In this week's installment, we sit down with Associate Coach Peter Horachek.
A member of the Nashville Predators coaching staff since June 19, 2003, Peter Horachek has helped lead the club to Stanley Cup Playoff berths in seven of his first eight seasons with the organization as both an assistant (2003-04 to 2010-11) and associate (2011-12) coach. Horachek has also helped the Predators reach the 40-win mark in each of the last seven seasons, while amassing the League’s fifth-highest win total (320) since 2005-06.
Known for his energy, passion and knowledge of the game’s tactics, Horachek has also played a significant role in Nashville’s development of homegrown players which accounted for a franchise-record 20 of 34 players to appear in at least one game in 2011-12. He was also instrumental in Nashville’s special teams’ success in 2011-12 – the Predators were only one of three teams to finish in the Top 10 in both power play and penalty kill, leading the league for the first time ever with the man advantage.
Now that you have the facts, let's hear a little more about Peter's player development philosophy, why he believes Nashville is the best place to watch a hockey game and his battle with cancer.
What was one of the biggest challenges you faced moving from the player ranks to behind the bench?
There were always issues with players that you played with before – going from peers and equals with them to the coaching side of it was a little hard to get used to. Being able to maintain and nurture those relationships while still maintaining that respect level is something that you need to have. If there is no respect, then there is no discipline.
Continuing to learn and keeping an open mind was another area I had to work on. When you’re a player and you see someone make a mistake, you say, “OK, they made a mistake. I’m not going to do that.” But when you’re a coach you have to be able to speak to them about it and address the issue. I think learning how to do that and learning the proper way to do it were really good lessons I learned early on. Also, I think it helps knowing certain players personalities, so you can approach them in different ways.
You play a significant role in the development of Nashville's prospect players. Describe your developmental philosophy…
The first thing is helping the player understand the mental side of the game and what tools they have. They have to understand that they are not victims – they are responsible for their decisions and they are accountable for those decisions. It’s more about making them into a pro, rather than just a player with talent. There are a lot of tools here to help them develop – whether it’s the videos, the gym or whatever – we have everything they need. They just have to accept the responsibility and they have to be accountable to both themselves and their teammates. So my biggest thing is helping our younger players prepare mentally to play at this level. We can tell them what they have to do physically, but they have to prepare themselves mentally to make the step to the NHL.
You see so many players who come up and are sent right back down and they get all bent out of shape. I try to communicate with those players about what to expect and what they need to do about the situation. Players do one of three things when they get here: They come up and expect to be sent back right back down, they come up and they make it hard to send them back down or they come up and say, “I’m staying.” It’s their decision and their attitude will determine the difference in the outcome. If they are sent back down they need to realize it is only today’s decision – it’s not the end of the world. They need to work that much harder to get back up here. Their coaches need to believe that they are the hardest working guy and that they came back down with the expectation of working their way back to the NHL. We see so many players who go back down and pout; they feel like victims, blame other people and they are no longer playing their best hockey.
What was it like transitioning into the coaching role in Milwaukee and then into his coaching role with Nashville?
A lot of it had to do with expectations. In Milwaukee, they had made the playoffs for a number of years but they hadn’t had much success. So it was more about changing the culture and the attitude of the team. I wanted to change the mindset to “we expect to win,” rather than saying “let’s be competitive.” When I got to Milwaukee they clearly needed a change of culture and a change of attitude. I had to make certain adjustments to make the team successful.
When I got to Nashville it was a totally different situation than it was in Milwaukee. The culture was good here – Barry had already established it. So coming here, I really wanted to help with the competitiveness of the team. We were able to change it from just being competitive to expecting to win. Now, we’ve moved to the next stage of that culture where we expect to be one of the top teams in the league and we will not accept nothing less. It used to be “we’re good” or “we’re competitive” – now it’s “we’re as good as any team and we can beat any team.”
What makes this group of coaches so successful?
We all have strong feelings about the way we go about things and we all have the same vision. We all get along and we all believe in the final result. We all had successful careers coaching prior to making it to this level. Lane has been very successful in the past and he is very detail oriented. Brent Peterson was successful at the junior level and won championships. I’ve won championships and had success – we’ve all done that.
A lot of our success has to do with Barry. He allows us to have a say and we can make our voices heard to the players. Barry trusts us and lets us do our jobs, but he also allows us to have an opinion. He allows us to do that, but he also knows how to keep it in control and it’s his final decision. He’s able to deal with our personalities. Some of us are louder than the others at different times. When I first got here, Barry used to call Brent and I the passion brothers, because we would have these discussions about certain situations and when it really came down to it, we were arguing about the same thing. Those kinds of discussions were good. We would always smile and joke around afterwards. Barry let us do that and it allowed us to grow as a team. We were able to communicate that passion to the players and that helped with the whole growth of the team.
