A new challenge

Change is a tricky thing. I crave it often. Once it’s inevitable I often find it brings unexpected emotions and a flood of memories thought to be forgotten.

After 8 years at USA Hockey, I’ve taken a new position with the Jr. Reign Youth Hockey Association in Carlsbad, CA. Trading the snow and mountains for the sandy beach is a bittersweet change. During my time with USAH, I made countless friendships, found inspiring mentors and developed new skills. I was able to work with coaches and players from all corners of our country while also representing the organization in Romania on three occasions.

Driving out of USA Hockey’s headquarters upon completing my last day.

Beyond work, I married my best friend in Colorado, learned to ski, took my first acting classes and competed in my first triathlon. Colorado became the state in which I’ve spent the most amount of time (in years) besides my home state of Arizona. The great game of hockey has taken me all over the country and world and now brings me back to the west coast. California brings a sense of wanderlust and excitement for new possibilities. Learning to surf, exploring Big Sur and Joshua Tree and developing my photography skills are high on the list. In recent days, I’ve commented to a few people that I feel like I’m on holiday right now, being brand-new to the area. When I think about it more, I often felt that way in Colorado. Whether it was driving west on I-70 to the mountains, exploring new restaurants and shops in Denver or simply glancing west at the Rocky Mountains, the magic of Colorado is just as present in California. Along with other places (Saskatchewan, Montana, Minnesota) I’ve been fortunate to spend significant time, Colorado will always be home.

Always be Learning Redux

last day pictures with the guys

A few months back, I was fortunate to write a post for our Coaches Newsletter at USA Hockey. “Always be Learning” was an analysis of my experience attending a USA Volleyball coaching seminar while comparing and contrasting some parallels and differences between these two sports as related to athlete development and coaching best practices.

I just finished an experiential coaching endeavor in Bucharest, Romania, working with their players and coaches for 16 days. Stuck in the haze of jet lag, the experience provided an optimal chance for self-reflection. This was my third summer assisting my Romanian friends and each visit provided a unique opportunity to improve my skills while experimenting with new methods of training.

Here are a few reflections from this summer;

1.) I’m not always as patient as I like to think I am. There were opportunities each day overseas when I had to remind myself to take a breath and let the guys figure some things out on their own. With the language barrier an additional wild card, the idea of athlete-centered coaching took on greater significance.

2.) Willingness to play the clown works across cultures. I’ve long thought this is an area where many coaches struggle. As much as we want to be taken seriously, letting your guard down and having fun with the athletes can help bridge some gaps while establishing greater interpersonal connections. In reflecting on my experience as a player, the best coaches were the ones I thought of as people first and foremost as opposed to the person who commanded drills and directing training.

3.) Energy is imperative. Our first ice session was about 16 hours after I landed in Romania. In a summer that’s been frantic with consecutive trips on multiple occasions, I’ve been running on fumes for some time. With jet lag, an irregular schedule and other challenges there were a few days where I felt like a dead man walking. The brutal truth; no one cares. And I wasn’t going to let my energy level be an excuse. This required multiple espressos before 10:00 AM and a commitment to be anything but an energy vampire.

4.) Gratitude rules. I’m incredibly fortunate to have spent two weeks in Romania in each of the past three summers. While seeing different parts of the country, creating new relationships and stepping out of my comfort zones, I’ve tried to maintain my self-awareness of what a unique life experience this has been.

Farewell to a legend….

