Getting away for training camp is an advantage. In the glory years the Dallas Stars would go to Vail or Breckenridge and mix practice and teaching and formal and informal team-building exercises for the purpose of getting body and mind back in shape for the new season. This time was critical. New players would ease in with the current team and become a part of the Stars’ culture. These years were followed by holding the fall ritual in Frisco. But that was like outpatient treatment. I mean – how integrated can your group get if each player showed up in his own car in the morning and a few hours later returned to his home and deal with the usual daily business of family obligations?
Last year Joe Nieuwendyk, leaning on the experiences of his playing days, re-implemented “Training Camp Elsewhere…” We came to Charlottetown, PEI, a cozy and hockey-mad island community and got about the business of restoring unity and installing a new culture. Even without native son Brad Richards, Charlottetown was eager to have us again – and we were excited to come back.
Saturday is the first day on the ice, and with lots of new faces and a new coach and staff, this group looked eager to get after it. Glen Gulutzan attacks this camp as he has attacked all others in his coaching career – with pace, preparedness, and poise. His three-point mantra for his players; be better prepared, be hard to play against, and pay attention to detail. And while the message is hardly unique, his players and those around him have remarked already that he is extremely clear about what he wants and what he expects.
In his pre-season speech to his troops last night, he challenged his players to think of success not in terms of awards or trophies, but in terms of getting the most out of themselves individually with the skills and talents they have, and then getting the most out of the group as a whole. This “John Wooden-esque” approach is a new way of looking at things for many. Most coaches talk of Stanley Cups and winning games, Gulutzan talks about maxing out what you have.
I’ve spoken to players who he’s coached in the past, and to people who know him well. And all of them in one way or another have conveyed to me the following observation about him; he always gets maximum effort, and his teams almost always “over-achieve”.
This is a group that was one period away from the playoffs last year. Yes losing Richards is a big deal – but they are deeper and more well-balanced. This then is not a total rebuild, but an effort to tweak what was right, acclimate what is new, and move ahead with a redefined sense of purpose.
I’ve been around a few coaches and have been to a few training camps. The proof of course will be in the pudding. But I like him. I think they’ll like playing for him. And I really believe you’ll love watching it.