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Teaching 'The Coyotes Way'; Values, Views, And Growth At Development Camp

Instituting Organizational Practices And Philosophies With Arizona's Development Staff

by Arizona Coyotes @ArizonaCoyotes

Activated Monday afternoon was the organization's annual spotlight on its up-and-coming youth with development camp getting underway at Gila River Arena.

It's a time to focus on the future, where this year, a group of 38 players consisting of recent draft selections, entry-level contracts, and tryout invites will work under the watch of the Coyotes' player development staff both on and off the ice.

Split into two groups classified and color-coded under the 'Team Red' and Team White' monikers, on-ice sessions are to be held Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, followed by an intrasquad scrimmage on Friday evening.

The camp isn't necessarily one meant for performance assessment, but to teach the philosophies and values embraced by the Arizona Coyotes organization; the playing style systematized by head coach Rick Tocchet, the routines established by the strength and conditioning staff, and the day-to-day principles set forth by the team on how to act like and become a true professional.

"Our development staff has a huge influence on the success or failure of our organization, and I think they've done a nice job over the last couple of years getting our young players to the point where they can step in and not just play, but have an impact," John Chayka said ahead of Monday's first on-ice session. "We've seen that in Tucson and obviously starting here with the Coyotes, just bringing them up the right way and teaching them what it is to be a pro, live the right lifestyle and things like that."

Arizona's development staff consists of four main figures, headlined by player development coaches Mark Bell and Alex Henry, who are entering their third seasons with the club.

"They're the stars of the show this week, they work all year for this week and they do an incredible job of touching all areas," Chayka noted of team's developmental mentors. "For us, it's not an evaluation camp, but it's more for them to understand the organization, the city, what it takes to be a Coyote, all of those things, and it starts this week, and it's incredibly, incredibly important to us."

This year's camp features seven of the Coyotes' nine selections from the 2019 NHL Draft, along with first-round selections Pierre-Olivier Joseph (2017) and Barrett Hayton (2018) and seven members from last season's Tucson Roadrunners American Hockey League roster.

Bell, a first-round selection from the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, played professionally for 16 seasons, and puts a high value on player-coach relationships when guiding the organization's youth.

"For me, development camp is finding out more about what the players are like personality-wise, how they prepare, if they're willing to do more, to prepare to be a pro, to get ready, to come in early, not just roll out of bed and get the skates on sort of thing," he said. "The way the game is now, it's all about preparation, and we want to find that out now. My role is to show them that, to give them all of the resources to allow them to be the best player and the best version of a person they can be, and if they're willing and able and want to do that, it's here for them."

Henry, who played in a total of 177 NHL and 633 AHL games over the course of his 15-year professional career, knows now is as important a time as any to continue the work of establishing a linear, respectable culture.

"These guys are in different stages of their careers, some of them have just been drafted and some of them have just gone through their first season as a pro," he said. "I think for this entire development staff, the culture we want here is a culture of guys that want to keep working on their game, that have a growth mindset, that are always looking for ways to get better, they're watching the game, they're being a student of the game, they're taking care of themselves - whether that's off the ice and getting rest or whether it's treating everyone with respect, the guy at the rink you've met for the first time, or a fan."

The Coyotes' two player development coaches shared a few more thoughts, personal experiences, and ideologies following Monday's on-ice sessions:

Mark Bell, on the camp's balance between on-ice and off-ice teachings:

It's all encompassing. We have financial meetings, we have media trainings - which includes social media, the players meet with Rick Tocchet and how we play as an organization, what we value as an organization at each position, we have security meetings, we have nutritionists, workouts, strength and conditioning. To put an importance on one of those more than another would do it a disservice I think, so we value them all.

Bell, on his own experiences and how he utilizes those to guide the Coyotes' youth:

It's a different game now. The knowledge that I have at 38 I wish I had at 18, I know it's a 20-year span, but for me I put myself in the shoes of Barrett [Hayton] or Victor [Soderstrom] as a first-round pick, and that day you're selected is the greatest day of your life. Looking back on my career, I learned a lot of things the hard way, and that's the stuff I'm passing on to these guys and putting value on all of it, making sure they're a pro at the rink, away from the rink, how they interact with fans, how they interact with our trainers, how they respect everyone. For me, that shows more purpose and the kind of person that they are than really what they do on the ice, we're pretty in-tune to what they can bring to the table on the ice. The way they treat our trainers, our staff around here, and our fans holds a lot of water with me.

Bell, on the importance of player-coach relationships:

I don't do a lot of x's and o's, I'm more about skill development and turning these guys into pro hockey players as quickly as possible. There's certainly pressure on these guys, there's pressure for second round picks and third round picks, obviously not as much as maybe a top-10 or top-15 pick, but it's certainly there. When you get drafted it's the greatest day of your life, but the next day after that the work starts. We're working to get these kids into the NHL or into Tucson [AHL] as quickly as possible and make them into pro hockey players. The pressure, they certainly do deal with it, and it can get extensive during the season when it's on, when they're fighting it a little bit, so I lean on the experiences that I've had through that and try to coach them through that, but at the end of the day they always pull through, and I'm there right by their side to help them through it.

Alex Henry, on what the camp's overall direction of guidance entails:

The aim for their experience is for them to get to know the organization, and for the organization to know them. A lot of these kids, our scouts have selected them, and now we bring them all in to make them feel like a part of the family, but at the same time, we get to know them. So for one, it's for that overall familiarity, and second, they're going to learn how we play, how the Coyotes play. They all typically go back to amateur sport at some level, but not all of them, some of them might make the big club this year, we don't know that, but we try to let them know how Rick Tocchet likes to play hockey. And then after that, it's the experience, it's them getting to know teammates, future teammates, and a little bit of camaraderie, those are a few things we try to hit home.

Henry, on how he applies his own career takeaways:

It applies to a lot in life, but it's that work ethic, it's that relentless 'I don't care what's in my way, I'm going to get through it', that resiliency to push through whatever's in front of you, whether it's playing in the NHL and playing more minutes, or just trying to be the best possible player for the team that you're on right now. It's about being relentless and pushing through adversity. I've been through seasons where I've sat through half the games, that's hard, any player wants to be on the ice all of the time. I've been through seasons where I've been looked to as a leader, and things don't always go well, so how do you react when that happens? These kids, there's a varied spectrum where they're at, but I guess that's the thing, I was in those shoes - I guess a long time ago now - but you kind of get your memory refreshed when you start putting yourselves in these kids' shoes. I don't think I said three words the first six months of my pro career, I was one of those shy kids, but at the end, I had no problem leading the way, and it's enjoyable to see these kids go through that process.

Henry, on embracing and establishing personal relationships:

What's this week about? I mean, selfishly for us as a staff; Mark, myself [Brett Stewart and Zac Bierk], it's that relationship with these players. A little bit of coaching on the ice, a little chit-chat around the locker room, and that's highly important for us to start working on their game because they've got to learn to trust us and we've got to start trusting them, and that's how you start. Those moments on the ice, off the ice, locker room, that's a good start for a lot of these guys.

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