Youth coaches must not “lose the room”

With over fifty games remaining and a .500 record through the first thirty contests, the Ottawa Senators elected to fire Head Coach Paul MacLean on the first day of December.  MacLean is the first and only NHL coach to be relieved of their duties this season. The media suggests he lost the ear of the locker room.

Blame it on the Canadian hockey market or MacLean’s farewell address, but this coaching change speaks volumes about the psychology of a dressing room and as to why we can’t stop talking about it.  MacLean’s fallout in Ottawa sheds light upon the dynamic of the working relationships between a coach, its players, and the team collectively.

Looking back at the NHL preseason projections, analysts agreed that the Senators roster was that of a non-playoff team, perhaps a bubble-team, exactly where they currently stand (just 3 points shy of a playoff spot). This has lead the hockey world to wonder “Well, what did you expect?”

The players expected what they got last year out of MacLean: a players-coach, as they say. But, MacLean’s inability to stay optimistic in post-game interviews may have drained any confidence the Senators had left, and surely ticked off management.

“All I know is I’m scared to death no matter who we’re playing,” MacLean said before Saturday’s game when TSN’s Chris Cuthbert asked if he’d be more worried facing a hot or cold Sidney Crosby. “Whether it’s Sidney Crosby or John Tavares or the Sedins, I go day-by-day and I’m just scared to death every day of who we’re playing.

Never afraid to stir-up controversy, however, MacLean doesn’t mince words. He also doesn’t wear an ear piece during games, refuses to buy into the emergence of advanced stats, and yet, he has won at every level.  Senators management grew tired of MacLean’s antics when the wins became scarce.

Old school versus a new age hockey philosophy, the players could care less. MacLean’s personality-change is what evidently cost him his job, and consequently led to the players drowning his message out. “You’re dammed if you hold the players accountable and you’re dammed when you are too loose” said NHL Network analyst Jamie McClellan. However, the latter brashness of acting high-handed with the team was seemingly too much to withstand for the promising young Senators.

Relationships are organic, dynamic entities, consistently requiring work and communication to ensure functionality. We the media label situations as abysmal–the coach lost the room, it’s done and perhaps there’s no time to mend relationships during the rigors of the NHL season.

With that being said, there is time in youth sports, and perhaps there is no better place to mend a relationship then the one between a novice coach and a young player. Inexperience at the helm can cripple a pretender to believing they’re contenders, and when momentum shifts south it’s easy to lose control. Be a leader, keep learning, and better your young team.  Youth hockey coaches must not lose the room, especially when the season is still young.

If this editorial contributes to the notion that it’s all on the coach, and NHL players must be coddled, then here is a former coach who gets right to the point of the debate.

New York Rangers Head Coach John Tortorella on management using coaches as scapegoats “Its crap! It’s another situation of just saying, alright boys you’re okay, you’re off the hook, comeback next year, its bull shit.”


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