Arizona Rubber

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Tocchet recognizing honesty is best policy with Coyotes


If you do not adjust, learn, grow and evolve as a coach, there’s not much of a future to direct a team.

In that regard, there is little difference if you’re coaching at the NHL level or at Ice Den Scottsdale. In the end, honesty is the best policy – just ask Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet, who is the first to admit players are just as cerebral as they are physical.


“Players really help you become a good coach, and they inspire you,” Tocchet said. “We, as coaches, don’t know everything and if you think you know everything to a player, they see right through you. It’s OK to be wrong, and you don’t always make the right move. I think the players appreciate that, honestly.”

For Tocchet, the evolution was fairly dramatic. Known as a rough-around-the-edges player with the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings, Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals and Coyotes, the native of Scarborough, Ont., managed 440 goals and 2,972 penalty minutes in 1144 games.

Channeling that aggressive disposition, Tocchet, now in his third season behind the Coyotes bench, brings a style of coaching that is as instructional as well as physically demanding. At the same time, he recognizes significant differences in players and, especially, a potential gulf between veterans and younger players.

That’s the same approach that can benefit youth coaches. Each team will have experienced players and, especially at the youth level, beginners or those starting out to play organized hockey should be more sensitive to instruction.

The key to communication, Tocchet points out, is understanding a coach’s audience. For the Coyotes, veterans like Brad Richardson, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Phil Kessel and Antti Raanta, Tocchet offers, require a different approach.

“With a veteran player like Richardson, we can speak for about 10 minutes and he gets it,” Tocchet said. “With younger players, you have to spend a little more time and they ask, ‘Why are we doing this?’ With a guy like Richardson, he knows we’re just going to do it. Since I’ve been here, Richardson had been the buy-in guy and a guy you don’t have to spend a great deal of time with.”

Following an 18-year NHL playing career, Tocchet has also coached with the Colorado Avalanche, Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Coyotes.

It was with the Penguins, where he spent four years as an assistant coach, that Tocchet grew and flourished.

“The time I spent in Pittsburgh was clearly beneficial,” he said. “That whole situation there was big for me. (Head coach) Mike Sullivan is a great friend and great coach, and I learned a great deal from him and the organization. Everything there is terrific, and I was able to hang around and coach high-level players. That helps you, too. Certainly, that helps to build confidence.”

Given the learning curve, Tocchet is the first to admit that securing a previous head coaching job, like he obtained in Tampa Bay, helped to perfect communication skills. There is no question a former player brings a great deal of physical ability, but the successful ones, Tocchet points out, is the one who remains honest with players and cultivates the ability to communicate with experienced players in a quick and easy manner.

Here, Tocchet’s definition of a successful coach could be a blueprint for coaches at all levels.

“It’s all about routine,” he said. “Do the same thing. Doesn’t matter how big the moment is, you have to stay the same way. If you’re a guy who does the proper things, and because it’s a big moment, you don’t change it. Sometimes, athletes get in trouble because the bigger the moment, they start thinking, ‘I have to change something.’ No, don’t change. All the things you’ve worked on during the season, in the gym, nutrition and that stuff gets you prepared for these moments.”

Photo/Norm Hall

— Mark Brown

(Dec. 3, 2019)

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