21 LESSONS FROM THE MOST COMPLICATED CHAPTERS IN A MAGICAL HOCKEY LIFE

December 10, 2017

At first glance, taking advice about playing, coaching, or parenting from a guy who never reached his potential as a player, got fired as a high school hockey coach, and has never been a parent, seems like a pretty illogical idea.  But buckle up, here we go…

 

My oldest life memory is the day I learned about the game of hockey.  I was three years old, watching the Hartford Whalers play the Boston Bruins on SportsChannel (that was literally the name of the channel).  It was love at first sight.  From that point on, all I wanted to be was a hockey player.  My whole life was fixated on hockey.  As a kid, I used to play street hockey for hours every day.  When it got dark & I could no longer play in the cul-de-sac, I went down in the basement.  Like most kids, I was playing by myself, counting down from ten as both announcer and player, in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.  When I scored the Stanley Cup winning goal (as I did thousands of times, all right before the buzzer…don’t look it up on Elite Prospects, just trust me), I was usually not a household name.  I was typically a Hartford Whaler like Geoff Sanderson, Andrew Cassells, or Zarley Zalapski, or a Boston Bruin like Adam Oates (he usually assisted on my winning goals from myself to myself), Joè Juneau, or Don Sweeney.  Now, my hockey life has taken me full circle.  Don Sweeney is my boss.  My job (yes, they actually pay you to do this) is to evaluate NHL draft prospects across the United States & Western Canada for the Boston Bruins.  It’s not a very difficult way to make a living, but it is still a job & you are expected to maintain a level of professionalism.  That said, sometimes, in our staff meetings, I’ll look over at Don Sweeney & Cam Neely and smile.  They were my boyhood heroes.  I collected their hockey cards and now they’re listening to me give my opinion on players that might just be the missing piece to help them etch their names in the Stanley Cup one more time.  That’s pretty cool.  Everybody in our industry that didn’t play (in the NHL you either played in the NHL or you never played…that’s just the way it is) tries to pretend it’s not cool, but I’ll be honest…it’s pretty cool.

 

 

Hockey has given me everything I have in life.  Sure, it pays the bills, but far more importantly it’s given me almost all of my best life memories (on and more frequently, off, the ice).  All my friends work in hockey.  Truthfully, I am immersed in hockey so much that I really don’t have much else to offer a conversation.  I’ve been a coach and an administrator of youth hockey from 8U-18U, I’ve coached high school hockey, junior hockey, & college hockey.  As a scout, I’ve worked at the NHL level and at USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program.  I’ve had a small part in a few gold medals at the Under-18 World Championships & the Youth Olympics.  I’ve had the privilege of sitting front row to watch the development of this incredible new wave of American stars – Auston Matthews, Clayton Keller, Charlie McAvoy, etc.,.  I’ve pretty much experienced hockey at every single level tha

t it is played.  My first 32 years have been blessed & I owe most of those blessings to game of hockey.

 

I want to preface what I’m about to deliver with saying there are many great people involved with high school hockey as coaches, referees, administrators, and as bloggers & there are some not so good ones.  I decided to write this piece, 1) because I think it’s really cool what Luke Devoe (shockingly, @CTHShockey isn’t actually his given name) does for the kids.  High School hockey in Connecticut is better because of him & his passion; & 2) I think I have a story to tell & maybe my story can help one kid, or one coach, become a better version of themselves.  So, without further ado, here are my Twenty-One Lessons from the Most Complicated Chapters of a Magical Hockey Life

 

THE FIRST SEVEN APPLY TO EVERY ONE OF THE PLAYERS…

 

1) School matters.  Apply yourself to the best of your abilities in the classroom.  I don’t know if kids still say this, but when I was in high school people used to have this theory that your freshman grades didn’t matter.  As an adult, I can now tell you that’s about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.  All of your grades matter.  I didn’t value my education as a high school student and that was a mistake.  If I had to guess, my class rank at Notre Dame-Fairfield was probably like 117 out of 125.  I’m pretty sure you guys don’t have class ranks anymore (soft generation), but, needless to say, that’s not ideal.

