What are NHL coaches doing during quarantine? Coaching other coaches

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Jim Corsi is the Columbus Blue Jackets‘ goaltending development coach, working with the organization’s prospects around the world. He’s also the goaltending coach for Columbus’ AHL team and a part-time scout for the draft. In other words: Corsi travels a lot to teach, evaluate and share his experiences about goaltending.

In mid-January, Corsi was in Prague. He then returned home to Montreal, then took a mini-vacation to Phoenix. By March, he was getting ready to visit the Blue Jackets’ minor league goaltenders in Cleveland, then head to Ann Arbor, Michigan, for the IIHF under-18 championships when he got a call from his bosses: “If you don’t have to fly, don’t. If you have to drive, don’t go too far.” Then the NHL season was shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, and Corsi was stuck at home for the foreseeable future.

Even though Corsi’s typical job functions came to a screeching halt, the 65-year-old didn’t stop teaching. In late March, Corsi — who has been an NHL coach for nearly 20 years — sat on his couch and fired up his laptop with a PowerPoint presentation. He spoke into his webcam: “Today’s topic is goaltending, and there are some specificities that we’re going to go through. I’m going to try to demystify the mystery of goaltending.”

Tuning in to Corsi’s one-hour presentation (followed by a Q&A session)? More than 600 hockey coaches around the world.

“As tough as it is to get through and make it to the highest level [in the NHL], there’s a certain level of humility and understanding of, ‘Geez, I came from there, and this is where I am today,'” says Corsi, who was once a high school math and science teacher. “So it’s really special to give back and share ideas like this, for the betterment of hockey.”

NHL coaches can’t really coach right now, since hockey isn’t being played. So they’re spending their newfound time coaching one another. The NHL Coaches’ Association expedited the launch of its mentorship program by six months to accommodate the thousands of coaches stuck inside and looking for enrichment.

So far, 2,800 coaches from more than 30 countries have participated, including coaches from youth hockey, men’s, women’s, college and the professional ranks. They are welcome to stream (or link to later) such offerings as Buffalo Sabres coach Ralph Krueger’s presentation, “My Coaching Journey,” which has been a popular pick since Krueger has an unconventional path that includes time as chairman of Southampton FC in the English Premier League. Coaches can also watch Capitals assistant coach Blaine Forsythe’s presentation, “Penalty Kill Pre/Post Scout”; Calgary coach Geoff Ward’s talk titled “A Head Coach’s Role in Player Communication and Relationship Giving”; Blue Jackets assistant Brad Shaw‘s lecture, “Penalty Kill: How to Shape it for Your Current Athletes”; or a dozen other offerings, with more added each week.

“There was a time when coaches got their own information and were very protective, just because of how competitive this industry is,” says Tim Army, coach of the AHL’s Iowa Wild. “But you do realize we’re all going through the same things, and it’s nice to share ideas, share thoughts, share emotions. It helps us all grow. And, also, as we’re all stuck at home wondering what’s going to happen here, with our lifestyles and routines really disrupted, it’s been nice to have this diversion. It feels great to hear from other coaches and just be interactive like that.”

Army is back home in Maine, where he has watched a few presentations. He really took to a presentation given by Vegas Golden Knights assistant coach Steve Spott about what it’s like to join a team midseason (something that Spott did this current season). “I really liked his point about not giving too much information too early,” Army says. “He said they came in and tried to tweak some things [in Vegas], but they were really patient in implementing it. Since it was a good team, a well-coached team, a successful team, they didn’t want to overload them and made sure they just got out there and played.”

What’s especially interesting about the NHLCA mentorship program is the outreach and inclusion of women’s coaches. NHLCA president Lindsay Artkin has had calls with several women’s coaches, asking them what type of programming they would like to see.

“There’s always sort of been this male network of coaches,” says Katey Stone, the Harvard women’s coach. “They share ideas, they’re a little less protective of their material. It’s typically been hard on the women’s side to have those kinds of connections.”

Adds Melody Davidson, the longtime coach and executive of the Canadian women’s national team: “We all know that when a new management team comes in, the new owners come in, they look for people they know or people they have relationships with. So hopefully this is the first step, the doors being open for more women to become part of the NHL environment.”

One of the most watched seminars so far is one geared toward women’s hockey. Then-Winnipeg Jets assistant Todd Woodcroft — who on Wednesday was named men’s head coach at the University of Vermont — spent an hour watching tape of a game from the U.S.-Canada women’s rivalry series and broke it down from a pre-scouting perspective. “I approached it to show them this isn’t the be-all, end-all way to do it, it’s just how I see things,” Woodcroft says. “And this is how I would present it to [Jets head coach Paul Maurice], of what he ends up seeing, and this would be the final message we get to our players, that’s going to come from the work we did watching this video.”

Lee-J Mirasolo, an assistant Harvard women’s coach, sat in on a presentation by Woodcroft last year at the American Collegiate Hockey Association convention in Naples, Florida. “I had been going to this event for a decade, and I had never heard a men’s hockey coach use ‘she’ and ‘her’ in his presentation,” Mirasolo says. “The fact that I was so taken by that speaks volumes to where we’re at in our game.”

Mirasolo immediately sent Woodcroft an email. He emailed her back 10 minutes later. Since then, they’ve developed a natural friendship, with Woodcroft adopting a mentorship role.

“I think what it comes down to is access,” Mirasolo says. “Individually we all have access to different people. If we only talk to each other in our small little group, we’re not taking full advantage of the best and brightest people out there. So to have access to the most talented coaches in the world, organized access like this, it’s really unprecedented. I love that we are having more conversations and more mentorships that transcend gender. That just makes us all better.”

Mirasolo is 33 and just beginning her coaching journey. Davidson is into the second half of her career and is now the head scout for the Canada women’s national program.

“We have this time right now, and I think if you approach it properly as a person and a professional, you should emerge on the other side as a better version of yourself,” Davidson says. “This is a program that keeps you fresh, that keeps you excited and passionate. I think the other part is about giving back. If you’re part of new initiatives that you wish were in place when you were going through the system, then you feel like there’s some growth.”



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