In this week's 'Making of a Royal' blog, assistant coach Scott Donahue discusses the anatomy of his team's incredible 7-7 tie with Shattuck-St. Mary's in the third game of the Shattuck-St. Mary's Showcase in Faribault, Minn., earlier this season. With coaches Pat LaFontaine and Steve Webb unable to work the bench for the game, Donahue filled in as head coach. It would turn out to be the most memorable hockey game he's ever been associated with as the Long Island Royals rallied from 6-0 and 7-5 deficits in the third period to earn a 7-7 tie against the host school.
In the locker room prior to the game I told the boys that Shattuck was going to come out flying. I told them to remember the 3-0 lead they built in the first game of the tournament where we had to come back to forge a 5-5 tie. So, I felt it important to remind the players to really come out strong.
[Head coach] Pat [LaFontaine] had an opportunity to watch his nephew at Minnesota State and asked that I step in behind the bench for this game. Sure enough, we got down 3-0 in the first period and Pat was sending me a text message, wanting to know what the score was. I text him the score and he said we had to find a way to pull it out and make it competitive.
In this week's 'Making of a Royal' blog, head coach Pat LaFontaine discusses his team's opening game of the Shattuck-St. Mary's Showcase in Faribault, MN. The team rallied from a 3-0 deficit to earn a 5-5 tie against the host school, Under-16 Shattuck-St. Mary's. Brent D'Iorio and Michael Marnell each had two goals apiece and Nicholas Hutchison had a goal and one assist to spark the comeback.
It was great for the kids to experience Shattuck St. Mary's and talk about the hockey tradition it's turned out. If you look at the names of the players who have come out of there, like [Sidney] Crosby, [Jonathan] Toews and [Zach] Parise … it's basically a hockey factory.
Everybody knew where we were at and how special a place it really was. There have been a lot of tremendous hockey players coming out of Shattuck, but it didn't matter whether you flew four hours or sat in a hotel room because come game time, it's all jam. The kids had to put on their game face and be ready to play. We needed to just show up by setting the tempo, moving our feet and getting some shots off.
After the first period, I had to remind the players to stop acting like they were feeling sorry for themselves. They had to play with a purpose and not just go through the motions out there. The players needed to find some energy, some fire in their veins. Probably the hardest thing about coaching, and any coach will tell you this, is motivating and preparing kids to be ready to play at a high level.
In this week's 'Making of a Royal' blog, head coach Pat LaFontaine talks about his three-goalie rotation and how pleased he is with each of the keepers this season. After losing his projected starting goalie prior to the season, LaFontaine has seen great improvement in Matt Atwell, Peter Fosso and Canadian newcomer Zach Waiman. Currently, Fosso and Waiman are listed on the active roster and Atwell on the practice team.
On the USA Hockey youth level, you can only roster two goalies at a time, so what we've done is deem one of the goalies a practice goalie at any given time. We've been able to give opportunities to all three goalies to show what they can do and we've been pleased with the results.
Zach came onto the team about two-and-a-half months into the season so he was kind of a late addition. We originally had a goalie committed to [the Under-16 Long Island Royals National Team] out of Connecticut, but he had to back out at the last minute. He was our No. 1 goalie, and [Atwell and Fosso] were going to fight it out for the backup spot. We ended up starting the season with two goalies and I'm really pleased with the way they've progressed. [Assistant coach] Steve Webb received a tip that there was a boy looking for an opportunity [from Peterborough, Ont.] who was a really strong goalie. We talked about giving him an opportunity, and that's how that all came about. I think if we're going to prepare these kids to play at the next level in the "Making of a Royal," they need to know there's healthy competition within at team in vying for spots.
Zach apparently was injured after making the Junior A team [in Peterborough] and was out for a period of time. Word was he was a really strong goalie, so we felt he would be a real asset to the team. He got a late start with the team but the way we're looking at it right now, we have three strong goaltenders. Only thing is, we're still looking for that one to step up and vie for that position. At different times throughout the season, they've all played very well.
I've known Brandon Fortunato for a few years now -- I actually started coaching him when he was 12. You see a kid with a lot of hockey sense. He really understands the game and the flow of the game for a defenseman. He really has the wits and the knowledge and he sees the ice very well out there. He knows how to make things happen, especially in the transition game.
Brandon really came in with a lot of intangibles that a lot of young athletes or young kids don't have these days. It's his headsy play, his smarts and his understanding that separates him from a lot of kids. He controls the game very well. If anything, he's really improved in his ability to defend against bigger guys. He's very intelligent and he plays the angle game well. He continues to improve in a lot of areas consistently.
