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My experiences in coaching go back to when I took over the Junior Islanders for Bobby Nystrom -- a program he had started 15 years earlier. It allowed kids from Long Island an opportunity to go to the Quebec Peewee Tournament every year and get that experience. Nystrom would run fundraisers to help these kids go on that trip. I'd help out and travel and two years after taking over, Pat (LaFontaine's) son was coming through the system. That was the first time I really started working with this select group of kids -- they were about 12-years-old.
Pat asked if I would like to run a practice or step on the bench to coach the team when he's not able to do it and since I knew the kids, I was able to step in and run a practice or coach a game for him. He then asked me if I wanted to assist him a year ago and help out. He had a game plan in mind in how he wanted to run things … knowing Pat and his principles and how he handles himself, it's just one of those things that I couldn't turn down.
I love the kids, they're hilarious. They always make me laugh when I showed up at the rink. It was just one of those things that made sense to help out, support and assist.
I've heard that Pat has labeled me the 'softie' when it comes to coaching and I'd have to say that's the case. When I look down the bench just a couple of minutes into a game, he's already got his hands in the air but I'll always try and settle him down. I'm a typical assistant coach in that regard; but it's what I enjoy doing. This is what I've always wanted … to help out kids with their futures and make sure they get the best experience possible out of playing the sport.
I basically want them to walk away with great memories; walk away with life lessons that they can take to any levels.
There's just so much to teach to these kids, the list is so long. The hardest part for players this age is the communication aspect. I think that getting the kids to understand their purpose behind why they're doing stuff, why they're doing certain drills and why we would want to do drills a certain way is very important. We need to explain that stuff so they have an idea why we're actually teaching. The kids at this age have tendencies of run-and-gun or not pay attention to details with regard to position and location on the ice. But we want to teach them how a professional athlete goes about his business, how he's dedicated to the position. Having that knowledge on the ice, gives them an opportunity of having success as a group.
The positive thing about our group is that when the game is tight, we're still able to pull it out. You want to know how they'll react when the game is 2-1. Can they play with composure? That's what you look for in a good team. Can they can pull through and execute, stick to the game plan and are they very versatile? Can they open up, tighten up and are they dynamic? So far, this group is proving to be that.
I'm asked a lot about the questions the kids ask. Really, kids will ask about their responsibilities. It's different for forwards and defense in terms of the questioning and where they should be in a certain area. As a player, I really had to study the game just to survive … I watched a lot of hockey over the years from the end of the bench but that's knowledge I can use to help these kids.
It's more positioning and I love talking to the kids, breaking it down into really fine details in order to get a picture of what it should look like. When you break it down and show them the visual aspects of it, it helps. You need to show them where the stick should be, where the body should be on the ice and how to get leverage. The questions are never the same but that's a good thing. You have different personalities on the team so there are different ways of teaching certain kids and it comes back to the communication aspect and understanding how to communicate and treat certain kids, certain ways. You have to remember that everybody is motivated differently and in their own little quirky ways of understanding things and gaining advice.