Hitchcock, friends created a mentoring program for coaches

SCOTT ZERR -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:58 PM ET

During last year's NHL lockout, Ken Hitchcock had a lot of time on his hands.

It was then the veteran coach picked up on a trend he found disturbing. A number of young coaches, some of whom Hitchcock knew from days when they played for him, were being fired from their positions in minor hockey.

As he discovered, those aspiring bench bosses lost their jobs because they fell into many of the same awkward situations that Hitchcock himself had been in.

Hitchcock knew then that something had to be done to assist coaches who were willing to put their time, energy and reputations on the line for teenage players. With the help of several longtime friends in Sherwood Park, Hitchcock played a key role in the launching of the TECH program - Teaching and Educating Coaches in Hockey.

"It's going to benefit the players tremendously," said Hitchcock after a recent Philadelphia Flyers practice. "They are going to get more qualified coaches every year who are much more calm because they know if that if they dig themselves into a hole, there are going to be people around who can help them get out.

LEFT TO FEND FOR HIMSELF

"A lot of programs start with information, but there is no guidance after that. Through the year a coach is left to fend for himself, and at the end of the year he's often fired because no one has guided him. There were a lot of times when I thought I was doing the right thing, no one gave me any guidance and I fell into a trap. If it wasn't for my mentors like Bob McGill and Clare Drake and Phil Clarke, I'd probably still be selling sporting goods."

Hitchcock's own coaching career skyrocketed after his successful stint with the Sherwood Park midget triple-A Chain Gang. He moved on to the Kamloops Blazers where he won two WHL titles and was an assistant with Team Canada, which captured gold at the 1987 world junior championship. His resume since then includes the 1999 Stanley Cup banner with Dallas and gold at both the 2002 Winter Olympics and the 2004 World Cup.

During the NHL lockout, Hitchcock undertook a mentoring role with three teams, including the Princeton University Tigers. From there he decided to build off a plan first introduced at Hockey Canada's Open Ice Summit in 1999 and start TECH rolling. In less than two full seasons, the program now has 20 mentors working with Sherwood Park Minor Hockey, the Sherwood Park Kings Athletic Club and Strathcona Minor Hockey.

"If Strathcona County is able to pull this off, it should be the marquee program to be followed all across Canada," said Hitchcock.

The object of the program is to align a new coach with an experienced former coach, who will act as a mentor on any number of subjects ranging from how to handle parents to a particular philosophy on forechecking.

ABOUT SYSTEM ANALYSIS

"At the rep levels, it's about system analysis, but the main thing is it recognizes coaches as a great resource in a minor hockey program," said mentor John Fisher, who has spent more than 30 years in coaching since playing for the Edmonton Oilers of the WHA in the early '70s.

"It's a group that has, for the most part, been ignored. A coach is given a team and then he's been dropped off on his own. It's a big job and this program can provide some help. It's not meant to criticize or for rating - it's totally for support."

As a 25-year-old, Matt Shudra is only four years removed from playing for the team he now coaches, the Sherwood Park junior 'B' Knights. Shudra was Fisher's understudy as both a player and assistant coach and is now a benefactor of his mentor's advice.

"Coaching can be pretty lonely. If you're lost or when you need some help, it's great to have someone to listen to and just reassure you," said Shudra.

"I never go to him with a problem. I go with a solution to a problem, and we work through it to see if the solution is the right way to go. It's just to have some backup and make sure you're doing things the right way."


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