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2006 Coaches Symposium helps American coaches raise the hockey bar

07/13/2006, 12:30pm EDT
By Harry Thompson

The current success of American coaches isn't just found in the fact that the last two Stanley Cup titles were won by homegrown coaches, or that more top-level positions are held by those who have come up through the USA Hockey system.

It can also be found in the passion Americans have to keep learning and improve their craft. Nowhere is that more evident than the participation in the National Coaches Symposium, the pinnacle of USA Hockey's Coaching Education Program.

Nearly 500 coaches from around the United States have come to Rochester, N.Y., for this weeks event, which features some of the best and brightest minds in hockey talking about everything from team dynamics to running a more efficient and effective practice.

"We start all of our classes by asking coaches, 'How many of you are here because your association said you had to be here?,' " said Dave Temkin, New York District Coach-in-Chief, after the event's kickoff. "If I asked that question tonight, nary a hand would be raised. That in itself is a testament to the passion of the American coach."

The National Coaching Symposium began in 1984 as the brainchild of Ken Johannson, the creator of USA Hockey's Coaching Education Program and is normally held every other year, but after last year's event yielded a waiting list of more than 200, the plan was to bring the program back again this year.

The USA Hockey Coaching Education Program hosts 800 coaching clinics each year at Levels 1, 2 and 3 -- 16 Level 4 clinics occur annually and the Level 5 (Masters) clinic is generally held every two years. However, due to the overwhelming response in 2005 in Grand Rapids, Mich., this year's symposium was added.

To become a Level 5 certified coach, an individual must complete the certification program for Levels 1-4, attend the National Hockey Coaches Symposium and write a thesis on a topic approved by USA Hockey.

The National Hockey Coaches Symposium, presented by Easton Sports and Labatt Blue, kicked off Wednesday night with a keynote address from Scotty Bowman, the NHL's all-time winningest coach.

Bowman, who lives in nearby Amherst, had the full attention of the room, reflecting on a career that started as a Midget coach in Montreal and culminated in his ninth Stanley Cup title in 2002 with the Detroit Red Wings. He was impressed by the turnout here in Rochester.

"These guys are trying to get to the Level 5, which is a good accomplishment," said Bowman. "Theyre going to learn a lot this week. I just opened [the event], but they have some real good coaches here who will help them become better coaches."

When Bowman started coaching more than 50 years ago, it was difficult to learn the Xs and Os of the game. A program like this is something he wishes was available back when he was coaching.

"The information highway is so huge now that if a guy wants to get into coaching, he has access to a lot of good information, which when I started you had to search it out," Bowman said. "At the same time, whether its out there or not, you have to have the desire to go get it."

USA Hockey President Ron DeGregorio opened the Thursday session with a brief presentation on the new standards of rules enforcement that USA Hockey will implement this year. He was followed on the podium by USA Hockey Executive Director Dave Ogrean and Mark Tabrum, director of USA Hockey's Coaching Education Program.

"I'm impressed to see an audience of this size that is interested in self improvement," said Ogrean.

Tabrum said that in addition to running the event in consecutive years, a number of new wrinkles have been added to the 2006 program, including on-ice sessions that will focus on skating and running effective practices.

There is also a distinct international flavor to this years program. Among the featured speakers during the four-day event are Ludek Bukac, former Olympic head coach for Czech Republic and current Olympic head coaches Ralph Krueger (Switzerland) and Erkka Westerlund (Finland).

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