Brandon is more of a leader in the way he performs on the ice. He's a quiet kid. He loves just being a part of the guys. He's one of the guys when he comes into the room. You really don't have to say much to him. He brings it pretty consistently the majority of the nights. I don't see too many nights that he's taken off. He's one of those guys who is very easy to coach. You don't have to spend a lot of time trying to motivate him. He wants to do well every night. It's fun to watch him play with the puck.
In this week's "Making of a Royal" blog, assistant coach Steve Webb offers his midseason review of the team and also discusses the importance of leadership and how he and head coach Pat LaFontaine help groom players into becoming effective leaders.
Well, we're about halfway through the season and when I look at the team, as a whole, I think that we're in a spot where we can definitely improve. There's work we have to do. When we're playing high-caliber teams, we must be more consistent on the back end. When you play against smarter players, it's interesting to see how some players handle that. The thing is, once we get going, we're fine, but sometimes we're just waiting for something to happen first. The start of the game is very important ... the preparation, mindset and how you go out on your first shift. We'll continue to work on breakouts and coming out of our own zone; we're looking forward to getting ready for the competition down the stretch and at the end of the season.
During the second half of the season, we'll have more time to prep for the year-end tournaments.
On the challenges of teaching leadership:
One of the hardest things to learn is leadership. A lot of times, you leave that up to the more vocal guys in the room or the more skilled players because, let's face it, everyone expects the good players to know how to lead. But for a 15-year-old, that's a tough thing, responsibility wise.
I think we need a lot of room to improve on that in that aspect. I don't want to say leadership is such an easy thing to come by. We try to give these guys a lot of rope, and lot of responsibility is put in their hands. You want to teach them how to learn how to be leaders versus showing them how to be leaders. We can help them and guide them, but, most importantly, we want them to take more control of their own leadership traits.
In this week's 'Making of a Royal' blog, head coach Pat LaFontaine and assistant coach Steve Webb discuss the importance of film study and review. Film breakdown sessions play a critical role on teaching today's young players. LaFontaine and Webb spend several hours breaking down plays from recent NHL games and recent Long Island Royal contests.
There are a couple things I love taking out of film study.
A lot of athletes are visual learners but we just sit there and talk to them, wave our hands around and paint the picture as we're telling it. We [as coaches] understand what we see, but for the younger athletes, they don't understand all the little tendencies that happen on the ice with body language or the way guys turn, where the stick is. It's always nice when you can go out and have the best players in the world as an example for your athletes to observe. We go out there and collect all the highlights on NHL.com and all the goals scored. We want to look at the positive side of the goals scored and also what happened on the other side of things.
In this week's 'Making of a Royal' blog, head coach Pat LaFontaine discusses concussion safety and testing. LaFontaine's Hall of Fame career was ended by a concussion, so he is very passionate about the subject matter. He retired in October, 1999. LaFontaine believes the NHL has taken positive steps in dealing with head injuries and concussions.
Concussion safety has come a long way from when I played. Personally, I've been a proponent for it since I retired. I've been through it twice and know the ramifications and severity in dealing with post-concussion syndrome.
People resist change and that makes me laugh. When we went to 4-on-4 in overtime, traditionalists said you can't change the game. But I've been saying for the longest time that we're so much better than what we're doing as a whole. One of the great things the League did in 2004 was allowing the speed to enter the game. With that, came greater collisions and we started to find out at an early stage that the speed on impacts was so great there were things we were missing. All of these factors played into rising concussions. It's inevitable that if speeds are greater and guys are bigger, faster and stronger, hitting the head will cause more concussions. So with all those changes, came a bag of negative things; but we didn't want to deal with it.
Here's the thing, 95 percent of the body is available to hit. We know that if you hit the head hard enough, you're likely going to have concussion issues that, potentially, could have long-term effects. We knew that, but were still caught up with thinking we're going to lose hitting.
I'm a traditional guy, but you only grow through change. I think there's been a real shift in the NHL and it's making the game better. I'm enjoying watching games because guys are thinking twice about throwing an elbow. There's no honor in nailing a guy from behind, no honor in hitting a guy in the head. It's called a cheap shot because there's no honor in it and it shouldn't be in our game.
In this week's 'Making of a Royal' blog, Long Island Royals Under-16 National coach Pat LaFontaine recalls the team's play in the Bauer International Invite in Chicago, Ill., two weeks ago. The Bauer International is one of the largest amateur hockey tournaments in the world. After earning victories against the Toronto Eagles, Ice Jets Academy (Texas), Detroit Warriors, Indiana Ice and Team Wisconsin, the Royals suffered a 2-1 shootout loss to Honeybaked Hockey Club (Detroit) in the tournament semifinals. LaFontaine discusses that dramatic setback and his thoughts on coaching players in the shootout.
