When former Vermont assistant coach Roger Grillo called, his once-upon-a-time star pupil had no choice but to say "absolutely". You see Martin St. Louis owes much of the foundation for his career to Grillo, he played youth hockey himself, and he now has three boys of his own, all of whom will most likely be youth hockey players. So, St. Louis and Grillo spent an hour after practice this past Sunday on the St. Pete Times Forum ice with Grillo's USA Hockey protégés Scott Paluch and Kevin Erlenbach and 60 travel hockey players from the Tampa Bay area.
As part of a new USA Hockey initiative called the American Development Model, Grillo, Paluch and Erlenbach are traveling the country teaching new ways to teach the game of hockey to coaches and parents. Grillo, who coached St. Louis while the current Lightning All-Star was at Vermont, also spent 12 years as the head coach at Brown University before joining USA Hockey to teach some of these new initiatives. He enlisted St. Louis to help kick off the program in Tampa Bay because he knew that as an involved father of three young boys in an emerging hockey market, the role model would get on the ice with the kids and get involved.
"We really appreciate Marty for getting involved today," said Grillo after the event. "He has such a passion for the game and I know he wants kids in Tampa Bay to grow up in an environment where they are encouraged to play hockey the right way and for the right reasons."
The one hour clinic allowed Lightning youth hockey director Brian Bradley and his staff to bring five different travel teams on to the Times Forum ice along with their coaches. Grillo and the staff worked six different stations at one time, moving the clinic along at a quick pace which prevented the 7-10 year olds from having their minds wander while on the ice. And the group also ensured that every piece of the ice surface was put to use, maximizing ice time.
After the one hour clinic concluded, Grillo, Paluch and Bradley fielded questions from hundreds of coaches and parents in attendance and former NHL referee Don Koharski addressed the group as well to talk about the relationship between on-ice officials, coaches, parents and youth players.
A major goal of USA Hockey is to better prepare coaches to coach kids today and that goal perfectly meshes with a program run by Bradley and the Lightning which aims to develop more qualified coaches for the youth programs in Florida. Grillo was able to help tutor the coaches from the different youth programs, giving them tips and drills to take back to their peers in the local rinks.
"I thought today went very well for the young players, their parents and their coaches," said Bradley at the conclusion of the Q and A session. "Our kids had a great time, they skated on the same ice where the Lightning skate and they met one of the best role models in the game today in Marty St. Louis. And parents and coaches got to hear right from the guys that run USA Hockey what we are trying to accomplish in teaching the kids how to play the game."
As for the father of three young aspiring hockey players, well he got to let his oldest son, Ryan, participate in the clinic, but he also was able to give back a little bit of the game he loves so much. "Any time I can get on the ice and help kids fall in love with hockey, I am pleased to do it. Hockey is a great game for kids to play, even at the youngest ages. I have enjoyed the game all my life and I hope some of these kids get the chance to do that too."