 

My first job after college was as an assistant hockey coach at Williams College.  At the time (& I think in most years) Williams College was the highest rated school for academics and athletics.  It was a special place.  The students were extremely gifted & the opportunities they had after college we’re, and still are, incredible.

 

I remember when I started coaching there I thought to myself, “Man, I wish I worked harder in school & went here.”  Now, you’re probably thinking, “How would a guy who was 117 out of 125 possibly get in to one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the world?”  That would be a fair question.  Maybe I wasn’t smart enough for Williams College, but long before I was the 117th ranked student in the 2004 graduating class, I made the High Honor Roll in my 1st semester of sophomore year & the Honor Roll in my 2nd semester off sophomore year.  It wasn’t lack of aptitude, it was lack of attitude.  (SIDE NOTE: I never realized how incredibly difficult it must’ve been to make high honors & honors in one of three years in high school & still manage to be 117 out of 125…Yikes.).  I am extremely proud of the degree I earned (eventually) from Sacred Heart University, but I made my path a lot harder than it needed to be because I didn’t value my education.

 

Another idiotic perception that people in the high school hockey community have is that they are going to play NCAA Division I.  The reality is that 99% of you aren’t good enough to do that.  There are many incredible options in Division III, Division II & ACHA.  When I was a kid, I didn’t know about any of them.  Educate yourself on your options & use hockey as a vehicle to get yourself the best possible education you can get.  That starts with applying yourself in the classroom as hard as you do on the ice (unless you were lazy in both like me, in which case, get to work!).

 

2) Substance is Style.  One of the best things about playing high school hockey is the crowds.  Playing in front of your peers and hearing them erupt when you have success is an exhilarating feeling.  That said, the game is played on a 200x85 surface made of ice protected by boards.  Nothing on the other side of the boards matters.  The 19 guys you suit up with – and the final score – are what matters.  Everything else is just noise.  Have fun & celebrate your goals, but celebrate them because of the sheer joy of scoring them, not to entertain the fans.

 

In my parent’s house, there are a bunch of pictures of me, but three of them stand out every time I walk in the house.  One is of a team I put together - the 2016 United States Youth Olympic Team.  That team beat Russia twice & then Canada in a four day span to win the Gold Medal in Lillehammer, Norway.  That was a special thing to be a part of.  Another picture is of me holding the trophy after the Daniel Hand team that I coached beat Branford to win the SCC Division II Championship.  That was a special thing to be a part of.  The third is a picture that was in the Connecticut Post.  It is me holding up the #1 after scoring a goal to tie a game against Fairfield Prep.  At 17, I was so proud of that photo…c’mon, I was in the newspaper!  At 32, I hate it.  We lost that game 2-1.  Point of this?  As a teenager I was a cocky, flashy kid.  All style, no substance.  Aim to be a person of substance, because eventually you’ll learn that substance is style.

 

3) Don’t Fear Failure.  Like I said, I was a really cocky high school kid.  To picture it, think of some combination of Charlie Tweeder (sorry boys, Varsity Blues may be before your time) meets Eminem, & Adam Sandler.  In the senior superlatives, I was voted class clown & most dramatic.  They were well earned.  The truth is, my cockiness came from insecurity.  Being a high school kid is hard…& we didn’t even have social media back then.  There is a lot of pressure.  There is pressure on the ice, there is pressure in school, there is pressure socially, there is peer pressure, there is pressure with girls…literally, the whole things is a cauldron of pressure.  Some of it’s real & some of it’s perceived.  Before I get to the fear of failure part, let me tell you that most of the pressure you feel is more perception than reality.  Every detail in your life doesn’t really matter as much as you think it does.  Find your authentic self and be true to who you are.

 

So, to the fair of failure part.  I don’t have very many regrets in life, but one thing I do regret is that I never overcame my fear of failure until I was an adult.  I’m a December birthday, so, naturally, I was a late bloomer.  When I graduated high school, I don’t think I was 140lbs.  My coaches used to think I was lazy in the weight room and while there is truth to that, the larger truth is that I hated lifting weights because I wasn’t good at it.  I was embarrassed to bench the bar when other guys were throwing up 150.  Don’t ever be embarrassed to work at something.  Get over the fear of failure.  Any success that I’ve had in life is a result of trying again after failure.  I wish I learned that lesson sooner.

