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New coaching guidebook is a much-needed resource

Providence College coach Nate Leaman is one of several coaches who contributed to The Hockey Coaching Bible.Winslow Townson for The Boston Globe/File 2015/Globe Freelance

Last month, Joe Bertagna spoke at a USA Hockey coaching clinic in Waltham. The Hockey East commissioner estimated there were 60 coaches there. By the clinic's conclusion, Bertagna had sold approximately 35 of the books, albeit at a discount, that he was responsible for editing.

"That's a sign," Bertagna said, "that there's a hunger for it."

The book Bertagna sold is "The Hockey Coaching Bible," published in September by Human Kinetics. It is a 16-chapter paperback edited by Bertagna in collaboration with Brion O'Connor. Most of the chapters were written by former or current college hockey coaches. There is a range of experience, from Harvard legend Bill Cleary to current Providence College coach Nate Leaman. It is a welcome addition to book shelves that are not exactly overflowing with hockey knowledge.


Hockey books trail their baseball, football, and basketball counterparts. In the United States, publishers are wary about committing resources to projects that don't provide a good return on investment. Therefore, some prospective hockey titles never leave the proverbial dressing room.

Other than "The Game," Ken Dryden's thoughtful and timeless take on life in the NHL, there are not many options for readers seeking pucks intelligence.

There is also institutional hesitation among the sharpest hockey minds to make their thoughts part of the public record. Coaches do not hold back when expounding on amorphous subjects such as compete level, paying the price, and sticking to the game plan. But they are not eager to discuss the X-and-O intricacies of what they're devising on their whiteboards or showing during video sessions. The game is competitive.

So the more resources for improving intelligence there are, the better the game becomes. Amateur coaches, the target audience for Bertagna's collection, are hungry for guidance that goes deeper than "Hockey For Dummies."

"One of the missions is to share knowledge, particularly those closer to the top of the pyramid than the bottom," said Bertagna of the American Hockey Coaches Association, the group to which college coaches claim membership. "I hear the laments that the college hockey season is so long, and the competition is so fierce that they can't always give time in the community.


"With a book like this, we don't make a lot of money. But one of the coaches donated exactly what he was paid. He donated it back to the Coaches Care charity. They understand they do have a responsibility to share."

Some of the book's notables:

  Designating a team council. Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky related an anecdote from 2004-05. At the time, Gadowsky was coaching Princeton. He had help that season from then-Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock during the NHL lockout. Hitchcock suggested Gadowsky form a five-player council that would help communicate the staff’s message to the team. The council included at least one member from each class and one player from every position. “The group immediately took ownership in the program,” Gadowsky wrote, “and some of the best suggestions for positive change were implemented by this council.”

  Pre-practice quote. Every afternoon, University of Connecticut coach Mike Cavanaugh posts a quote in the dressing room to set the tone for that day. Early in the season, Cavanaugh selects a quote to underscore teamwork. In the playoffs, the quotes shift to highlight the importance of winning. Before an October practice, a line Cavanaugh chose was from Red Auerbach: “Once a player thinks he is bigger than the team, you no longer have a team.” Before a practice in April, the quote was from editor Howard E. Ferguson: “If you play not to lose instead of playing to win, you’ll put unnecessary pressure on yourself.”

  Defenseman fundamentals. Former Boston University coach Jack Parker reminds blue liners how they should play: skate low with rear end over the heels, minimize crossovers to keep a good center of gravity, keep one hand on the stick to increase mobility, minimize arm movement to keep balance, and play with stick in front and on the ice to reduce an opponent’s space. Defensemen should have two hands on their sticks only when they’ve established net-front position and when they’re engaging opponents on the boards. Parker suggested taping a tennis ball to the bottom hand to reinforce the habit of the top hand holding the stick.

 The center’s role in breakouts. Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy noted how in recent years, coaches want their wings as close to the blue line as possible so they can get the puck out of the zone quicker. This makes the center’s job even more important. The center has to swing low to support the weak-side defenseman. The center also has to be available curling up for the weak-side wing after a hard wrap around the boards.

  Adjusting power-play swings to the penalty-killing forecheck. If a power play uses three players back to start the breakout, the two swingers should skate based on the depth of the first forecheck, wrote former Denver coach George Gwozdecky. If F1 is aggressive, the two power-play attackers should swing lower to be in position for short outlet passes. If F1 is passive, the puck carrier should skate at him and the swingers should start higher. Reads and timing are crucial to a successful breakout.


Chara on duty after power play

Through 12 games, the Bruins had gone on the power play 40 times and scored 14 man-up goals. They'd allowed just one goal within one minute of completing their opportunities, successful or not.