I was a young guy working at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, trying to find my way in the sports industry. Working at the OTC exposed me to different sports while working with great people in an active community. I was ultimately a hockey guy at heart and, during this time, felt disconnected from the game that had consumed a huge portion of my life. Hockey programs didn’t come to the OTC very often. When the Deaflympic team came to Colorado Springs to train in winter of 2007, the program was naturally handed to me. In my role, I managed all details of their camp such as meals, transportation, venues and more; basically serving as their OTC host while on-campus. Although the Deaflympics were new to me, I immediately recognized the name of the team’s Head Coach, Jeff Sauer.
When the team arrived, I introduced myself to Coach Sauer and what I thought would be a brief introduction turned into 20 minutes of hockey talk about my background, the Deaflympic team, his ambitious plans for the camp and more. Within minutes Coach Sauer had invited me to help on the ice during practices. During the team’s stay I was fortunate to push pucks for Coach, get to know some of the players and enjoy lunches with the coaching staff. Coach Sauer was in his element; talking hockey and telling stories in his larger-than-life fashion. During one of our lunches, Coach invited to attend a Colorado Avalanche game with the team. I don’t think invited is the correct term as I think he insisted! We arrived early to the Pepsi Center and were greeted by one of Coach’s former players, Tony Granato, then working for the Avalanche. During the 2nd intermission, the team was welcomed to the ice to a standing ovation. It was a once-in-lifetime moment that left these players overwhelmed.
During that week, I was awestruck at this man. A giant in the hockey world but as humble and unassuming a person I’ve ever met. Far from the stereotypical Type-A control freak we often expect, he struck as a coach whose on-ice abilities were greatly overshadowed by his character, charisma and class. This was no easy feat considering he had coached elite players at some of the highest levels!  I’ve always cherished the memories from that week. Coach Sauer didn’t have to do any of these things but went out of his way repeatedly to involve me in their team activities. He was an amazing example of everything great about hockey and, even more impressive, a model of how to treat people with no expectation of receiving anything in return. Fact is, he gave people like me far more than he ever knew.
A few years later, I started working with USA Hockey and was fortunate to see Coach a few times a year at minimum. Whether our paths crossed in Lake Placid, Orlando, Colorado Springs, Grand Rapids or any other rink or hotel bar, I’d try to spend as much time as I could around him. I always felt like a better person from just being in his presence. A few years ago, I was at a coaching clinic in Las Vegas. My wife (Ashley) had tagged along and we were staying about a half-mile off the strip. After the clinic wrapped up on Saturday, we were planning to find a restaurant and maybe gamble a little. On our way out of the hotel, we stopped by the bar and found Coach Sauer. We sat down and ended up parked there for about 3 hours. This was Ashley’s first encounter with Coach and she came away equally impressed by his charismatic personality and welcoming demeanor.
In the ensuing years, each time I saw Coach Sauer the first two questions he would pose were 1.) “How is Ashley?” and 2.) “Did you ride your bike here?”
He knew of our affinity for cycling and triathlon and always wanted to know about our next race or riding adventure. Without hockey, I never would have met Coach Sauer. I was privileged to know him well enough where we could chat about our great game but it was never a priority. Rest in Peace Coach Sauer!

Is Sidney Crosby getting better with age?

It was only 10-11 months ago. Many hockey people were saying the Penguins’ captain looked tired and ordinary as his team hovered around the edges of playoff contention. He was a passenger on a mediocre team. After a coaching change, some tweaks in the team’s systems and a dominant run through the Stanley Cup Playoffs, #87 looks poised to regain the title of the game’s best player. While any player with a history of concussions is one body check away from early retirement, Crosby has had an unbelievable last few months after winning the Conn Smythe trophy in June and just last night being named the MVP of the World Cup.

A recent interview came with an insightful look at Crosby’s highs and lows along with a simple yet brilliant point about athletics and performance.

“When he’s at his best, he’s always smiling on the ice.” There’s no doubt he’s a tireless worker who possesses an elite skill set along with the intangibles of a champion. But is having fun the wild card in his DNA as a player?

We don’t typically associate professional sports with fun and smiling. After all, pro athletes are highly-paid men and women who tirelessly devote their lives to mastering skills in the pursuit of championships and glory.

In simplest terms, high-level athletics is like anything on the base level. When we are having fun, the magic happens……the flow…..where time stands stills and training or playing becomes automatic.

He’s only 29. It will be fun to see what’s next for #87!