AHU Coach’s Corner: When great hockey coaches speak, it’s wise to listen
The late Tim Taylor was a legend when it came to coaching.
Taylor was the head coach of the 1994 U.S. Men’s Olympic hockey team and several U.S. teams at the annual IIHF World Championship events. He was also the head coach at NCAA Division I Yale University for 28 years.
He defined offensive creativity as “using all the tools available to beat the defense.”
Quite often in youth hockey, the best player is the one who can carry the puck end to end and deke the goaltender. But that’s rare talent, and that won’t work at a higher level because defenders are better and have an advantage in 1-on-1 contests.
Carrying the puck until you run out of plays ignores the synergy possible when everyone thinks alike to create offensive opportunities. The whole becomes much greater than the sum of individual skills: 1+1+1+1+1=1000, not five.
The simple ingredient is passing with a purpose. Sometimes you pass to set teammates up when they’re in better position. Is that unselfish? No. It’s just a good way to win.
But another important reason to pass is to set yourself up. Pass early, so you can get open for a return pass that allows you to beat the defense. That’s also a good way to win.
Sidney Crosby was the captain of the 2016 Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins and was named MVP of the playoffs. Does he carry the puck end to end, beating five defenders and the goaltender? Of course not. No one can do that.
Crosby is the best example in the world of an interdependent player. He’s a catalyst who makes teammates better. He’s also an opportunist, someone who uses teammates at precisely the right moment to make himself better. Crosby uses all the tools available, not just his own personal skills.
And here’s the bonus: The more he uses teammates, the more they work to get open.
On the other hand, when that youthful superstar, who was the first overall draft pick in the 2005 NHL Draft, gets the puck and starts up ice, teammates just watch in awe, not hustling to get open for a pass.
Therefore, Crosby builds team synergy by the way he plays.
If you want to compete at higher levels of hockey, and if you want your team to win championships, copy Sidney Crosby. To make it work, you’ll have to convince your team (by the way you play) to put their trust in the combined effort – interdependence. Pass when you can, not when you have to. Be deceptive when you carry the puck. Force the ‘D’ to overplay you, leaving an open lane, then pass to a linemate who fills that lane.
Some teams left the playoff picture early because their game plan ignored offensive attack and depended on good defense alone. TV commentators do not bother with one of the most important statistics – pass completions – because they’re obsessed with “who had the most hits.”
(Short answer: The teams that lost).
The Penguins, meanwhile, won it all because they were focused on “who had the most synergy.” They all became catalysts and opportunists – the perfect recipe for success.
And that special group passed around Lord Stanley’s chalice June 12 in San Jose.
Kurt Goar is Arizona Hockey Union’s coach-in-chief.