Zdeno Chara is a big part of their post-PP results. The Bruins have been deploying Chara for most of their shifts after each power play, partly because of the strength of their No. 1 unit.

In 2006-07, Chara averaged 5:13 of man-advantage ice time per game. In comparison, Chara is logging only 1:43 of PP time per game this year, the lowest of his Boston career.

Chara's man-up work is down because the first unit has been so good. Torey Krug, point man on the No. 1 group, is averaging 3:36 of PP action per game.

If Krug's group scores, Claude Julien can tap Chara for a post-PP shift, usually against top opponents. Even when the first group hasn't scored, it's gotten enough good looks that it's eaten up most of the two-minute segment. This leaves the second unit, which features Chara and Colin Miller at the point, with less time to do its work.


Coaches hate allowing goals after a power play. It is a kick to the teeth that produces a significant momentum swing.

The Bruins learned this the hard way Oct. 12 in a 6-3 loss to Tampa Bay. After they failed to score with Andrej Sustr in the box for hooking, the Lightning scored four seconds after the penalty expired. David Pastrnak coughed up the puck, Brian Boyle went the other way, and he snapped a 2-2 tie by slipping a shot through Tuukka Rask.

But with Chara on the ice, either as part of the second unit or a post-PP five-on-five unit, the Bruins have otherwise held their ground.


Entry-level deals could use a tweak

Dougie Hamilton is an ex-Bruin. This might not be the case had the collective bargaining agreement allowed the Bruins to renegotiate Hamilton's contract before the expiration of his entry-level deal.

"If you could redo a kid like Hamilton after the first year or second year, that's where the big benefit to teams would be," said Boston agent Neil Abbott. "You're making $850,000 guaranteed. Forget about bonuses. How about making $2.5 million guaranteed after your second year?

"Injuries are always a factor. Every agent has the same major concern. A guy's going into his last year on an up curve. What happens if he gets hurt?"


The NHL likes cost certainty, especially when it comes to entry-level contracts. Connor McDavid, for example, will earn $925,000 annually in base salary through 2018, regardless of whether he is worth 10 times more. The Oilers will enjoy the biggest bang for their bucks during McDavid's first three seasons.

Abbott's belief is that had the NHL and the Players Association allowed contracts to be restructured prior to expiration, teams would save money and enjoy greater roster flexibility. Abbott uses Hamilton as an example.

Even after just one pro season, the Bruins had a good idea that Hamilton would become a top-two NHL defenseman. Teams that could accurately project young players' development could tear up entry-level contracts after one or two years and offer prompt raises.

It's hard to say whether Hamilton would have said yes to restructuring after one season. He would have ceded leverage, which he eventually used in a big way by asking out after his third year. It paid off for Hamilton, who got his wish to leave Boston, then scored a six-year, $34.75 million second contract with Calgary.

Connor McDavid was the top pick in the 2015 NHL draft.Jason Franson/The Canadian Press/AP/File 2015

Can't-miss players like McDavid would most likely wait until after their third season. They would gain bargaining power by becoming eligible to sign offer sheets.

McDavid is due for a mammoth score with his second contract, one that is likely to set the standard for post-entry-level deals.

But players in the next tier might be interested in bigger bucks sooner.


"Every time you take a team out to term, you're always rolling the dice," Abbott said. "It worked out for me a number of times. But don't think there isn't a lot of anxiety and sleepless nights. Injury does strike. It's a huge factor. There are bigger, stronger, and physical men. There's monsters out there."

The CBA expires after 2022. It's possible, albeit unlikely, that restructuring contracts is considered for the next deal.

As much as the league likes cost certainty, there might be some creative GMs eager to stretch their legs and devise solutions outside the current template (long-term extensions or bridge deals out of entry level).

"Having flexibility to move sooner would be a benefit to GMs," Abbott said. "It would benefit players by giving them an instant raise. You're not blowing up the whole system. The only guys you'd consider redoing are the guys who are really excelling."


Euros increase in the crease

When the Stars visited Boston Tuesday, there were three Finns and one Swede wearing goalie masks: Tuukka Rask, Kari Lehtonen, Antti Niemi, and Jonas Gustavsson. The Bruins and Stars have two of the seven European goaltending tandems in the league. The others: Henrik Lundqvist (Sweden) and Antti Raanta (Finland) of the Rangers; Jaroslav Halak (Slovakia) and Thomas Greiss (Germany) of the Islanders; Frederik Andersen (Denmark) and Anton Khudobin (Russia) of the Ducks; Semyon Varlamov (Russia) and Reto Berra (Switzerland) of the Avalanche; and Karri Ramo (Finland) and Joni Ortio (Finland) of the Flames. Goaltending used to be dominated by Canada. This isn't the case anymore.

