How Portland Winterhawks coach Mike Johnston preps his team in training camp

Kelvin Cech

Steady contributor in multiple roles over the years at the coaches site, current head coach of the West Van Warriors Academy U18 Prep Team, former MJHL coach of the year with the Winkler Flyers and assistant coach with the UBC Thunderbirds Men's Hockey team.

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“Early in my career I had too many rules. I believed I needed to control everything, but all it led to was players catching me in loopholes.”
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Is your team ready for the season?

Like, truly ready? Showing video and powerpoint presentations until your players fall asleep is easy. But according to long-time Portland Winterhawks coach Mike Johnston, more is not always better.

In his presentation at this summer’s TeamSnap Hockey Coaches Conference in Toronto, Johnston shared his typical plan for training camp. It included the systems he teaches each year, as well as the rules he sets out for his team.

“Early in my career I had too many rules. I believed I needed to control everything, but all it led to was players catching me in loopholes.”

The Winterhawks have five pillars, Johnston says:
  1. Project positive energy.
  2. Invest in your time at the rink.
  3. Stay in the moment, stay in the game.
  4. Dress like a pro, act like a pro.
  5. Enjoy the ride.
“Culture beats scheme every day,” Johnston adds. “As a staff we sit down and talk about our culture first. Then we talk about our team. Everything we do comes from our culture.” Johnston spent time in the NHL as a head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and was Marc Crawford’s assistant with the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings. But he is perhaps best known for his time in the WHL with Portland, where he is beginning his 10th season as the franchise’s coach and general manager. It’s easy to forget that he, along with coaches like Ken Hitchcock and Wayne Fleming, set the stage for coaching conferences back in the early 90’s when he was coaching at Augustana University in Camrose, Alberta.

“Don’t get enamoured with the systems, focus on the skills required to play the systems.”

“Passing and receiving is the number one skill. You have to be able to make plays either on forward or defence. What are the most important skills your players need? Answer that, then work on the skills and work on the systems. Test your players.”

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