How the Nashville fan base has grown since his time with the Nashville Knights during the 1990-91 season?
Back then, it was all about entertaining the fans and not so much about hockey. Our owners were wrestling promoters and one of them, Ron Fuller, was a professional wrestler. The entertainment that they brought to the arena during pre-game with the dancers and all the different stunts – they were the innovators of a lot of the stuff you see today. The fans that came to the games didn’t really grow up with hockey. They came for the spectacle – the game, the entertainment, the big hits, the goals and the fights. That passion was in its infancy when I was with the Knights and it has just grown since then.
So many people have moved here from up north that Nashville is really a hockey city now. I think that the intensity in our building and the passion of our fans is better than any other team in the league. The entertainment factor during our games is easily the best in the league. You won’t see the same game operations, you won’t see bands on a stage and you certainly won’t see fans cheering through a timeout anywhere else in the league. From the hockey side, we try to play an exciting brand of hockey. We go after teams, we try to force issues, we don’t sit back and we try to make it as exciting as possible. The game operations staff takes care of the rest.
Even from my first year with the Preds in 2003, the fan base has continued to grow and grow and grow. I think a lot of that has to do with ownership and the job that Jeff Cogen, Sean Henry and the staff in the front office have done. I talked about the attitude and the culture that we have down here with the team, well that same culture and attitude can be seen in the front office now. That attitude has got fans hooked. Even those fans who have moved here from somewhere else – the Predators are their team now.
You've had success coaching in Southern markets, including an IHL Championship with the Orlando Solar Bears. Why do you believe hockey has taken hold in the south?
People think that Orlando is a retirement community or something but it really isn’t, there are people in their mid-20s that move there for work. When I was there the city was really growing and a lot of our fans came from big NHL markets – the Philadelphia’s, the New York’s, the Boston’s. Those fans weren’t really buying into the team at first, so we had to get them to come to games. We did that by putting on a great show – like we do here – and we had a very competitive team. I was there for six years; we went to the IHL Finals four times and won the Championship in the final year that the original IHL played. We had a lot of success there and that helped get the fans on board.
We’ve had to do the same thing here – make it fun, be competitive and challenge the big markets every year. We have one of the winningest records since the lockout in 2004-05. We have the third-most home wins during that period and we’ve made the playoffs in all but one year since then. Success on the ice will always help draw people in, but the way the game is presented is why people stay. People have to want to spend their disposable money and I think both Orlando and Nashville have done a good job at selling the product.
November is an important month for men’s health issues and awareness. How did your battle with cancer affect your outlook on life and why do you feel causes like Movember and Hockey Fights Cancer are so important?
I think part of the problem is people don’t want to talk about it, but we need to talk about it. Much like Brent does with Parkinson’s – you have to make people aware. Brent’s been very open and I’ve been very open about my battle with prostate cancer.
When I was first diagnosed a lot of people called me. Craig Ramsay, who’s been a coach in this league for a long time, called me because he had the same situation and we talked for a long time about his experience, how it went and what I should expect. I think it’s important to talk about it and make people aware of the fact that it’s not something you don’t talk about and it’s definitely not something you don’t do anything about. My biggest thing is don’t be afraid to talk about it, don’t be afraid to ask questions and don’t be afraid to educate yourself on these types of issues. There was an employee here at the arena that was diagnosed last year and he came to me to talk about it. I’ve had friends of friends call me to talk about their diagnoses and their situations. When we talk about it we become better informed. It’s a scary thing and I think the more you talk the more health conscience we all become.
My dad passed away from prostate cancer and he had a two- or- three year battle as it spread throughout his body. That’s why it was so important to me to get checked on a regular basis. My situation was pretty intense for me and my family, but I know now that I will never get that kind of cancer again – so that’s a positive thing. My son has to get checked 10 years earlier now because of the family history. Usually you wouldn’t start those screenings until much later in life, but now he’s aware of it, he’s being proactive in his own health. I read a statistic that a big percentage of men who pass away at 85- or- 90 years old have the beginnings of prostate cancer and they aren’t even aware of it. My dad never got checked and there was nowhere to go after he was diagnosed. I think people at that age – who went through the depression and the war – they don’t go to the doctor, it’s just not something they did.
I really want people to be aware of preventative measures – a lot of people can save their lives and prolong their lives by going to the doctor and getting checked. Once you reach a certain age, you need to get yearly physicals and have blood work done. If you get checked early enough you can still do something about it, whether it’s radiation treatment or Chemo or getting your prostate removed – at least you have some decisions to make.
When the NHL started doing Movember and Hockey Fights Cancer, I think it symbolized the awareness we all need to have when it comes to cancer screenings. Somehow a person walking around with mustache really helps people become aware of their own personal health. The more we put the information out there, the better it is for everyone and hopefully it will impact more people and save some lives.