ST. LOUIS - Youth hockey coaches in St. Louis will likely have a big advantage over the competition this season.
That’s because Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock and his staff provided a free coaching clinic to youth, high school and travel coaches last Saturday at the Auditorium at Edward Jones. Nearly 100 coaches registered to attend the event, which also featured presentations from Associate Coach Brad Shaw, Assistant Coaches Ray Bennett and Kirk Muller, and Video Coach Sean Ferrell.
For Hitchcock, who ranks fourth all-time among NHL coaches in wins (708), it’s about giving back and passing on knowledge to help grow the game at the youth level.
“I don’t get (to the NHL) if people didn’t give back,” Hitchcock said. “I started going to clinics in 1982 when there were a bunch of college coaches who very unselfishly gave a lot of their summer to help us get better. They provided information that we never had before. They really got us to organize our practice and our teams, and I really appreciated that. Now this is my chance to give back.”
The free clinic, which lasted more than five hours, included presentations on building team players, power play, penalty kill, defense and skill development. The overall theme, though, was about helping coaches find ways to get their teams to work more cohesively.
“It’s a team game. It’s about understanding how to coordinate people and make them work together,” Hitchcock said. “If you look at all the presentations by our coaches, it’s five people working together. It’s learning how to teach your players to work together on and off the ice.”
Tom Jordan, who coaches 10-year-old players for the Meramec Sharks, attended the clinic and was thrilled with the information he’ll be able to apply once the season begins.
“The biggest thing for me is we don’t get that technical,” Jordan said of coaching squirt-level players. “This takes it to a new level. It gives you a lot more ideas to think about for the age group you’re working with. I don’t think you can ever get enough of that.”
“Coming here and seeing this knowledge being shared with all these coaches is amazing,” added Joe Bova Conti, who coaches varsity hockey for Parkway South and also serves as Associate Coach for the AAA Lady Blues U-19 team. “Hockey is a game in constant flux, with new techniques and new programs and new ways of playing. Having the experience the Blues are bringing is invaluable. It makes all of us better coaches.”
Bennett, whose presentation covered defensive philosophy, hopes the concepts can challenge the coaches as they prepare for the upcoming season.
“The recipe books are all out there. You can go online and find anything you want in terms of drills, but where we have to challenge youth coaches is in their own thinking, methodologies and philosophies,” Bennett said. “It’s not just taking someone else’s drill and putting it in practice. It’s about what’s important, why does it work...why is it important to how our team might play and our ultimate success.”
Added Hitchcock, “(This clinic) keeps everybody up to date. We’re engaged on what’s going on in the minor hockey scene here in St. Louis, and they’re engaged on what’s going on with the Blues. I think developing that connection is really important for us.
“We don’t want to lose sight of where we came from.”