Stewart breaks the ice in Anaheim

Chris Stewart, who was once in the Bruins' crosshairs, is finally showing a pulse in Anaheim. The 6-foot-2-inch, 231-pounder had a 0-0—0 line in his first nine games. He played less than 10 minutes in three straight games against Nashville, Minnesota, and Dallas. But he finally broke his scoreless streak with a one-goal, two-assist performance in the Ducks' 4-2 win over the Predators last Sunday. One game later, playing mostly with Carl Hagelin and Patrick Maroon, Stewart punched in another goal while logging a season-high 16:10 of ice time in a 3-2 shootout win over Florida. The Bruins were interested in Stewart last year while he was with Buffalo. He was eventually traded to Minnesota. During the offseason, Stewart signed a one-year, $1.7 million deal with Anaheim. He's playing for his NHL life now.

In Minnesota, D is for deep

Like most teams, the Bruins are searching for help on defense. Minnesota is in the minority. The Wild go five deep with quality, and have others itching to enter the rotation. Ryan Suter is Minnesota's rock, averaging 26:41 of ice time through 11 games. The Wild follow up with four good defensemen, all 25 or younger: Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, Jonas Brodin, and Matt Dumba. They're all good skaters and smart players, which gives the group cohesion and a pace-pushing identity. Nate Prosser and former UMass-Lowell defenseman Christian Folin have been fighting for the No. 6 spot. The Wild also have Mike Reilly developing in the AHL. Defense is the Wild's position of strength. This puts GM Chuck Fletcher in a good position when his counterparts inquire whether he'd be willing to part with any of his pieces. The Wild are in no rush to deal. If that time comes, the price will be high.

Terrific twosome in Tampa

There aren't many defensive pairings better than Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman. Tampa Bay's top tandem does everything right. They play against top lines. They defend with good positioning, active sticks, and physicality when necessary. They contribute offensively. But coach Jon Cooper does not lean on Hedman and Stralman the way other coaches ride their best defensemen. Through 15 games, Stralman was averaging only 21:26 of ice time per game. Hedman was averaging 21:25 after 14 games. Cooper asks a lot of his defensemen. Tampa plays man-to-man defense, which means the defensemen are skating more than their zone-playing counterparts. They're up at the blue lines, down in the corners, and clearing traffic in front of the net. It's hard work. Cooper is active at making sure his defensemen don't run out of gas.

Bickell getting left behind

Unless injuries strike Chicago's forwards, it's unlikely that Bryan Bickell will be back with the varsity anytime soon. The hulking left wing, demoted to the AHL last Monday, makes too much money ($4 million annually through 2017) to merit a roster spot. Bickell scored the tying goal in Game 6 against the Bruins in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. But after being placed on waivers at the start of this season, his response was to go scoreless in seven straight games. The 29-year-old's lack of quickness, compounded with a flattening in confidence, no longer fits Chicago's go-go approach. A buyout at year's end would set him loose. But Chicago can't afford to carry dead money on its payroll. It will be up to Bickell to find his game in the AHL. The Blackhawks aren't holding their breath.

Loose pucks

Ales Hemsky played in the first 12 games, but the Dallas right wing couldn't go against the Bruins Tuesday in the second of back-to-back games. Hemsky is still recovering from offseason hip surgery. Teammates Jamie Benn and Valeri Nichushkin are also coming off hip procedures . . . Bruins forward Chris Kelly (broken left leg), unrestricted at year's end, will have a hard time landing his next NHL contract. Kelly will turn 35 on Wednesday. The ex-Senator may have some close company knocking on GMs' doors. Former Ottawa teammate Chris Neil will also be a UFA at year's end. The 36-year-old Neil was averaging 8:20 of ice time through 12 games. Like Kelly, Neil is highly regarded around the league . . . Tickets are available for The Tradition, the Sports Museum's annual event, which will be held Dec. 2 at TD Garden. Gerry Cheevers is among those being honored. Former Bruins GM Harry Sinden will present the two-time Stanley Cup-winning goalie. Tickets are $200. For more information, call 617-624-1231 or visit www.sportsmuseum.org . . . Of all the surprising stats, none is a bigger head-scratcher than the zero next to Jakub Voracek's goal line through 13 games. In Philadelphia, that's the kind of thing that gets your tires slashed.

Fresh faces

Sure there's Connor McDavid (12 points) and Jack Eichel (five goals), but there are several other players who have made immediate impacts in their rookie seasons, and with much less fanfare. Here are six such examples (statistics through Thursday):

Compiled by Sean Smith

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.