A great hockey mind is essential for coaching, whether the players are mites or in high school. Many of today’s coaches were great players in their time, but not all great players have the skills needed to be a great coach.
Today’s hockey is largely about skating. Teams win because they consist of superior skaters rather than simply fast shooters or players with impressive stick handles. The strongest coaches focus on skating skills, bursts of speed, sense of urgency, and creating 2-on-1 situations.
Take the Washington Capitals for example. The team currently sits at an dominant record of 40-12 largely in part due to the team’s chemistry on the ice. Head coach Barry Trotz stresses the importance of movement rather than just scoring. Not only does this create opportunities to score, but it solidifies a strong defense, and the team possesses the statistics to prove it. The Capitals ranked second in the NHL in goals per game in the 2015-16 season, and second in goals scored against them. They also finished second in penalty killing with a rate of 85.2%.
Trotz however, is not a former NHL player. Though that fact certainly fails to hinder his coaching abilities, there’s no denying that NHL stars-turned-coaches have somewhat of a leg up in the coaching world. Patrick Roy, who was once one of the greatest goalies in the league, accepted the position of head coach and vice president of hockey operations with the Colorado Avalanche in 2013. He won his first six games with the team, and went on to win a total of 52 in the 2013-14 season with the Avalanche holding the title of best road record with an impressive 26-11-4. Roy won the Jack Adams Award at the end of the year for his remarkable accomplishments as a first-year coach.
As of last year, Patrick Roy stepped down as head coach of the Avalanche, but his short-lived legacy has not been forgotten. Because of his tremendous experience as arguably the best goalie to ever play in the National Hockey League, Roy was able to apply those skills as a head coach. He knew the ins and outs of what it takes to effectively run a winning team, taking note of players’ positions on the ice, the strength and weaknesses of certain lines, and implementing bold strategies that would otherwise be seen as reckless by those who haven’t had significant experience on the ice.
What surprised many however, was the lack of success Wayne Gretzky had as a head coach given the fact that he is widely regarded as the best player in the history of the NHL, proving that even the greatest players can fail as coaches. Being a successful coach in any sport is not simply defined by a successful career as a player. Managerial roles are often underestimated by those who have dominated certain sports, and Gretzky is just one of many examples. Though he wasn’t given much to work with, Gretzky’s role as head coach of the (formerly) Phoenix Coyotes was poorly handled, as top prospects within the organization were often touted or underutilized. His brief stint with the team has left a bitter taste in the mouths of Coyotes fans, but with the amount of success he had as a player, it’s likely that Gretzky will come back in some capacity, perhaps just not behind the bench.
An effective coach in the NHL, let alone all of hockey cannot be determined by a prosperous career as a player, though experience can help. Great coaches understand the importance of playing as a team, disowning the notion that their star players are the reasons for their success. As mentioned before, players with great skating skills are more likely to set their teams up for success, and an entire team consisting of great skaters is a true asset in hockey. To be a successful coach in hockey, knowing and working with the strengths and weaknesses of every player is the first step in achieving victories, along with a basic understanding of all managerial roles given to such a position; something a number of former players tend to overlook.