So, how is this whole tryout thing working for you this year?

At this point you are either getting ready, in the midst of tryouts, or they are over and you are on to the next stage.

How did you prepare? Was there a well thought out program for physical training, supplemented by mental preparation that was executed over the off season? If so, tryouts were likely a pleasant experience and there was a positive outcome.

Let’s hope every tryout starts with team management being very clear about how to make the team;

…”this is the type of culture we want for our team…”

…”we want players who exhibit these overall characteristics of work ethic, discipline, …”

…”we will not tolerate any behavior that includes, disrespect of others, etc. …”

…” we need players to fill these specific roles…”

I had a chance to spend time over two days at the Dallas Stars training camp in Charlottetown, PEI. After the ice sessions I visited with head coach Marc Crawford, assistant coach Willie Desjardins, AHL head coach Glen Gulutzen, and Director of Minor League Operations Scott White.

Watching the players in the dressing room area, it was obvious all were serious about their physical preparation. Most players looked like they were in great shape as they prepared their post-practice sport drinks and snacks. Coach Crawford noted how this part of the game had come a long way since his playing days.

Also talked with Frank Hubley, a high school hockey head coach in Halifax, NS, about his tryout process. He added points like looking for more from a returning player, the need to have balance between grades 10, 11, and 12, and being clear to participants about team goals for the season.

Wally Bray is the head coach at the AAA midget level in St. John’s, NL. His coaching staff and manager Tim Power have to build a team that will be capable of hosting the Telus Cup, the national championship for this level. Players here get on the team by performance by a series of competitive scrimmage sessions. The camp was fun to watch as layers competed to make the team.

At the end of tryouts, hopefully there are some common positive results:

…players feel they had a fair opportunity to show how they can play the game

…all had a fair chance to make the team

…there was an environment where players will leave being at least a little better for the experience

…even though the tryouts were challenging, it was a fun experience

Now, let the season begin…

Moving the Puck the Key to a Defenseman’s Success

Toronto’s Globe and Mail writer Matthew Sekeres posted an article on Sunday, November 29, 2009. With the buildup to the Vancouver Olympics in high gear across Canada, the main focus as always is on the men’s hockey team.

Using insight from world class defenseman Rob Blake, the writer highlights a catch phrase that virtually all coaches try to drill into their defensemen. “Move the puck!”

Chris Pronger, Adam Foote, and Rob Blake have formed the backbone of Canada’s defence through three Olympic Games.

They are the only three defencemen to play on every Canadian Olympic team since NHL players began participating in the Games in 1998, yet only one of them – Pronger – is back in contention for a fourth Olympics this February in Vancouver.

Neither Foote, nor Blake, were invited to Hockey Canada’s summer orientation camp in Calgary, and while Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman has said that non-invitees could play their way onto the team, Blake isn’t kidding himself and said his days of manning the country’s blueline are over.

“I understand the situation,” said Blake, a San Jose Sharks defenceman who turned back the clock in 2008-09 and produced a 45-point season. “If you’re not clearly in the top six, they’re not going to bring you to the orientation camp when you’re almost 40. There’s not much place for an older guy, and it’s not like they’re going to bring you in to get you experience.”

So, given his experience and new-found objectivity, The Globe and Mail asked Blake to pick the Canadian defence for 2010.

He held to one governing principle when making his selections: “You have to have guys who are going to move the puck.”

Blake said the 2006 Olympic team, which finished seventh in Turin, sorely missed Scott Niedermayer, a one-man trap breaker who could skate the puck end-to-end. Barring similarly skilled defencemen, Blake said the next best thing was a player who could move the puck with his stick.

“I really think we missed Niedermayer a lot the last time out,” he said.
“At the Olympics, your forwards are so dominant across all four lines. Because your forwards are so dominant, you just need to get them the puck as quickly as you can. Look at Danny Boyle’s style. That’s what you need.”

Boyle, Blake’s teammate in San Jose, is more noted for his offensive ability than his defensive prowess, but his older teammate said he would be perfect for the Olympic team because “he’s as good as it gets in our league in terms of getting the puck out of your zone.

“He’s a one-man breakout, but he’s not a high-risk guy,” Blake added.
“He has the puck all the time, and when it comes out of our zone, it comes out fast, and it comes out tape-to-tape.”

Blake said that Canada’s management should endeavour to have a puck-moving defenceman on every Olympic pairing, and his selections also suggest that familiarity is important. Blake picked three Calgary Flames rearguards, as well as two Chicago Blackhawks and the defensive pair – Pronger and Niedermayer – who helped the Anaheim Ducks win the Stanley Cup in 2007.

Running drills in practice sessions and constant positive reinforcement quick puck movement should be a daily task for the coach. Getting the puck off your stick an on to the stick of an attacking forward should always be the immediate task of every defenseman.

As repetitive as it may be for coaches to say, and as likely annoying for defensemen to hear, “Move the puck!” will be part of our hockey vocabulary for quite some time to come.