TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - Shawn Horcoff has dedicated his life to the game of hockey as an NHL player for 15 seasons. But now, Horcoff's focus has changed as he shifts into the Detroit Red Wings' front office.
Just before the Red Wings' first game in the 2016 NHL Prospect Tournament, the organization announced that Horcoff was hired as the new director of player development, succeeding Jiri Fischer who is transitioning to a new role in player evaluation.
Horcoff played 1,008 NHL games with the Edmonton Oilers, Dallas Stars and most recently, the Anaheim Ducks. The Trail, British Columbia native spent most of his career in Edmonton, helping lead the team to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006 and serving as team captain from 2010-13.
Although he never played in Detroit, Horcoff has Michigan ties, playing collegiately at Michigan State University from 1996-00. Horcoff helped lead the Spartans to CCHA championships in 1998 and 2000, and finished his college career by winning the CCHA Player of the Year and Best Defensive Forward Award in 1999-00.
The hiring was a welcomed early birthday present for Horcoff, who turned 38 on Saturday. The Wings' new director of player development has lived in Birmingham, Mich., and said because of his familiarity with the organization, moving into his new role has been an easy transition.
"The pro team are all pretty close friends," Horcoff said Saturday at Centre Ice Arena in Traverse City. "I know them pretty well. I know Kenny from being around and I'm pretty close with (Kris) Draper. I've played against him, obviously, and we trained together. I'm really familiar with the organization. And the nice thing is we already live here, so it's easy for my family. For me, it was a perfect situation."
Horcoff played 59 games last season with the Ducks, but said he knew it was time to retire and move into a front office role, something he's been looking forward to pursuing.
"I love the game. I love being around it. But it's time," he said. "Your legs are telling you it's time. But this game, you want to stay around. And I always wanted to work in management. I always wanted to be on the other side and try and help kids. It was something I really took pride in when I was a player. This gave me a great opportunity."
The 15-year NHL veteran finished his career with 186 goals and 325 assists. Although he was an NHL All-Star in 2008, Horcoff said he was never the best player around, so he had to out-work people to achieve sustained success, and he realizes what an important role a director of player development can serve.
"I was always a guy that really had to look into every single situation to try and make myself better. I wasn't blessed with the natural-born talent like some of these all-stars have. To get to that level, I had to out-work everyone else."
Horcoff stressed that he'll always be available for young players' questions, no matter the subject. He said he played in several different situations throughout his NHL career which gave him perspective that he hopes to turn into impactful guidance for young players.
"I think more than anything, I'm going to try to be a good sounding board for them," Horcoff said. "At this level a lot of these kids are going to have a lot of questions. I'm going to provide, in my mind, a lot of what I wish I would've had when I was a player."
As time has passed, Horcoff noticed the game changing, and said he's excited to study everything it takes to help young hockey players become successful.
"Really in the last 5 or 6 years, the game's become really scientific in terms of training and preparation and recovery, and there's just so many areas nowadays that it's really become a 365-day-a-year job," he said. "As a young guy, you need guidance in the little things in terms of training and off-ice training and recovery."
Horcoff, who was originally a fourth-round pick (99th overall) of the Oilers in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, will oversee the organization's prospects in North America and Europe. He will run Detroit's development camp next July, and said he already has ideas for the young prospects in the Red Wings' system.
"We're going to talk a ton about nutrition, we're going to talk a ton about sleep, we're going to talk a ton about pre-game prep, post-game prep," Horcoff said. "We're going to change some things in the summertime and we're going to do a little bit more individual work with these guys and try to see where they are deficient individually, and really just try to build upon that.
"My job, really, is just to try to help them become the best overall player they can be, and to try to make that jump to the NHL level easier. And when they do get that chance they're ready for it."
Zetterberg and Kronwall Still Recovering:
On Saturday, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland revealed that Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall won't be ready for the start of training camp after both players were forced to withdraw from the World Cup of Hockey due to knee issues. Holland said, however, he does expect both players to be ready for the season opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Oct. 13.
"(Coach) Jeff Blashill said Z feels he's improving but doesn't anticipate he'll be ready to go Day 1 (of camp)," Holland told MLive.com. "(Trainer) Piet Van Zant tells me (Kronwall) is improving, feeling better. We expect both to be in the lineup opening night in Tampa Bay. They're veterans, they know the league, they know their bodies, they're going to know when it's time to push."