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Cornered Coach: A.K.A. The Hoarse Whisperer

There's a reason Mike Toth is reduced to sign language on the bench... coaching is tough on the old tonsils!




How can a professional broadcaster trained to use their vocal chords lose his voice so quickly?

It's simple.

Just sign on to coach your 8-year-old's Novice house league hockey team. Our first few games are in the books, and even though we're off to an 0-2 start, I'm proud and passionate to be a Penguin. But, man, is there ever a lot of talking involved.

Greeting parents and kids when they show up for the first time so they feel comfortable in their new surroundings; chatting with league organizers as they hand over the goalie gear your team will use for the season; huddling with assistant coaches to delegate bench duties.

Then, the game begins and the real screaming starts. "Get back! Go up! Shoot it out! Hold on to it! Off the boards! Up the middle!"

I know what you're thinking: "Heck! No wonder your guys lost, Toth."

But all kidding aside, by the time the third period rolled around, my pipes were completely shot and my mixed messages had to be delivered in a whisper. Fortunately, however, I have three fantastic assistants who are sharing the coaching duties for our Penguins adventure. All of us have boys on the team, and all of us bring different personalities to the bench.

Greg Hunter is the quiet one of the group – smart, since he doesn't have to worry about trashing his tonsils – but has a keen eye for detail. Case in point, Greg's the guy who brings along stickers of our team roster so we can paste it to the official game sheet and avoid writing the darn thing out by hand every time.

Rob Scarcello has a great sense of humor, which every team needs during a long season. For our second game, we started a first-time goalie and the poor little guy promptly let in the first nine shots he faced. At one point during the onslaught, Rob yelled that we should make a line change on the fly. Just at that moment, however, our opposition gained puck possession and I said, "Rob, I don't think we need to worry." In no time at all the puck was back in our net, our line change was complete and with a big smile Rob replied, "I see what you mean."

Hey, if you can't laugh at yourself when you're losing, the other team is just going to do it for you, right?

Greg Schell is the third member of our coaching staff, and we're very lucky to have him. Greg, you see, is the minor hockey development coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs and earns his living by running all the various clinics for kids and coaches that the Leafs stage during the NHL season. I haven't been behind a bench for 30 years and Greg is an invaluable guy to learn from. In fact, I've asked Greg to run all our practices this year. He agreed, but was a little concerned about stepping on the head coach's toes.

"Greg," I told him. "It's like a pair of artists being commissioned to do the King's official portrait. One painter is named Picasso, and the other guy did the "Dogs playing Poker" picture. Who are you gonna go with?"

In life, and in coaching hockey, you have to play to people's strengths.

Greg Hunter is the details guy; Rob Scarcello helps keep the mood light; Greg Schell is the "Hockey Practice Picasso".

And me?

I'm the guy whispering hoarsely on the bench and having the time of his life.  

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