 

4) Be a good teammate.  I don’t think I was a bad teammate – I genuinely cared when my teammates had success – but I don’t think I was a good one either.  Our teams at Notre Dame never reached our potential because our culture was weak.  We had a lot of cliques and guys didn’t genuinely love one another. If you want to get to Ingalls, everybody on your team needs to sacrifice the “me” for the “we”. If you do that, you’ll give yourselves a chance to accomplish your goals.

 

5) A ‘gamer’ isn’t a thing.  When I played in high school, I remember being called a ‘gamer’.  I suppose there was some merit to being a ‘gamer’ in that I never wanted to miss a game due to injury & I played hurt (though I missed my fair share), but I wasn’t really a ‘gamer’ because a ‘gamer’ isn’t a thing.

 

The way you practice is a direct reflection of the way you play the games.  Ernie Adams, the New England Patriots’ Director of Football Research - & perhaps the most underrated person in the Patriots’ dynasty – put it best, “You are gonna win or lose games in practice.  I mean, there is no such thing as a game day player.”

 

The way you practice, is the way you play. Plain & simple.

 

6) Be accountable.  One of the great skills in life is the ability to self-assess and be accountable.  I made a lot of mistakes as a high school student-athlete, and for the longest time I made excuses for my actions (some of which were legitimate excuses, but excuses nevertheless).  At the end of the day, one of the greatest lessons I learned from my failures as a player and as a coach is that you need to have accountability.  In some situations, I got a raw deal (see: Daniel Hand), but most of them (even that one) could have been avoided if I handled a situation in a different way.  At the end of the day, if you don’t hold up your end of the bargain, just accept it, acknowledge it, and move on to become a better person.

 

7) Have fun.  Your high school hockey experience will fly by before you know it.  Before you blink, you’ll sit in your stall after your last game.  Don’t have any regrets in your high school experience and have fun.  It was oftentimes to my own detriment, but I can’t say I didn’t have fun.  That said, you can have fun & be a little more responsible than I was…

 

THE NEXT THREE ARE FOR HOCKEY PLAYERS WHO WANT TO GET TO THE NEXT LEVEL…

 

8) World Class Talent ≠ World Class Player.  I got this one from my friend Don Granato, who now coaches the Chicago Blackhawks.  For the purposes of CT High School hockey, and my high school hockey career, there isn’t very much that’s world class, so we’ll simply say that having talent doesn’t make you a great player.  I was a talented high school player.  I’d say, on pure talent, I was probably in the top 15-20 players in the state.  I was never the most talented player on my team, that was Kris Conte my first year & Jeff Velleca the other two, but I had some talent.  I literally did none of the things required to cultivate my talent.  I was style over substance.  I thought a highlight reel goal or assist (and I did have a couple of those) was the objective.  I played one way.  I didn’t compete, I didn’t work hard, I didn’t do any of the little things to be successful.  The formula for being a good player is pretty simple: you need hockey sense, competitiveness, & a certain level of talent.  I had threshold talent, and I had threshold hockey sense, but I didn’t work hard.

 

I remember the year after I graduated I was watching Notre Dame-Fairfield play Fairfield Prep and Mark Arcobello, who was probably already 2-1-3 at that point, laid down at the defensive blue line and just ate a wicked slapshot from maybe 10 feet away.  I was standing with Dan Gorman, one of the best coaches I ever had, and he turned to me and said, “I’ll take that guy on my team any day.”  It wasn’t about the goals or the assists, it was about the details.  Mark Arcobello didn’t get from Fairfield Prep to the NHL because he was a world class talent, he got there because he was a world class player.

 

9) Your work ethic must exceed your talent.  I already told you I was a lazy player that never reached his potential, but here’s a story about another guy you may know of…

 

My buddy, Don Granato, who I referenced above, tells a story about bringing Auston Matthews down to a Detroit Red Wings game two years before he was eligible for the draft.Auston met Mike Babcock while he was there and Coach Babcock introduced himself and said something along the lines of, “I know who you are, kid, but let me tell you one thing, the day your work ethic exceeds your talent is the day you don’t have a job in this business.”

