Young Coyotes showing flair for confidence, consistency
Through the course of a season, any player can expect ups and downs, ebbs and flows and successes and failures.
For the Arizona Coyotes, this has been a particularly challenging season. In the way things have progressed, there was almost a split in their hockey campaign.
Through a difficult opening half, fortunes turned positive.
That was possible because of increased practice time and the ability of players to grasp coach Rick Tocchet’s system. With a young club like the Coyotes, the need for education and reputation then becomes paramount. Therein lies both the responsibility of the coaching staff and the players’ response.
Together, these factors usually the dictate the outcome of a season and with the Coyotes, the need to find ways to grow and develop is essential. That could be said for hockey players on any level, and those engaged in youth hockey can take a page from Tocchet’s book.
With the maladies of the opening weeks of the season, Tocchet lamented that a brutal travel schedule and a slate heavy with game nights prevented quality practice time. Younger players need the opportunity to hone and foster their skills, he pointed out, and practice time allows for that important dimeson of their game.
“There have been a bunch of reasons for turning the season around, but the biggest one is that we’re getting practice time,” Tocchet said. “A young team needs to practice, and during February and early March, that’s the most practice times we’ve had. Practice coincides with success. Plus, learning the system over the course of the season has obviously helped.”
Despite not gaining ice time during games, the nature of watching and taking notes becomes just as vital. For forward Nick Cousins, a healthy scratch for several games, his view from the press box acted as a chalkboard. From Nov. 8-Dec. 14, Cousins was scratched in half of the 16 games on the schedule. That also included a healthy scratch on opening night against the Vegas Golden Knights.
On a line with Brad Richardson at center and Jordan Martinook on the right side, Cousins found a regular shift at left wing. In games between Jan. 22 and Feb. 12, he picked up five goals and added two assists.
“Early in the season, myself and a few other guys were struggling with confidence,” he said. “That goes with a new system, a new coach, new surroundings, a new team. After sitting the first 20 games or so and being a healthy scratch, you really start to dig in and try and find your game. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that since Christmas.”
Once players reach a comfort level with the goal and direction of the coaching staff, success usually follows. At the same time, the confidence level rises, and success is generated.
Following a three-assist night against Minnesota in early March, Max Domi (pictured) began to see the impact of sustained practice sessions and an added layer of confidence. Assisting on a second-period power-play goal from defenseman Jakob Chychrun and third-period tallies by Christian Dvorak and Kevin Connauton against the Wild, Domi seemed to find the spark of his rookie season.
“This started in early February that we really began to come together as a group,” Domi said of the surging second half. “It’s a growing confidence. Hopefully, we can keep building and bring this into next season. We’re starting to get that consistency, and it’s paying off.”
Once a coach’s foundation is established and a system put in place, the players then respond. With an ease of execution and smooth transition to the structure and dynamics of game play, the “x’s” and “o’s” translate into a strong conviction.
Just ask Domi.
“We’re a young group,” he said. “We have a great leadership group that has really helped all the younger guys. We’re all starting to find our roles and do what we need to do to help the team win. That’s what it takes and when you’re in the NHL. You have to have every guy on your team going. You can’t take a night off.”
— Mark Brown
(April 5, 2018)