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How to communicate with the modern hockey player (VIDEO)

In Coaching Hockey, Culture by Kelvin CechLeave a Comment

“For me, I really tried to keep with the times.”

Those were the words of Portland Winterhawks head coach Mike Johnston at the 2019 TeamSnap Hockey Coaches Conference in Toronto. It’s a statement that perfectly captured what coaches from Vancouver to Oslo and all points in between are trying to accomplish year in and year out. Improve. Develop. Gain knowledge.

Johnston, who spent time in the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings, and Pittsburgh Penguins, has been the head coach and general manager of the Winterhawks for most of the past decade.

He credits his longevity in the game to simple gatherings of coaches in central Alberta when he was coaching the ACAC’s Augustana University Vikings. Those discussions included Johnston, NHL coaching legend Ken Hitchcock, and plenty of others over the years. It was the inspiration for conferences such as ours.

So, what can we learn?

Dave Mason held court in a panel with Johnston, Vegas Golden Knights assistant coach Mike Kelly, and Mississauga Reps Midget AAA head coach Shawn Snider. Keeping up with the times was just one aspect of the conversation. 

“How do you communicate in meetings? How do you keep up with texting? How do you talk to kids who don’t answer the phone – I’ve tried to keep up with it,” Johnston said.

“They all want the same thing,” said Kelly. “They want you to be honest and they want respect.”

It’s impossible to overdo the positive nature of the message. Reinforce confidence, build character, and let the results inform the development, instead of the other way around.

Key Quotes:

“The players need to have fun. If you keep practices fun and challenging then you’ll create a connection naturally and they’ll get better almost by accident.” -Mike Kelly

“Technology is a big factor in communication if you can leverage it correctly.” – Shawn Snider

“Small group meetings are important. Meet with a defence pair or with a line, or make bigger meetings interactive. “What did you see in this clip, what did you like, what don’t you like;” interactive meetings engage the entire group.” – Mike Johnston

“Use positive examples during larger team meetings, give credit on the little things. Show examples of things that work well.” – Mike Kelly

Try this:

  • The Paul Maurice checklist: Keep a checklist of players who you’ve talked to. At the end of a week you might realize there are players you haven’t connected with.
  • Make a point of spending an hour before practice and an hour after making rounds with the players. The players have to trust the head coach. The players need to know they’re going to get an opportunity to redeem themselves. Players are more determined on the second chance around.

Check out the trailer below and watch the full premium video with a TCS membership.


Access our entire library of videos from our annual TeamSnap Hockey Coaches Conference.

TCS|Members Ice Hockey Coach Tips and Drills

About the Author
Kelvin Cech

Kelvin Cech


Former editor in chief of The Coaches Site, current head coach of the Winkler Flyers of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. See All Posts By Kelvin


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