 

Now, maybe you’re not on the same level as Auston Matthews, but everything is relative and if you want to be successful at your level, to get to Ingalls Rink and lift the trophy, keep your eyes on the prize, work your tail off, and you’ll give yourself a chance to be successful.

 

By the way, if you ever want to learn how to carry yourself as a man and as hockey player, take a look at Auston Matthews.He is one of the finest young men I’ve ever had the privilege to know and that has nothing to do with his hockey abilities.It’s about how he was raised, how he treats people, and how he handles the pressure that has been bestowed upon him.History may well reflect that he is the greatest American hockey player that ever lived.

 

Speaking of Auston Matthews, here’s a great video on his path & his upbringing: I Am: Auston Matthews

 

10) Your love of hockey must outweigh your love of the perks of being a hockey player.  I’m not attempting to sensationalize this next part as I’m not proud of it, but it’s what happened, so I’ll tell you.  In the open, I told you that I have been in love with hockey for my entire life.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  In high school, I lost my love and passion for hockey (I’ll get to those details later).  At the same time, I quickly learned the perks of being a hockey player.  When I first went to Notre Dame as a sophomore transfer, my identity was as a hockey player.  By the end of my sophomore year my identity was as a guy who played hockey but lived too fast, partied too hard, and chased too many skirts. 

 

I’ll get to why I fell out of love with hockey later, but the lesson is – if you want to be a player – your love and your passion for hockey must outweigh your love of the social perks of being a hockey player.

 

THE NEXT THREE ARE FOR PLAYERS & PARENTS REGARDING THE PROCESS…

 

11) Process before results.  Your stats don’t matter.  Or at least not as much as you think.  You’re not going to play at a high level because you had gaudy stats in high school.  As a high school coach, I had the good fortune to have Ben Solin on my team.  For those that don’t know him, he played three years of Connecticut Division 2 High School Hockey & is now playing NCAA Division I hockey at Harvard. Ben Solin didn’t go to Exeter, Nanaimo (BCHL) and now to Harvard because he scored 150 points (honestly, I made that number up, he probably had more) at Daniel Hand.  He got to those places (and scored all those points) because he had hockey sense, competitiveness, and skill.  Too many players put up big numbers in high school because they have a physical advantage or they have confidence from beating up on players they are better than.  At the higher levels, all of that goes away.  In hockey, and in life, results are a byproduct of process.  Focus on the process and the results take care of themselves.

 

12) Don’t rush the process.  Too many kids at the high school level – and their parents - have unrealistic views of where they are at as players.  Every year, kids run off to prep school or to a low level of junior hockey long before they are ready under the guise that the hockey is better and that the competition will help them earn a Division I scholarship.  First of all, the overwhelming majority of that is BS. 

 

If you’re the best player on your team, you have hockey sense, you’re competitive, you have some talent and you’re absolutely dominating the level, go to prep school.  Find someone who will give you good advice, get the best financial package you can, and go play.  For the rest of you, stay where you are.  About 90% of players who leave high school to go play prep hockey or low-level junior are literally taking a blowtorch to anywhere between $10,000 & $200,000 dollars.  If you’re flush with cash and you want to send your child for educational purposes, by all means, be my guest.  If you are an average player, stay in high school, keep getting better, and see what your options are after you graduate.

 

13) Focus on your path, not somebody else’s.  This happens everywhere, but it’s super-abundant in high school hockey.  Too many kids and parents are so consumed with other kids – either on their team or on another team.  If another kid in the high school loop has a college commitment, celebrate that, don’t demean it.  Attempting to knock another kid down just to improve your self-esteem is pathetic…and it happens far too often in the Connecticut High School Hockey culture.  Worry about yourself and control the controllables.  Somebody else’s path is outside of your control.

