top five “lookfors” or evaluation techniques when assessing and projecting players, but for me the mistakes will shape my future decisions, evaluations and projections.

As one NHL Pro Scout said, ‘you carry your mistakes with you, so you can learn from them.’ 

The learning process continues, and in the meantime, I’m going to continue to pore my heart and soul into my projections and evaluations, but I’m sure there’s some players that will continue to prove me wrong! 

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