Q: What are some of the biggest changes you’ve noticed in American hockey since you first played on American ice at Vermont?
A: First and foremost, there are way more American hockey players. The pool of players is much deeper and, with that, there are just a lot more good players from this country. It’s no surprise that you’re seeing a lot more American players in the NHL. With the American Development Model put in place, 10-12 years back, you can see what it has done to the whole picture of development in the U.S. Kids are coming out so skilled and the college hockey is better and better. There’s just more hockey everywhere. Because of this, you can see it translate at the NHL level.
Q: Speaking of Vermont, I know you and Roger Grillo, now an American Development Model regional manager, have remained close. What can you say about the work that Roger and the other ADM managers are doing at the grassroots level to help set up all players to reach their athletic potential?
A: Like I said, it starts at a young age to wire the kids the right way. I think the environment they have put in with the small-area games and the cross-ice stuff, the strongest kid cannot bully himself around the ice and skate away from trouble. They realize they can do themselves a favor by staying in an environment where they can solve problems rather than just skate away from it. And, the weaker player stays more interested because he is around the puck more and gets to work on his skills as well and gets to compete a bit more. As they get older and play on the full ice, they have checked the box on some of the skill acquisition they need to have.
They’ve done a tremendous job. Roger has poured his heart and soul into that program. Because of guys like that, it develops a ton of kids to become great hockey players.
Q: What suggestions do you have when youth coaches and players are watching an NHL game today? What things should they be looking for from a player development aspect?
A: I’d focus on the guys without the puck. A lot of young kids start playing when they have the puck on their stick. If you play the game long enough, you realize the game is really played without the puck. I’d watch the guys without it and how they get open. I call it playing on and off the puck. Working hard when you don’t have the puck and supporting it in the right away, putting yourself in position to get the puck back.
Also, at the pro level, they move the puck not because they have nothing else. They move the puck because it’s the play. They get open to get it back. On the youth level, I found even some of the best players will move the puck just because they have nothing else and then say, ‘Here, you try it.’
There’s just not enough purpose in their thinking and eventually they get stuck. There’s so much purpose on the pro level in how they play, with and without the puck.
Q: You were on the Columbus Blue Jackets staff for a period of time last year. What did you notice or take away from that experience when it comes to how the game is being played today?
A: The game always speeds up, it seems, every three or four years. I got to be on the ice a little bit last year at practices. Just, the practices were so fast.
For me, it was a chance to get inside the rope. I had been away for five years. It was a good experience working with John Tortorella and his staff. I learned a lot through the short experience, especially going through a couple rounds of playoffs.
The problem-solving with the coaches; John would find an edge to try to put his team in position to be successful without really telling them what to do. They need ideas and concepts, but, at the end of the day, they go out and play. For me to be able to relate with some of the players with my own experience and help them reach my goals.
Q: When you look at the number of NHL Draft picks coming from Florida and the continued increase in participation in youth hockey there, was there ever a time when you thought you’d see the success we’re seeing today?
A: I’m not surprised. Being in Tampa for 14 years, my kids learned to play hockey down there. There’s a lot of hockey. A lot of kids at a certain age move out of there, but they still learn to play there. They have the programs. It’s a great spot for the kids to learn to play and when they get to a certain age, some move on to teams outside of the state of Florida just because of the travel needed to play youth hockey within the state. The concept they have with the ADM, you can do that anywhere.
Q: What do you believe is next for hockey in America? What do you hope to pass off to your kids and their generation as the game keeps evolving?
A: I don’t know. I think they have nice momentum right now. I think what’s next is the continuity of what they’ve built. I’m curious to see what happens in the next 10 years because now you’ll have 20 years in the development model. What’s next, I think, is more Americans, more really dominant American players, in the NHL.
I try to pass on to my kids a love for the game and, number two, a little bit of knowledge. Working hard won’t be enough. You have to be smart. You have to be efficient. You have to play with a purpose.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Header image from Getty Images.