February 08, 2011
Guy Carbonneau taking the Chicoutimi Saguenéens' reins is as good a jumping-off point for the difference between coaching in major junior and in that other league.
A prevailing sentiment out of Quebec, although granted it is always easy to presume the negative with someone who has no track record, is that it cannot be taken on faith that a former NHL coach going back to junior will work out. The difference between the two is analogous to how Bobby Knight once said he would be prouder to be the winning high school basketball coach rather than the winningest college coach, since the former involves starting from scratch and doing more teaching and mentoring. Sean Gordon at The Globe & Mail's French Immersion, for starters, pointed out Carbonneau was not exactly famous for that when he guided the Montreal Canadiens before being dispatched just less than two years ago.
"A couple of his former players told FI after Carbo’s departure that he wasn’t exactly Jon Gruden-esque in his work habits (not for him, the 5 a.m. office arrival), that his practices weren’t exactly Babcock-ian.
"And that when the going got tough, Carbo just didn't have what it took to figure out a way to turn it around.
"It’s the sort of thing that always comes out after a coach is fired — he was a crappy communicator, he wasn’t an Xs and Os guy — and now Carbonneau has a chance to show his chops once again.
"The Official FI Impression ™ on Carbonneau is that his greatest difficulty was his inability to see the game through any other prism than the one he had when he was on the ice.
"A doer, then, not an explainer, and a guy who had no patience for players who weren't as good as him (which applies to a good many, as it happens).
"A couple of years on the sidelines — well-paid and high-profile though they may have been — will have helped create the distance he probably didn’t have when in his first pro go-round." (Globe & Mail)
Steve Turcotte at Temps d'Arret also wondered if Carbonneau is aware of the scope involved in coaching in the Canadian Hockey League. It takes more than a famous face; that's an illusion propped up by we the media often tossing out the softball lob, "So what is it like to play for Big Bobby Clobber?" to young, eager-to-please teenagers who field it by saying it is good to play for "someone who's been there."
However, that runs counter to the reality. Fortunately for us, Allan Maki, who's as good as anyone at turning out pieces that increase understanding or stimulate thought (the only two goals of sports writing), pointed out last weekend that it's a challenge to coach Net Geners.
Maki was addressing NHL coaching, but it is clear that filters up from junior and the NCAA:
They want to know why they’re being asked to do things and they want to see it visually.
It’s part of how younger players arrive at the NHL level. They’ve been weaned on structured practices and learning systems from a young age and, when it comes to the pros, they want a coach who explains what they’re doing instead of simply telling them to "Do this."
"I think our game is becoming more like football because the players are changing," former NHL coach Ken Hitchcock said. “Generation Y is the age group that has come in the NHL and for them it's about instant feedback. When I started coaching in the NHL in the late 1990s, you’d show too much video and the guys would put up their hands and say, 'No mas.' They wanted to go out and play.
"Today’s players," Hitchcock continued, "are very committed to having a clear-vision path of what you expect and where they want to go."
Players are pushing for more, and coaches are eager to provide it, and that’s made system coaching more important.
One hopes that doesn't lead to rigid, robotic players, but that underscores the challenge faced by Carbonneau or any other ex-NHLer who'd like to try coaching junior. There might be less pressure from up top, less of a media glare, but it is a player's league. To find the organizations that do not get that, start from the middle of the standings. Thankfully, the bad examples are becoming the rarities.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.