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Cornered Coach: The "Franchise" Guy


You always treat your "franchise guy" a little differently.

At training camp this year, Toronto Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle admitted there's a different set of rules for Phil Kessel, explaining that "artists" need some leeway to express themselves.

A few weeks ago, meanwhile, Carlyle gave in to Kessel's request for more ice time. In the end, of course, all the "Kessel coddling" failed, as Carlyle was fired—leaving it up to the new bench boss, Peter Horachek, to try and push the buttons of "Phil the Thrill.”

It's a fine line when a coach is dealing with talented players. How do you motivate them without treating them with so much extra care that you cheese off the rest of your line-up?

Earlier this year, the Atom house league squad I coach was running away with the league, thanks in large part to a great little player named Chris. A powerful skater, he could often weave his way around the entire opposition and he worked just as hard on his back checking too.

His only downside?

Because he's so talented, Chris would sometimes get frustrated playing with not-so-talented Avalanche linemates. For instance, on one occasion, he slammed his stick and shook his head when one of his teammates, still not clear on offsides, jumped over the blue line in the middle of a typical rush by Chris. I immediately pulled him off the ice for a little chat.

"Buddy," I said, "You can't get upset with your teammates. Some of them are just learning the game. You're our best player so instead of getting mad, you've got to help them out."

To his credit, Chris bought in to my coaching critique. In fact, he even ran some of our drills at practice, as the coaches wanted to underline his responsibility in making his teammates better.

In November, unfortunately, we were forced to "trade" Chris to a weaker team, as league organizers wanted to even things out. The good news, however, is we still have Eoin (our Irish "Owen") who is also a fantastic player.

Eoin is a very quiet, polite kid who makes things very simple for the coaches. It's always much easier when your best player is low maintenance and also has plenty of patience.

Eoin, for example, was very patient when it came to waiting for his turn to receive the "hustle" hockey cards the Avalanche hand out after every game. Inevitably, Eoin would score a ton of goals… only to watch another player walk away with the cards in the coaching staff's attempt to make everyone feel part of the team.

It reminded me of my all-time favourite hockey joke.

As the made-up story goes, broadcaster Dick Irvin and Montreal Canadiens legend Rocket Richard are on Hockey Night in Canada picking the three stars.

"Rocket," asks Irvin, "who do you like?"

"Well Dick," (and it's even funnier if you use a thick French accent) "the third star is my brother Henri for winning some big faceoffs. The second star goes to Serge Savard who was very solid on defence. And what can you say about big Jean Beliveau? He's the first star."

"Ah, okay Rocket," replies Irvin. "Any honourable mentions?"

“Well Dick," says Richard, "you gotta hand it to that Bobby Orr. After all, he's the guy who scored the six goals that beat us!"


Eventually, Eoin did land those "hustle" hockey cards, putting a big grin on his face.

Kind of like the smile on the face of the coaches when they realize their best player is also one of their best little guys.   

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