As the days before the official beginning of training camp dwindle down to a precious few, it is not unusual for a head coach and his staff to meet and begin mapping a plan of attack for the new season. On this particular Saturday morning, Head Coach Glen Gulutzan, General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk and key members of the team brain trust are not determining how Jamie Benn
can continue to progress, keep pressure off Kari Lehtonen
or how to free up Sheldon Souray
for a bomb from the point on the power play. The key words for this session are development, skating and most important of all, FUN. The chalk talk was not designed for world class athletes but the sports’ greatest ambassadors, the men and women who volunteer their time and efforts to coach in the various programs that make up the Dallas Stars Youth Hockey League. The morning event is one more example of the Stars commitment to growing the game at the grass roots level and connecting with those who truly love hockey.
“I think the coaches saw how passionate we are about the game and hopefully it will be a boost to know the organization is going to be more involved in the program and we are going to have the players out and around when they have the time to come down and help,” said Nieuwendyk. “This is a game we all love and we have a lot of credible people here who want to give back, help grow the game in Texas and give the kids a positive experience.”
Every member of the Stars coaching staff addressed the audience, each with a different message based on personal experiences. Assistant Coach Willie Desjardins, a veteran from all levels of the sport led off the session with a discussion on Team Development, Purpose and Vision, “Make every kid feel special and part of the team, no matter what their level of talent,” said Dejardin.
Goaltending Coach Mike Valley gave insight to the art of teaching goaltenders with his speech, “7 things coaches can do to help goalies get involved in every practice”. The newest member of the coaching staff, Paul Jerrard gave an overall view of general development and skill progression. Stu Barnes, one of the grittiest competitors from his days on the ice taught about the using the benefits of hockey for more than just athletics as he described in a segment called “Life Lessons for Hockey, Teamwork, Discipline and Challenges”.
The speaker who garnered the most attention was the new head Coach of the Stars, Glen Gulutzan. As a player who never stepped on the ice in the NHL, Gulutzan knows the importance of believing in your coach and that not every step forward is not measured in wins and losses.
“You can’t be focused on just winning, when you are working with kids or professionals you have to work on development,” Gulutzan told the audience. “Winning is important but it cannot be achieved at the overall expense of development. Put your kids in an opportunity to succeed, and reward their hard work. Maximizing the ability of the team around you will determine success and that success is seen in the progress of your kids”.
For the volunteers who make up the coaching staffs for all the DSYHL teams this was a special morning and an unprecedented opportunity to learn from those who have risen to the top of their profession. Very few youth hockey coaches get a chance to even speak to NHL management, let alone a two hour session of brainstorming. The opportunity did not go unappreciated by the teachers of the game.
“As a youth hockey coach, you are always looking for creativity and ideas how to take the time on the ice and turn it into a more beneficial experience for the kids. I have practice this afternoon and am already thinking about how we can take today’s message and use it to get kids more involved in practice and feel like they have gotten something extra from their time together, ” said Chris Bachman, a four year veteran coach in the DSYHL program. “I can’t imagine any other NHL team getting this involved at the grassroots level. It makes us feel like we are just as important as the organization in the development of kids and growing the next generation of hockey here in the Metroplex.”
Gulutzan added, “As a hockey organization whenever you can give something back to the community it is a priority to us. We have a hockey school in Hudson Bay, Saskatewan that I work every year so I am very used to being on the ice with young kids. I have four of my own and my father coached hockey for 35 years. Those things never leave you. I remember sitting in the same chairs five or six years ago and listen to the experienced guys talk. It benefitted me and it’s a joy to come out and meet some new people who have great intentions.”
While chalk talk sessions and better ways to make the hockey experience was the topic of the day, the real excitement came immediately after the speeches ended. More than 100 area players from the Mite level (ages 8 and under) had their first official day on the ice for the 2011-12 season. In addition to the DSYHL coaching staffs, members of the Stars Alumni group Bob Bassen, Jeri Lehtinen and Brett Severyn helped with the drills and various skill stations spread throughout the rink. What made these three session even more memorable was the chance to skate with current Dallas Stars Jamie Benn
, Brenden Morrow
, Stephane Robidas
, Andrew Raycroft, Mike Ribeiro
, Scott Glennie
and Kari Lehtonen
“I think it’s great. Anytime you can build youth hockey in the area it’s a good thing and have had a good turnout today,” explained Jamie Benn
.”When we were young it meant a lot when guys would come out, it was fun to skate with the guys you look up. Now you see the smile on the kids’ faces and it’s all about giving back.”
“We want to get fans excited again and the best way to do that is from the ground up,” said Dallas Captain, Brenden Morrow
. ‘We think this is the greatest game in the world and want to see every kid have the chance to play. So if we come out even for an hour it may spark the interest in a kid to learn how to play or stay with the game a little longer. If we can influence even one player on the ice, it is all worth it.”
Smiles were easy to find for all three sessions with the Stars and the Mites. Once each practice ended, the fun continued with youngsters getting autographs, pictures and great memories with the Stars they hope to be one day.
“We got to skate with the Stars and it was cool” said 8-year old Evan Miles, whose favorite players are Trevor Daley
, Mike Ribeiro
and Stephane Robidas
. “They skated with us and talked during some of the drills and then we got autographs and pictures, it was a lot of fun.”
“I grew up and idolized every player in the NHL and never had the chance to skate with one until I came to Dallas and become a Dallas Star. It’s pretty special for these kids to get the opportunity. It’s something I dreamed of when I was their age and it’s nice to give back a little bit and make it happen for them.” added Morrow.
The Stars re-energized focus on youth hockey and grass roots development will continue throughout the year. The organization realizing once again, the way to build a solid foundation for the future is from the ground up.
Gulutzan agrees, “There’s a lot going on with the Dallas Stars right now. This is something that Joe (Nieuwendyk) is very passionate about. As coaches most of us have kids who play and we enjoy being involved in youth hockey. It’s something we enjoy, getting out, re-establishing ourselves and the organization. Joe felt that there is a difference than when he came here in 1995 as compared to today. He wants to get that connection back and we are all for it”.
If the excitement shown by the players on the ice, both old and young, or the camaraderie shared between the volunteers and the men who coach at the highest level of the game were any indication, then the Stars organization is back on the right track for winning and keeping the hearts and minds of their biggest supporters.Bruce LeVine is the post-game co-host for Dallas Stars road games on Sports Radio 1310 The Ticket. Email Bruce at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @BruceLeVine22