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Sydor a true coach in the making

by Cody Eastwood / Dallas Stars

A National Hockey League veteran of 1,291 games over eighteen professional seasons. 714 contests with the Dallas Stars on three separate occasions. A Stanley Cup Champion and back-to-back NHL All-Star. Despite these impressive stats, former Dallas Stars defenseman Darryl Sydor has found himself in a rare spot in his hockey career. He is a rookie in the American Hockey League, as the Houston Aeros’ Assistant Coach.

“From day one, its instant credibility when a guy like that comes into the room,” recalled Houston Aeros Head Coach Mike Yeo. “He’s done a phenomenal job. It’s not always easy to judge a coach in a developmental roll because different guys quite often develop a little bit later depending on what it is they need to work on and what their skills sets are. If you look at every single guy on our defensive unit, every guy has improved greatly this year and that’s a compliment to Darryl.”

Before taking a coach’s role at any level, Sydor wanted to first be around quality individuals. “The most important thing was surrounding myself with good, knowledgeable people.” Sydor knew Yeo from his time in Pittsburgh; Sydor was a defenseman and Yeo was an assistant with the Penguins. “He (Yeo) knows his stuff. It’s been eye-opening and a great experience with him.”

Embarking on his first season as a coach, Sydor did not hesitate to reach out for coaching advice. “You try and keep a good network of people.” Names stemmed from former Dallas Stars coaches Ken Hitchcock and Rick Wilson (who’s currently with the Minnesota Wild, Houston’s primary American Hockey League affiliate) to John Tortorella and an array of assistant coaches. “It’s a learning experience. Just like in your playing days, you learn something new every day.”

Yeo clearly has confidence in Sydor’s ability to improve his team both on and off the ice. “The most important thing is that these guys are going to have great careers in the NHL, and you have to point to Darryl…It’s not just what he can teach them as far as where to be on the ice and how to react to certain situations. I think more importantly, how to prepare yourself and how to be a good pro and how to make sure you’re doing the things you need to do day in and day out.”

As far as his teaching skills to the younger developing players, Sydor is constantly aware of having solid communication between coach and player. “I talk to the guys a lot. I was always one who would ask questions.”  Sydor has learned when to motivate too. “Certain players need to be talked to at certain times. It’s not all scripted.” The defensemen have heard Sydor loud and clear. Of the top eight playing defensemen (games played) from last season’s regular season compared with this regular season, there’s been an enormous improvement. This year’s blue liners have accumulated more total power-play goals, assists, and points. While the 2009-2010 defensive corps combined for a minus 54, this season’s group has compiled a plus 23 rating.

Aeros defenseman Marco Scandella has reaped the benefits of Sydor’s tutelage. Scandella debuted in his first professional game with Houston in April of 2009 and then dressed for his first NHL contest in November of 2010 with the Minnesota Wild. Scandella doesn’t hesitate to credit Sydor, “He was a great player and he’s coming into his own as a coach. He knows what to say. He’s played the game so you have a lot of respect for him. As far as Sydor paying attention to the details, “He’s never missed a pass in practice and he really put that in my head this year to never miss passes in practice. Over the year I’ve been getting better at that and that’s what it takes to be in the NHL. You have to be almost picture perfect…He’s just a really good guy. He’s helped us on the little details of hockey. I really appreciate him taking the time this year to really help me out.”

Houston is currently in the American Hockey League’s championship series, the Calder Cup Final, playing game six this Tuesday down three games to two to the Binghamton Senators. Sydor knows all about facing playoff elimination. During his time with Dallas, Sydor and the Stars faced playoff series elimination 15 times, winning 9 of those games. As far as what he’s preaching to his defenseman in this situation, “You can’t. We haven’t even looked at that. Obviously it’s crossed my mind that it (the season) could be done. You’ve got to be narrow-minded. You’ve got to be focused on the game. We’ve talked with these kids all year long that it’s a process. We’re focused on our game. We can’t worry about what they’re going to do. We’ve just got to go out and play a solid game.”

Sounds like a true coach in the making.

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