I can’t remember when my longtime mentor and coach Dale Turner had the discussion with us, but it was part of the process of being a player under his guidance and tutelage. The “little things” became a part of our psyche and our hockey playing DNA. The “little things” made a massive impact on our knowledge of the game and the reasons why we conduct ourselves a certain way given the pulse of the game and our opponent.
Case in point when a game became “chippy” and the other team started “head hunting” we were taught the “tricks of the trade”in order keep ourselves safe and were always told to protect ourselves. He didn’t teach how to fight, but we were told how to protect ourselves if we were forced into one. He also taught us what to expect when we were up in games by a large margin versus a team that wanted some type of retribution. We never ran up the score on anyone, but never backed down from playing the game the right way. It was stressed and reiterated from a young age to play with class no matter what and always keep your emotions in check.
As I’ve written before when the game had a five-goal margin we were told not to celebrate goals and go straight to center ice for the face off. Our top lines would still play, but told to take very short shifts and in some cases, we would gain puck possession and were told to gain the red line and dump it in and change. We started playing like were only up a goal late in a close game rather than a blowout. If a penalty was assessed our top PP unit would never see the ice and in a lot of cases they wouldn’t see the ice for the final eight minutes of the game while our other two lines would see the bulk of action.
At the end of the game my mentor would always put the most emotionally centered and grounded players on the ice to ensure that calmer heads would prevail. During the waning moments of any game we were always told not to celebrate and never, I repeat never do anything “stupid,” like take a run at a player or taunt them in anyway. When it came to the game, “the little things” might have been extremely subtle, but for us and our team they were massive. I can’t believe it, but it will be eight years this June since Dale passed away, but all those “little things” that he taught us on and off the ice are pretty big now. Knowing the pulse of the game and your team should be a coach’s strongest attribute and that becomes refined and perfected over time with experience. It’s extremely ironic when I watch and scout hockey today how those little things jump off the page for me. “The little things” aren’t minor anymore, they are massive. Playing the game the right way in today’s era has taken on entirely new complexion. It’s become apparent that some young aspiring players aren’t always provided the clearest feedback when it comes to “the little things” they do throughout the season. Obviously, blocking a shot or taking a hit to make a play always gets an ovation from their teammates, but does it get a pat on the back or any acknowledgement from their coach? We were so lucky to have Dale as a coach and mentor. You see Dale always appreciated “the little things” in fact, he praised them, he valued them. You could always hear him from the bench, “great play, great pass, right idea.”
When it came to feedback, it was concise and instantaneous. Good, bad or ugly, Dale had our attention, at every turn he was teaching us. Obviously, today I can’t get inside the heads of coaches or players for that matter, but it’s clear the line of communication between players and coaches isn’t always transparent or honest.
Again, this is just an observation, but feedback isn’t always direct, clear and concise. Sometimes the feedback doesn’t come at all. Gauging the pulse of your hockey club is an incredible skill as a coach. Knowing the person first and the player second is the key. Dale Turner was a master at that. You see if you played for Dale, you always knew where you stood. You knew if he wasn’t happy, you knew when he was thrilled with your game because he was always there providing feedback, Dale Turner was always there.
Providing feedback might seem like a little thing or quite inconsequential in today’s game when video reinforcement reigns supreme. Young players need to know where they stand now more than ever because it drastically effects their self-confidence.
Sadly, in this day and age “the little things” often get missed, overlooked, ignored or even forgotten.
Let’s hope “the little things” never get forgotten, they are ultimately the most important and impactful.