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Coyotes’ Tocchet adapting to new ways of coaching at NHL level



Like players in development and transitioning through competitive levels, coaches traverse through a similar journey.

From many who touch youth hockey through those who seek jobs at the highest NHL level, there remains a learning curve and an education which continues to drive instruction. Success means the ability to adapt to changes in the game, dealing with individual personalities and the need to be transparent.


As Rick Tocchet becomes entrenched in his second season behind the Arizona Coyotes bench, there are visible signs which address the need to grow and progress. No longer is the game, especially at the NHL level, a matter of throwing a line, a pair of defensemen and a goaltender onto the ice with no prescribed method.

Today, the diverse and complicated systems of analytics help propel hockey into the 21st century. With an increasing emphasis on numbers, trends, developments and projections, coaches remain vigilant in a myriad of ways to keep their team constantly ahead of the competition.

“It’s all about how you want to play the game,” Tocchet said. “Once you decide that, then create your own style. Sure, you start with a core approach, but then you also pick up from other coaches and ways they were successful.”

From a learning perspective, Tocchet, and all other NHL coaches may not emphasize a strong learning base. When players don an NHL sweater, the individual skill level is essentially complete, and the coach’s duty is then two-fold. First, there is a need to fine-tune physical skills and then, adapt to changes in the game.

Coyotes-LogoIn today’s game, the need to play “small hockey” is highlighted. That is, players are asked to control the corners, play a 200-foot-game and intelligently utilize all dimensions of the rink.

Though similar demands to play a complete game at the minor level remain, the requisite to teach and educate expands. Though the Coyotes, and all other NHL teams, dip into their AHL affiliates for help, the need to develop and grow as hockey players begin cultivating in levels below the NHL, such as the ECHL.

When Drake Berehowsky manned the blue line as a defenseman for the Coyotes over a decade ago, the teaching aspect, an increasing fundamental in today’s game, was non-existent. A former first-round selection of Toronto in the 1990 NHL Draft, Berehowsky eventually appeared in 549 NHL games with the Leafs, Penguins, Oilers, Predators and Canucks and finished with the Coyotes. Now as coach of the ECHL’s Orlando Solar Bears, Berehowsky is charged by the parent Tampa Bay Lightning with player development in an age of change and adjustment.

“Just as a head coach, you’re learning all the time,” Berehowsky said. “You want to keep evolving as a coach. You have to adapt to the changes in the game. You can’t be a dinosaur.”

In contrast to Tocchet and his emphasis in preparation at the NHL level, Berehowsky is representative of coaches who use their platform to prepare players, in the embryonic stage of their hockey career, for mobility through the organization.

“You’ll always looking to evolve and get better,” said Berehowsky. “If you don’t, you’re going to be left behind.”

Part of the evolution is the need to instruct and educate. While Tocchet’s curriculum may be abbreviated because the elite feature of playing the NHL, for coaches like Berehowsky in Orlando and others in the ECHL, the emphasis on education is clearly defined.

“In the ECHL, we’re a teaching league,” Berehowsky said. “We want our kids to move on and want our kids to evolve. We want them to play hard and want them to get to the next level. Every kid’s dream is to play in the NHL and lift the Stanley Cup. Our goal is to develop each player, have each player reach their potential, and realize their dream.”


— Mark Brown

(Jan. 2, 2019)