Bobcats, Shtrom fine-tuning preparations for new season
Every youth hockey coach takes a different approach to preparing his team for the season, and Leeor Shtrom employs what might be described as a methodical, cerebral plan.
The former professional goalie is now in his third year coaching with the Arizona Bobcats, and as the 2016-17 season gets underway, he thinks he’s taken the necessary steps to prepare his 13U Tier I team for a successful transition from the relaxation of summer to the rigors of a highly-competitive hockey season.
“Kids at this age are still at a point where they can really improve their skills, so that’s a big focus of ours at this time of year,” Shtrom said. “That’s something that we’ve really focused on as a program – skating and skills. We work on those in every practice, in addition to structure and systems.”
Shtrom, a Montreal native, was a netminder for four seasons at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., before a nine-year pro career in the ECHL, Quebec Semi-Pro Hockey League (QSPHL) and North American Hockey League (LNAH). With more than 20 years of coaching experience, he moved from Montreal to Phoenix two years ago to work alongside Bobcats hockey director Ron Filion – who had coached him in the ECHL – while also running the AZ ICE hockey program.
His 12-year-old son and nine-year-old daughter both play in the Bobcats system, and he believes wholeheartedly in the program. While he is always available to help with any of the Bobcats teams, he lets goalie coach Pat Conacher handle most of the work with the keepers and assists as needed. His main focus is his 13U team, and he feels like the progress they made as a team last year, combined with the work they put in starting in mid-August, will pay off during the season.
The Bobcats’ 13U team started practice for the season on Aug. 15, and its first scheduled tournament is the Compuware Honeybaked AAA Invitational in mid-September in Detroit.
“Last year, we were sort of a first-year program at this level with this group,” Shtrom said. “We were all getting to know each other – we started the season with a lineup that we thought we would go with, and we moved guys around throughout the season as we got to know their games better. Coming into the second year with this group, we have a pretty good idea of personnel and what each player brings to the ice.
“We know what each kid needs to work on and what we need to work on as a group. That helps us plan our practices accordingly.”
The practice plan for Shtrom’s team includes four on-ice sessions per week, plus two dryland sessions. Many of the players will also participate in the Bobcats Academy program in the mornings 2-3 times per week.
He understands that players at the 13U level may not have reached the age where they specialize in one sport, so their summers might have been spent on baseball diamonds on basketball courts. That means that as the season starts, he needs to gauge their fitness levels, how sharp they are with their skating and which skills need some refining after a few months away from the ice.
“We try to get their skills going again – get a good feel for the puck, get their feet back under them,” Shtrom said. “The toughest thing to do is get them into game shape, and the only way to do that is to play games, but you can replicate game situations in practice.”
And of course, with players the age he is coaching, he has gradually introduced them to checking as an important part of the game.
“We work on making sure that they have the core strength that they need to play a more physical game, and a big part of our preparation is the physical contact,” Shtrom said.
– Greg Ball