Assistant coaches a vital element to Coyotes’ operations
During a game in late January, the Arizona Coyotes trailed the Columbus Blue Jackets by one goal.
With 39 seconds left in the contest, the Coyotes called a time out and plotted strategy.
After goalie Antti Raanta was pulled, the six attackers skated over the bench for instructions. Head coach Rick Tocchet positioned himself to the far-right side of the bench and the six attackers drew closer to the dasher board. Here, assistant coach John MacLean gathered the players and pulled out a white-board. That’s when he outlined an approach and directed the players.
Though the Coyotes failed to gain the equalizer in this situation, MacLean’s instructions in front of the team could signal a change in the way coaching is handled.
As an assistant coach, MacLean, along with Scott Allen, form the core of Tocchet’s staff. There is also Jon Elkin and Corey Schwab, both goalie coaches, who split their time between the Coyotes and the AHL’s Tucson Roadrunners, the Coyotes’ AHL affiliate. There’s also Steve Peters, the video coach and Dawn Braid, the skating coach.
“The role of an assistant completely depends on the head coach,” said Allen. “It’s about what the head coach wants, what he is looking for and he sets the tone. It’s his foundation that we have to work under, but each coach is different.”
The role and responsibilities of assistant coaches have evolved and have developed with greater importance. At the same time, it’s necessary for an assistant to be flexible and recognize the coach’s personality and direction.
“I pride myself on the ability to adopt to any kind of personality,” Allen added. “It’s whatever that guy wants and that’s what I will give.”
With a greater emphasis now on video and analytics comes more areas. That would include tendencies, trends, matchups and how players fare in certain situations, as well as key locations about the rink. Previously, assistant coaches usually directed practices and had marginal input into game planning.
Within recent years, assistant coaches could be found directing special teams and organizations usually have an assistant working with defensemen, while another assistant directs forwards and the power play.
For Tocchet, the role of the assistant is more mental, a greater emphasis on the physiological aspect of the game and building relationships.
“You have to get closer to players these days,“ Tocchet said. “You have to be in a position that they trust you and be honest with you. Younger players today can accept the honesty and to them, it’s why. This is the ‘why’ millennials, and they want to know why. You just can’t tell them what to do. They want to know why.”
For a game that moves as fast as hockey and several moves on the ice tend to be instinctual, instructions and “X’s” and “O’s” can be difficult to implement. Through experiences, coaches will develop a game plan, but now, assistants take on a greater role in implementation.
The result tends to be a division of labor and a fine line between strategy employed by the head coach, execution of that direction by the assistant and acceptance by the players.
The latest trend is to delegate more authority to the assistants. When MacLean took over with his instructions, that was demonstrated at the end of that Columbus game.
“I think that’s important,” Tocchet said of giving assistants more authority. “If you’re a dominant coach and always speaking and being involved, players get tired of hearing you all the time. I think it’s a little bit of flavor thing. It’s no different than I was in Pittsburgh and I did that stuff. It’s important to give your assistant coaches autonomy.”
To arm assistants with the decision-making process, Allen notes that coaching and game preparation has changed dramatically. Technology, the most pronounced feature of the game, has pushed hockey clearly into the 21st century.
“The psychology, for sure, has changed, but also technology,” Allen said. “Everything we do now is on computers. We have so much access to not only video, but to information in general. If you want to do the job of an assistant the right way, you better have a handle on the guys as individuals and embrace the technology.”
— Mark Brown
(Feb. 28, 2018)