 

FOR THE PARENTS…

 

14) Don’t be “that parent”. When I coached Daniel Hand, we had a remarkable group of parents.  I literally never had a single issue with a parent.  They were amazing to me.  That said, I know that experience is a total anomaly.  First of all, this whole high school hockey thing is about your kid, his team, and his friends.  It’s not about you.  Don’t let petty pissing-contests between you and Little Jimmy’s mom and dad become a distraction for your kid and for the team.  Find genuine friendship with the other parents.  If each parent cares about the success of the other kids and the team as much as they do about their own kid’s success, everybody has a better experience.  When I was at Notre Dame, we didn’t have that and the players knew it.  It impacted the culture and it impacted the team.  That’s part of the reason we never won anything of substance.

 

15) Politics exist...but don’t concern yourself with them.  Now I know all the parents think their kid is always getting screwed because of politics, and most of the time it’s really just because their kid just isn’t good enough (sorry to be the bearer of bad news).  That said, politics certainly exist in Connecticut High School hockey, even if nobody has the courage to say it.  Politics exist in playing time.  There are absolutely pay-to-play situations at some schools.  There is absolutely nepotism going on at some schools.  It is what it is and it’s probably not going away.  That said, you know who usually isn’t affected by politics?  The best player.  Somehow he finds a way to get on the ice all the time.  Your kid should strive to be the best player.  Another guy that always seems to find his way into the lineup (assuming he has enough talent) is the hardest worker.  Your kid should strive to be the hardest worker.  The guys who get screwed by politics are the guys like me – the guys who give the coaches every reason in the world to not play them.  Once again, don’t be like me!

 

Another place politics exists – and you can’t do much about it – is in the all-league and all-state selections.  Connecticut High School hockey has seen a steady decline for 20+ years for a lot of reasons, but one of them is that many of the decision-making bodies are comprised of people who the game has passed by.  There are a lot of great people involved in high school hockey as coaches and administrators, and then there are many others who are involved for purely self-serving reasons with no interest in evolving or improving.  Unfortunately, some of those people wield a lot of power in their little fiefdom.  The selection process for these all-state & all-league teams is, conservatively speaking, a bit of a mockery.  It’s unfortunate, but it probably isn’t changing.  Again, control the controllables and check out @CTHSHockey for what are probably more legitimate all-state teams (not above a shameless plug for my pal!).

 

FOR THE COACHES…

 

16) You have no idea the power that you have to influence the lives of young people, positively or negatively.  I said earlier that as a high school hockey player, I fell out of love with the game of hockey.  I’ve been accountable for all of my shortcomings, but the reality is that I fell out of love with the game of hockey because of my high school hockey coach.  I can’t say whether my coach was a bad guy – that’s for someone else to judge – but I can certainly say we didn’t mesh.  I can also say that the scars from the emotional wounds of my high school hockey experience are still fresh, more than 15 years later.  Between 8th grade & 10th grade, my younger sister died, my parents got divorced, and we had to move abruptly from my childhood home which was the only place I could ever really remember living.  I transferred from Daniel Hand to Notre Dame-Fairfield, because we moved from Madison to Branford.  I didn’t know a single person.  Needless to say, my life was in complete disarray for reasons mostly outside of my control.  I told you in the open that I vividly remember the day that I fell in love with hockey.  I also vividly remember the day that I fell out of love with hockey.  I was a sophomore & we were working on basically standing in a triangle in the offensive zone.  I was in the high slot so I was supposed to catch and shoot if the puck came from down low, tip the puck if it was worked low-to-high for a shot from the point, or look at my backdoor options if I gained possession in the middle of the rink.  Triangles matter in hockey, 100%.  It gives you width & depth.  That said, we we’re literally told to stand still in a triangle.  No movement!  I didn’t quite comprehend the purpose of this, so when we ran the next rep, I apparently moved too far off of my “spot”, as I wanted to pop into what would be a soft spot in coverage to catch & shoot.  The coach blew the whistle and skated a foot away from me.  He absolutely ripped me up and down.  Carved me as a player and as a human.  It was bad.  I won’t quote it – but there were plenty of expletives and he told me I was worthless.  (In his defense, that was a different time.  I was like the first millennial – the first of a generation wanting to be collaborative in development and asking questions.  I wasn’t one of those guys who was just going to do what the coach said because he said it.  I wanted to know why, so that I could fully understand and execute).  After he crucified me, I just skated to the bench and started crying uncontrollably.  Lucky for me, one of our Captains, it was either AJ Penna or Dave Tufano, was sitting beside me.  He put his arm around me and literally held me while I sobbed like a child.  I never did thank him, but it meant a lot.  I worshipped my coach – thought of him as a god (to use another Varsity Blues reference, think Bud Kilmer).  I wanted to please this guy so bad, and he just didn’t give a shit about me.  At that time, hockey was all I had.  I didn’t need somebody to scream at me.  All I needed was for somebody to put their arm around me, show me they cared about me, and to believe in me.  Needless to say, that was the day I fell out of love with hockey.  I pretty much just showed up and mailed it in for the rest of my time at Notre Dame.

