In October, Ryan Carter – the associate coach-in-chief of USA Hockey’s Atlantic District – was able to spend three full days with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program in Plymouth, Michigan, as part of the NTDP’s coaching co-op program. There, Carter was able to learn from the NTDP’s on-ice and off-ice coaching and support staff in a unique way.
We caught up with Carter, a USA Hockey Level 5-certified coach, to discuss what he was able to gain from the experience.
USA Hockey: Can you give us an overview of the weekend?
Ryan Carter: I really didn’t know what to expect when I was going in there. I thought I was just going to view a couple practices, maybe sit in the press box for the games, and then go from there, and that was pretty much it. Maybe a little interaction with the coaches, but that’s it. To my surprise, I was right in the middle of it all. From the very first day, I sat in on their practice-planning meetings, their player meetings with their video sessions. I sat in on pre-game talks, in-between periods, postgame talks with the players in the locker room. I was right in the middle of it all. It was a first-hand experience of the day-to-day operations, soup to nuts.
USA Hockey: How cool was it to watch all of that stuff play out?
Carter: It was unbelievable to watch that happen. It’s kind of funny. They’re dealing with 16- and 17-year-old kids, and for me as a high school coach, you’re dealing with kids with the same issues and going through the same things. It was nice to see.
USA Hockey: How welcoming was the staff?
Carter: I didn’t want to disrupt any part of their season or their training or their focus. I just thought I’d be off to the side. These guys got me right in there. They would ask me questions, and since I’ve left, I’ve actually spoken to a few of the coaches, just bouncing some ideas off them. It’s been a unique experience that continues to give.
USA Hockey: What were some of the highlights of things you were able to learn while you were there?
Carter: I think the highlight was really just the process of how everything goes before the players even get to the rink and the mindsets that the coaches have. It’s not just one of the coaches saying, ‘Hey this is what we’re doing.’ It’s coaching by committee, in a sense. Obviously the head coaches have final say in how they’re going to do it, but it’s not beneath them to listen to what the other coaches have to say and how to get to their overall goal. I think the process of how they coach and their mindset and approach, I think that was the biggest thing for me, the biggest take-back I had. I’ve already incorporated some of that stuff into my high school season, how we’re trying to approach our practices. Obviously we don’t have as many practices or the accessibility to some of the ice and training facilities that they have, but to try to take it down to our level, that’s really the biggest thing I’ve brought back from it.
USA Hockey: Learning from strength and conditioning coach Darryl Nelson with the off-ice component, what was that like?
Carter: That was pretty cool. You could see that the players had a ton of respect for him, and he had a ton of respect for the players. He has them of the mindset that when they’re there, they’re there to work. You can talk, you can joke around, but make sure you’re doing your stuff, what you’re supposed to do. It was fantastic to watch.
USA Hockey: Did you get any good tips from assistant coach Greg Moore while you did a scouting assignment with him?
Carter: Yeah, we were upstairs the first night when the 18s played Cedar Rapids, so we were in the press box together and we were bouncing things off of each other about what was going on with the game – what he saw, what I saw, why players would do certain things, what should the U.S. players be doing versus what they weren’t doing. For me, it was completely immersed in knowledge, which was fantastic.
USA Hockey: How did you end up taking part in this program?
Carter: I tried to get into the program for the last two years, but it just never worked with the dates with my team and what they were doing. When I was out in Colorado this year for Annual Congress, and I saw Kevin Reiter and I asked him right away, ‘If you have the dates, let me know.’ That’s really how it was. I’ve known about it for a couple of seasons. It just never worked for me to be able to get out there until now.
USA Hockey: Did you see much of a difference between U18 head coach Seth Appert and U17 head coach John Wroblewski?
Carter: You know, I’m sure there are subtle differences that if you spent more time with them, you would certainly see. But both of them, their approach to the game, they’re true professionals in how they approach everything. They’re looking for knowledge too. That’s the greatest thing that I saw there. The six coaches you have working with those kids, you can tell that they’re continuous learners. They don’t think for one second that they know it all. They’re looking for how can we get better every day.
USA Hockey: What did you think of the facilities?
Carter: Unbelievable. To think about how young those kids are and what they are now accustomed to and how they train and how they’re able to train, it was fantastic. That just bodes well for USA Hockey – our players who go to that program are going to come out just so good.
USA Hockey: Does this experience really illuminate the fact that there is a larger, broader camaraderie among the USA Hockey coaching communities?
Carter: Yeah, I mean, I think that hockey, I always like to say, is a niche sport and a very small world. You always know somebody that knows somebody else. I think that’s the key. Hockey coaches and players are some of the most humble people I’ve ever met in my entire life. There was no ego when I walked in through the door. They treated me as a coach. That, I think, was the greatest thing for me. These guys are at the highest level, or close to the highest level, and they didn’t have to treat me that way, and yet, they did, because we’re hockey guys. We’re hockey coaches.