“To do things that make total sense, one must first do things that make no sense”
- Darryl Belfry/Jack Han (circa 2019)
Actually calling 50 Hockey Tactics 2020 readers must have ranked pretty highly on the list of “things that make no sense.” But a promise is a promise. I cleared my calendar and began hydrating furiously.
After spending close to 30 hours on the phone this week, I now see how an impulsive day-one decision on my part to drive book sales turned out to be an exceptional learning opportunity.
James is a former WHL and ECHL star who hung up his skates a couple of months ago and is now embarking on a cross-Canada RV trip with his girlfriend.
He was interested in learning more about how to scout, a logical career aspiration for a former Vancouver Giants captain and a 69-point scorer for the Adirondack Thunder in 2018-19. (Nice)
As an offensively gifted player he already possessed a good eye for the game. All he needed to do now was to think through his experiences, then develop a scientific and repeatable scouting process.
Why did 29 teams miss out on Brendan Gallagher? Why did he later become an NHL star with the Montreal Canadiens?
James might know better than anyone after skating alongside the Habs’ right-winger for three years on the Giants. If he can figure out how to identify and properly evaluate the next Gallagher, he’ll have a long and successful scouting career.
Conrad is the head coach of Duquesne University’s ACHA men’s hockey team. The best club hockey teams in the US are almost up to par with certain NCAA Division III programs. Conrad wanted to pick my brain for certain tactics or training methods that could improve his team with minimal financial investment.
So I talked to him about practice.
Conrad’s team played around 30 games per season and typically skated twice a week for 90 minutes. This schedule was familiar to me, having experienced it as a high school varsity player and JV coach.
“How do you feel about the tempo of the practice?” I prodded.
I already knew the answer: his players were slowing down physically and mentally in the second half of the session. This is why NHL and AHL teams almost never practiced longer than 45 minutes even though their players were 100% dedicated to being professional athletes and trained every day to increase their stamina.
Another challenge: a whopping 34 players appeared on Duquesne’s 2019-20 roster, per Elite Prospects. Due to high demand for roster spots and the unpredictable nature of club sports, Conrad was constantly adjusting the lineup to accommodate his student-athletes.
These were two thorny issues, but within 15 minutes we figured out a way to kill both birds with one stone: Cut the team practice to 60 minutes.
After all the solution to having too little practice time with too many people cannot possibly be to practice even less. But here’s our thinking:
1) A 60-minute main practice pushes players to execute at a higher pace, while forcing the coaching staff to be more concise and effective.
2) This frees up the last 30 minutes of the session for non-game players (of which there is about a dozen) and main-team depth players who want to get additional work. The second session would target smaller groups of players hungry to get reps and willing to refine the tactical and technical details in their games.
3) The main-team players staying on will find themselves challenged by less skilled but fresher players. Those on the outside looking in will more clearly see what they need to do in order to join the game group. Over time Duquesne’s depth will improve and the entire team will be better for it. Perhaps this no-cut approach may even result in the team recruiting better prospects and receiving more school funding.
Travis McArthur bought a copy of Hockey Tactics 2020 as a Father’s Day present. I logged into our video meeting and was surprised to meet Don, as every other person I had talked to looked to be under the age of 40. I had clearly underestimated my target audience.
Don and Travis had many questions about their beloved Leafs, which I did my best to answer. The book and our subsequent discussion seemed to have given them a deeper appreciation of how well-run NHL teams can gain a competitive edge. I was so flattered to that Don, whose fandom preceded my birth by at least a couple of decades, was interested in hearing what I had to say.
But the most important thing I took away from this call was how hockey was for them a family love affair. As it should be.
The conversations I had this week not only generated deep discussions and a few possibilities for future collaboration, but reinforced my love for the game and for the people in it. This was certainly my best and most important learning.