 

The flip side of all of that, is that I started coaching hockey – and have subsequently been able to accomplish many of my life’s dreams – because I turned one of the most negative experiences of my life into a positive one.I was accountable for my shortcomings, self-assessed the areas that I should have handled better, and grew as a man as a result.

 

I started coaching hockey at 18 because I wanted to coach kids in an environment that was fun, and environment where their coach cared about them more as people than about his next win or his legacy.In hindsight, that’s probably why – one year when I was in between jobs – I decided to coach Division II high school hockey.On some level it was personal.On some level it was therapeutic.I had a chip on my shoulder and a score to settle.Thanks to twenty remarkable young men and the incredible group of parents that I had on that Daniel Hand team, I got some semblance of peace that brought me some closure.Well, at least until the morning I woke up to find myself on the front of the New Haven Register!

 

17) It’s not about you, it’s about the kids.  There are many great coaches in high school hockey.  I consider guys like Johnny Longo (Notre Dame-Fairfield), Neil Rodman (South Windsor), & Scooter Richitelli (Amity) to be friends.  I used to play youth hockey with Ken Barse’s (Glastonbury) son.  He was a great man.  They are among the good guys (and I am sure there are a lot more like them).  That said, there are a lot of coaches who could re-assess what they are doing & there are some guys who have absolutely no business coaching kids. 

 

If you’re a coach, ask yourself: 1) Is my main priority developing good young men?; 2) Do I have the knowledge base to develop these kids as hockey players?; 3) Do I value the human beings on my team more than I value winning?; 4) Is the success of the team more about the kids than it is me?If the answer to any of those questions is no, it’s time to re-evaluate your life.

 

18) Coach every kid on your team & let every player start a game in their high school career.  One of my proudest things coaching high school hockey was the impact that so many of our players had on our team.  Sure, Chase Briggs was a star for us in net.  Ben Solin, Danny Braumann, and Sam LaFontaine scored the majority of our goals and we got plenty of two way

contributions from guys like Matt Oman, Danny Healey, Brendan Kelly and Ryan Bell.  We had great character guys like Luke Brown, Connor Bell, Andrew Banasiak, Reed Berestecky, & Andrew Rossi.  We had glue guys that were tough as nails like Will Lavin & Max Leveroni.  I could literally talk about every player we had on that team, as everybody up and down the lineup made a contribution.  That said, two of my favorite guys to have on that team were Nate Gould & Matt Leombruno.   They were our two least experienced players, and they didn’t play very much, but when they did get to play it brought a huge emotional lift to our team.  Everybody respected them because they came to work every day, not knowing when their next opportunity would come.  Now, while they didn’t get to play a lot, they did both get to start a game.  They got to hear their names announced and skate to the blue line.  Watching those two guys get that experience was one of my proudest moments in a season that was full of them.  Sometimes, we as coaches take it all too seriously.  It’s important that everybody on the team gets “their moment” in the high school hockey experience.  It will stay with them for a lifetime.

19) Surround yourself with assistant coaches who have new ideas, but will also tell you when you’re full of shit.  I would say, one of my very best skills is identifying truly talented people.  I want to surround myself with the smartest people that I can, because it makes me a better hockey man, but, more importantly, just a better man in general.

