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Minnesota hockey thriving

By Harry Thompson, 08/12/09, 12:00PM MDT

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The state of hockey in the State of Hockey couldn’t be better. Just ask any of the distinguished speakers who kicked off USA Hockey’s National Hockey Coaches Symposium tonight in St. Paul, Minn.

The message to more than 580 top-level coaches from around the country was the same speaker after speaker, starting with the Minnesota District’s Coach-in-Chief Mike MacMillan right on through to Minnesota North Stars great Lou Nanne.  Despite a downturn in the economy, Minnesota boys and girls are still finding opportunities to play the game that is synonymous with the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Lou Nanne addresses the audience during day 1 of the 2009 USA Hockey National Hockey Coaches Symposium

“Sometimes we’ve done things a little different from the rest of the country but we’ve turned out some wonderful hockey players,” said USA Hockey Chairman of the Board Walter L. Bush, Jr., who received a standing ovation from the capacity crowd.

For Bush and the other speakers who call Minnesota their home, the evening was a stroll down memory lane, with a number of references to those who have made the American game what it is today.

“I’m here to tell you what hockey was like 100 years ago,” joked Bush. “It’s amazing that I’ve been involved with USA Hockey because I’ve had a dream and because I love this sport.”

Throughout the night, coaches were encouraged to make the game fun for kids, and to preach skill development over winning.

That was the message to Nanne’s keynote speech, which started off with a series of one-liners and humorous hockey stories before striking a more serious note.

“You coaches have to face the delicate balance between coaching and teaching, developing players and winning games,” said Nanne, who was recently presented with the USA Hockey Distinguished Achievement Award for all he’s done for hockey in Minnesota and around the country.

“You as a coach will see kids grow and have a great influence on them at the most critical time in their life. It’s your responsibility to make sure you don’t stifle them.”

Part of that is to keep the game fun, Nanne said.

“I tell parents all that time that it’s tough to reach the top. One thing that keeps them reaching is a love of the game. That love is developed as a youngster, and you have to make sure you don’t dry them up.”

It was a message that seemed to resonate with the coaches in the audience. And with good reason.

All of those in attendance are experienced coaches who are looking to improve their craft by attending this symposium, which is required to achieve Level 5 certification, the highest coaching level within USA Hockey.

“To quote the legendary Scottie Bowman, if you’re not learning you’re going backward,” said USA Hockey National Coach-in-Chief Al Bloomer. “While you will learn a lot from the amazing list of speakers who will present here, you’ll learn even more from talking with other coaches out in the hallway.”

During the week, an impressive series of presenters will discuss various topics from “Optimizing Your Practice” to “Dealing with today’s players and parents.” Among the list of scheduled speakers are NHL coaches Todd Richards, John Tortorella and Mike Sullivan.

This being an Olympic year, the symposium will have a distinctive Olympic flavor as Ron Wilson and Mark Johnson will speak, as well as U.S. Men’s Team General Manager Brian Burke and U.S. Sled Hockey Team Head Coach Ray Maluta.

"The National Hockey Coaches Symposium is a showcase event that offers aspiring coaches an opportunity to learn from some of the very best in the game," said Mark Tabrum, director of USA Hockey's Coaching Education Program. "We have an unbelievable lineup of speakers that will help educate and influence America's coaches."

In addition, the National Hockey Coaches Symposium will feature 12 breakout sessions on Thursday, Aug. 13, and Friday, Aug. 14. Speakers include current and former college head and assistant coaches.

The opening night speeches were but a preview of what’s to come. When coaches leave, Tabrum hopes that every coach takes to heart the message that they can shape the future of the game.

“Make sure you continue to work on skill development,” said University of Minnesota Head Coach Don Lucia. “As kids move up the ladder coaches are looking for how well they can skate, how well they can shoot, how well they can pass, not how well they forecheck.

“You do that, and you instill in them a love of the game, and you will make them successful.”

Harry Thompson is the editor of USA Hockey Magazine.

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