I played hockey because I loved the game. In college I started working summer hockey camps where I started to learn how to coach, and learned that I enjoyed that too, so when my playing career was over I knew I wanted to get into coaching.
I was working at a small weekly paper in the Twin Cities suburbs when I meet the local boy’s high school hockey coach. In conversation I mentioned I’d be more than happy to help out with the goalies. He accepted my offer, and told me when to show up to the rink for tryouts.
I wanted to coach as a way to give back to the game that had given me so much. I was excited that first day of tryouts. Skating around, getting to know the different goalie, helping with drills. I learned who the two returning upperclassman goalies were. The starter was a senior who went on to play junior hockey, at Ohio State, and in the ECHL. I was smart enough to not do much with him.
When the season started I was working with the JV goalies as they were both sophomores. In Minnesota you usually play your first year of high school hockey as a sophomore. Both goalies needed work, but were eager to listen and learn. I was also learning as a coach. It’s funny how you see the game differently when you are standing on the bench, versus sitting on it. I learned how to better read an opponents system, how to match lines, etc. I was a sponge that first year.
The next year I was working with the JV goalies again, but this year I was also tasked with running the defense. It was a fun season for me as I felt more focused on the game as I had to keep an eye on what was happening at both ends of the ice, and read the flow of the game to know when to keep some players off the ice. I also learned how to read different personalities.
One of my goalies that second year coaching appeared to be a real goof-off to an outsider, but I took the time to talk to the kid to learn what was going on at home. It turned out there were some pretty big things going on at home in terms of a custody battle that would make any kid act out. Knowing this I knew the way to get through to him wasn’t to yell, but put my arm around him and say, “hey, it’s ok, but…”
It was also during that second year that we were playing Stillwater high school whose varsity team was then coached by NHL hall of famer, and current Bufflo Sabers coach Phil Housely. It was late in the second period when Stillwater took a penalty. We were down by one at that point in the game, and there were 0:08 to play in the period. Me and the other coach looked at each other and agreed. We’d pull the goalie for a 6-4 faceoff opportunity in the offensive zone. We called a time-out to go over the plan. We let the center know that if he lost the face-off all he had to do was tie up and the buzzer would sound. We lost the face-off, the center didn’t tie up, and they shot the puck down for a goal. We couldn’t believe it. As we walked back to our locker room while the Zamboni cleaned the ice Housely caught up to us to let us know it took a lot of guts to make that call – a call that was the right one. He commented that you just couldn’t bet on everything going right for Stillwater in that situation.
My third year coaching was my last. The program was on the rise as some of our youth was getting older, and gaining experience, but we just had talent that could play together as a team too. From a goaltending standpoint I was now working with the JV and varsity goalies. It helped that I had worked with the varsity goalies from when they started at the high school level. I was still running the defense at the JV level too. This year though, the head JV coach had played D1 hockey, and in the ECHL during the NHL lockout season (meaning he skated with some good players at that level), and was a defensemen so I was able to learn a lot from him.
I was enjoying coaching, even starting to work on putting together my own playbook for maybe the day I was a varsity head coach myself, but towards the end of the season my daughter was born. High school hockey in Minnesota means skating six days a week. Practices are right after school. With a baby at home I let the other coaches know I’d be stepping away from hockey because my family was my focus.
I put my hockey bag in the garage, and didn’t touch it other than to move it for almost two years. I went from skating almost every day most of the year for over a decade, to not even putting my skates on for two years, but I couldn’t have been happier because I was home with my kids.