So Honeybaked and the Royals each were 5-0 and playing in the semifinal; it was a classic meeting. We prepared the kids to come out quick and try to dictate the game early because one goal or power-play chance could change the momentum in a short game. Really, when you get to the quarterfinal or semifinal round, the kids, mentally, know what's at stake.
You don't have to say too much and might just want to go over a few details. The kids actually played one of their better games in the quarterfinal against Illinois. They were hitting on all cylinders in that game, and once they're doing that, you don't have to do or say too much because they know what to do and what’s expected of them. As coaches, we just prepare them for the team we're facing.
We started Matt Atwell (Freeport, N.Y.) in net and we knew the Honeybaked goalie had been playing pretty strong, so it was one of those back-and-forth games. Nobody could get that little momentum swing for a goal. We got a few power plays, and had a 5-on-3, in fact. If we executed or capitalized on it, it would have changed the momentum and we probably would have won the game. Matt was making big saves for us and their goalie was making big saves. I felt our team had more quality chances and probably outplayed them for the most part, but in a game like that, when you get good goaltending, you must find a way to win and find a way to execute. We just weren't able to get that goal, and neither were they.
So here we go into an overtime game in a 0-0 tie. We play five minutes of 4-on-4, five minutes of 3-on-3, and then went to the shootout. We actually had a power-play to start the 4-on-4 and we had four or five shots, but their goalie made a couple of big saves when they needed them.
The 3-on-3 was even for five minutes, so after a 40-minute game, it's still 0-0. I told the kids that I was proud of them and no matter what happened, the guys played a heck of a game. But we wanted to win this thing and find a way to score goals in the shootout.
I asked the referee, since we were the home team, if we could have the choice of whether or not to shoot first. I really wanted to go first, but we couldn't. It's in the rulebook that the visiting team goes first. Most NHL teams like to go first to get that momentum, but despite the fact we were the home team, we didn't get that edge.
Entering the shootout, you kind of feel who is having a game or having chances and getting shots. I did almost put one of younger guys in there, but thought otherwise. Maybe further along he'll be ready. I just went with guys on the team who had been scoring for us. Sometimes you go with a hunch and sometimes a hot player. I went to the coaching staff and we had our lists and tweaked them a little. No matter what, we win and lose as a team and the game is based on momentum swings. At the end of the day, there are lots of opportunities over the course of a game.
So in the shootout, Matty Atwell tried to pokecheck the first player and just missed him; the skater made a nice move and scored. We were up next and Mike Marnell went in and made a nice move, but it was poke-checked off his stick.
The next Honeybaked player came down and made a similar move. Matt tried to poke check and the player put it upstairs so now we're down 2-0. You try and keep the kids positive. If we can get one, we'll have some momentum. Up next for us was Joey Fallon. He skated in and made a tremendous move; he's a right-handed player but made that (Pavel) Datsyuk move and I thought he was a little too tight but he still popped it in and the kids were fired up.
In this week's "Making of a Royal" blog, head coach Pat LaFontaine and assistant coach Steve Webb discuss the team's travel habits for regular season and major national tournaments. Additionally, the parents of all the players for the Long Island Royals Under-16 Team must also log plenty of miles and hours driving their sons to games, practices and, most times, weekend tournaments. The team is currently 33-3 and ranked No. 2 in the nation.
Webb, born and raised in Peterborough (Ont.), recalled his traveling days in the minor hockey system in Peterborough and how different it is for those parents of the minor clubs in the United States.
I grew up in the Peterborough minor hockey system where it was mandatory every road game in the Peterborough Petes AAA system that you had to take a bus. The only thing parents needed to do was bring their kids to the bus stop. On the way back, we just needed to find a ride home, so it was less of a burden on the parents.
Also, a majority of the parents, from what I remember, were on the bus so that's when we really gelled as a team and came together. You were riding with everyone at that time. With the Long Island Royals, it's a different animal. There is no rule where buses are mandatory. The one time we did take a bus was last year when we flew into Toronto to go to Peterborough. The bus picked us up and drove us into Peterborough. That's the one time, but other than that, it's a lot of driving. Parents must find a way to pile kids into someone's car and get the kids up there for a weekend event or showcase. Parents can hopefully make it up for a Saturday and still see some games in quarters or semifinal rounds if we're still alive.
We've traveled to Washington, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Vermont and Connecticut for showcases. We've been to New Hampshire and also flew into Chicago as a group. Not every parent could make it because of the cost; don't forget you also have to arrange a room and that gets costly as well. We want to make sure the kids are being viewed and that they have the best opportunity to go on to the next level and have the scouts look at them.
It's not just going to happen on its own. We have to have guys commit to the areas we need to improve on. We're going to be better than last year but there is still a long way to go. But I really like the pieces and where we're headed.
— Sabres forward Tyler Ennis on the progress of Buffalo's rebuilding process