 

Now, that wasn’t so much my focus when I coached a high school hockey team, but I wanted to be with good people.  My assistant coach was Eric Braumann, who had played at Daniel Hand and won a state championship as a goalie.  He knew all of the kids and he was an awesome guy to share the bench with.  We started the season with like 16 forwards and 3 defenseman, so we were literally making up systems on the fly.  We played the first handful of games with four forwards and one defenseman at a time (thankfully, Chase Briggs was back there to save our bacon on more than one occasion).  Eric had a tremendous passion and he always brought great ideas to improve our team.  I appreciated being able to hear his ideas and coach alongside him.  He was and is a great guy.

 

We also had two “equipment managers”, Eric’s brother, Ryan, and my brother, Conor.  They helped with the coaching, too, though we just called them equipment managers because they had no actual training (and I already sat through that 45-hour class, which was completely useless!).  That said, they both had passion.  One of my best life memories is sharing the bench that year with my brother.  We had a great time and a lot of laughs, but he also brought a lot of value to the team because he was the only person that was able to tell me when I was completely full of shit.  We’re all full of shit from time to time and it’s important to have somebody who has the courage to tell you when you’re full of shit!  For me, that’s my brother.

 

20) Educate yourself as a coach every day.  In a lot of ways, your average high school hockey game looks like a Squirt game with giant players.  It’s hard to coach because there is a huge discrepancy in talent.  There are so many resources available on youtube, usahockey.com, literally anywhere and everywhere to become a better coach.  You should be able to coach your best player, your worst player, and everybody in between.  The information is abundant…there is literally no excuse not to be a great coach in 2017.

 

I still believe, for all of its shortcomings, there is so much that is incredible about high school hockey in Connecticut.  If leadership became more progressive-minded, and the coaching acumen grew across the board, more kids would stay.  High school hockey is still a bit of a sleeping giant with incredible potential.  To realize that potential, the coaches need to be educating themselves every day.  If you’re not getting better than you were yesterday, you’re getting worse.  The biggest problem in high school hockey is that some guys have been getting worse for 30 years.

 

A good place to start the next chapter of your education is with this article by former Cornell Assistant Coach, Topher Scott (@topherscottCU on Twitter…posts great material every day).

 

https://www.prodigy-hockey.com/coaches-corner/aint-kids-5-keys-coaching-kids-today/

 

21) Last but not least, if there is a kid on your team that’s good enough to play prep school, drive him there.  There hasn’t been a player go straight from high school hockey to NCAA Division I hock

 

ey in well over a decade.  The reality is simple - kids have to go to prep school, or to junior hockey (like I said above, when the time is right) to accomplish their hockey goals.  Any coach who holds a kid back from that because of selfish reasons – like the competitiveness of next year’s team – shouldn’t be a coach, plain and simple.  If you have a kid on your team with a future in the game, help him any way you can – even if you win a few less games the following year.  That might even help attract the next talented young player who is weighing his high school options & help to build a sustainable program destined for long term success.

 

It is my sincere hope that everybody who reads this takes one or two things that can help them this upcoming season & beyond.  I want to wish the very best of luck to every single player, coach, and even the referees (especially my pal Marty Tangredi, who’s passion for the game makes high school hockey in Connecticut so special) as you all get ready to ride the Road to Ingalls

 

I also want to thank a few people who have allowed me to write this.  First, my father & my grandfather.  I’ve been blessed to have two amazing role models who have allowed me to chase my dreams and supported me when I didn’t make it easy on them.  To both of them, thank you.  Additionally, I want to thank Dan Gorman, my former Assistant Coach at Notre Dame-Fairfield, Larry Merola, our Notre Dame-Fairfield strength coach & the guy who actually gave me my first taste of coaching at 16 with the Connecticut Wolves, and Craig Semple, the AD at Daniel Hand.  All three of these men helped make the most complicated chapters of my magical hockey life as enjoyable as possible.  I am forever indebted to them for their belief in me, even in the face of overwhelming pressure the other way.

 

Finally, to the players: Play hard, make memories that will last a lifetime, and may you all never fall out of love with the game of hockey!  Enjoy the ride.  It goes way too fast.

 

Ryan Hardy

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