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Top coaching making difference for AHL teams

Vincent, Van Ryn among new faces finding early success

by Patrick Williams / NHL.com Correspondent

Players come and go on an almost daily basis in the American Hockey League, but coaches generally take on the entire grind of the six-month regular season.

As part of a two-part feature that started last week, here is a look at two AHL Western Conference coaches along with another Eastern Conference coach handling the challenges of developing prospects for the NHL's top developmental league:

 

Pascal Vincent - Manitoba (Winnipeg Jets)

Vincent spent five seasons as a Jets assistant coach before taking the Manitoba coaching job last season.
Manitoba (32-11-4-3) is second in the AHL at 71 points, four behind Toronto, but few AHL teams face as intense travel demands. Manitoba went 6-1-1-1 during a nine-game road trip that concluded this past Sunday. A seven-game trip awaits in March.

Yet, Manitoba has the second-most road wins in the AHL (20-5-2-1), two behind Toronto. Any tendency that his players might have to slip during a trip spanning three weeks has been offset by the internal competition that the Jets and Vincent have fostered with the Manitoba roster.

Before going to the AHL, Vincent worked alongside Jets assistant coach Charlie Huddy, who won the Stanley Cup five times as a player with the Edmonton Oilers.

"[Competition is] huge," Vincent said. "Charlie Huddy used to say it all the time that he had fear when he was playing. He had fear that somebody would take his job. That pushed him.

"The days that you're not feeling as good, the sense of entitlement is not there as much as it would be if there is nobody behind you pushing you."

 

Mike Van Ryn - Tucson (Arizona Coyotes)

Youth dominates the Arizona organization.

John Chayka, 28, is the youngest general manager in the NHL, and it continues down to Tucson with 38-year-old coach Mike Van Ryn.

The former NHL defenseman is in his first season as Tucson coach. He has the youngest team in the AHL (23.08 years old, according to eliteprospects.com) and is leading the Pacific Division, the lone AHL division to have all its teams at .500 or better.

Van Ryn has had 10 rookies on his roster. Three players were selected in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft; leading scorer Dylan Strome (No. 3), Lawson Crouse (selected No. 11 by the Florida Panthers before he was traded to Arizona on Aug. 25, 2016), and Nick Merkley (No. 30) have served together as Van Ryn's top line at different points.

Van Ryn started his pro playing career in 2000 when the AHL had a much more grizzled feel to it.

"This generation, they will talk if you open it up and build a good relationship," Van Ryn said of his players.
"You just try to lay everything out, put all the cards out, and show them the path.
"This information generation, they just want to know that there is a plan and how they can get there. As long as you draw it out, and it's clear, you usually don't have too many problems.

"It's a fun generation to coach. They want to please, and they want to do what's right. I'm having a blast coaching."

 

Keith McCambridge - Hartford (New York Rangers)

McCambridge is in his ninth season in an AHL coaching role, but he could only chuckle when asked about the roster turnover he experienced last week, head-spinning even by AHL norms.

In a 72-hour span, 12 players either departed or joined the team.

Among the major moves, goaltender Alexandar Georgiev, defenseman John Gilmour and Neal Pionk were recalled by the Rangers.

Veteran NHL defenseman Brendan Smith joined Hartford after clearing waivers. Forward John Albert and defenseman Hubert Labrie arrived in a trade with Hershey, trading captain Joe Whitney and forward Adam Chapie to their Atlantic Division rival.

The turnover came as Hartford started a season-high six-game road trip. Through it all, a 9-0-1-0 run helped put Hartford in a battle for fourth place in the Atlantic Division with Bridgeport and Charlotte.

Hartford finished last in the AHL last season; McCambridge went from an assistant coach to coach on a team that kept five regulars from the previous season.

His objective, like most AHL coaches, was to establish standards early in the season before the schedule intensifies.

"One of the things that we wanted to make sure that we got set right from the beginning of the year was the culture," McCambridge said. "We wanted to make sure that the culture with the Hartford Wolf Pack was one that when guys were coming to the rink, they were coming to get better every day.

"We're not just here to go through the motions."

McCambridge is counting on that foundation to guide his players through the stretch drive.

"They've learned that this is a good league," McCambridge said. "They've learned that the talent pool, whether it's from college, Europe, junior, the talent pool is that much more magnified here.

"You have to make sure that all of the things that you have to deal with in this league, be it travel, 3-in-3 [weekends], different linemates or [defense] partners, you have to bring your 'A' game every night."

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