Simply the Best illuminates coaching mentalities

Originally published on IHWC.NET in 2005

By Lucas Aykroyd

Let’s be honest. What you hear from coaches during a typical media interview is not always enlightening or stimulating. Usually, generic talk about “good habits,” “consistency,” “sustained pressure,” and “staying positive” dominates. The focus is on getting two points in the next game. Big-picture issues and personal anecdotes are afterthoughts.

Happily, Mike Johnston, the longtime Vancouver Canucks assistant coach, and Ryan Walter, a four-time IIHF World Championship participant and 1986 Stanley Cup winner with Montreal, have teamed up to write a new book entitled Simply the Best that really gets inside the heads of 12 of Canada’s best hockey coaches. The list includes Pat Quinn, Ken Hitchcock, Marc Crawford, Brian Sutter, Clare Drake, Jacques Demers, George Kingston, Mike Keenan, Andy Murray, Dave King, Scotty Bowman, and Roger Neilson.

The authors state in the foreword that Simply the Best is about “those who have influenced the game of hockey with their strategies, approach, and team accomplishments,” but there isn’t a great deal of focus on specific on-ice tactics. You won’t find Marc Crawford discussing how to play a 4-on-3 versus the 2002-03 Edmonton Oilers or Jacques Demers breaking down the overtime strategy that helped his Montreal Canadiens win 10 sudden-death thrillers in the 1993 NHL playoffs.

Instead, the coaches primarily discuss their keys to success in leading and motivating their teams. Crawford theorizes about how players can be divided into “deep thinkers” who need to understand the whys and wherefores of their roles and “passionate players” who just go out and play hard without thinking too much. Demers elaborates on his aversion to “soft players”: “I’ve never turned a guy without character around, and I’ve never turned a soft player around.”

Plenty of anecdotes will interest international hockey fans. For instance, Pat Quinn says, “While I was preparing to go to the 2002 Olympics I read the remarks of the [Canadian] coaches and managers who had been in Nagano in ’98, and some of them felt that the fear of losing was so powerful that they fulfilled that fear.” George Kingston describes seeing a 1960’s Soviet all-star team touring Canada and being impressed with the players’ fitness level, ability to pass the puck, and consumption of orange juice and beer. Dave King tells a colorful story about how he managed to counteract the diving tendencies of his Czechoslovakian opponents at the 1992 Albertville Olympics by running a “checking and diving” drill in practice when he knew the on-ice officials were watching.

Johnston and Walter allow the personalities of the coaches to shine through, and it becomes evident that there isn’t just one right way to coach. And for those of us who appreciate variety in our hockey, that’s perhaps the most rewarding affirmation of all. Digg it Furl iFeedReaders Netscape RawSugar reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo MyWeb YardBarker

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