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THE MOJ: The art of making practice perfect a constant juggling act

Canucks coach Rick Tocchet maps out an up-tempo plan and veers from it based on sense of team needs
A rare sight - Canucks coaches using the dry board to explain a drill during practice. Black Press Media photo

Part two in a look at the pratice habits of Vancouver Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet

Running a practice at the National Hockey League level is a juggling act.

Do you actually practice or give your team a day off? If you do hit the ice, what are you going to focus on? And the debate a coach faces at any level – how do you balance teaching points versus having a practice with good tempo?

Those are the questions surrounding Tocchet and his staff as they try to navigate through an 82-game season in the NHL.

When the schedule comes out in the summer, Tocchet will examine it and map out days in which he hopes his hockey club will be able to practice. But once the season comes along, Tocchet will read the energy level of his team, communicate with his leadership group to see where the team is at, and then plan accordingly.

After a recent home game against Carolina, Tocchet cancelled practice the day before his team’s next game against Tampa Bay. The move paid dividends as the Canucks defeated the Lightning 4-1. On this occasion it was the right call, but as Tocchet will admit, there are no guarantees.

“I think that (reading your team) is huge and I think that comes from experience. I’ve learned from other coaches when to push or when to back off. There are some times when the team doesn’t want to be pushed because they’re tired but you have to be the bad guy and say ‘no, we’re practicing today’ and we’re going to go 25 minutes and you’re going to have to push through because I believe in the long run this practice will teach us to push through in certain situations. You have to find the sweet spot as a coach and that’s experience. Hopefully nine out of ten times it’s the right call but sometimes you make a mistake,” explained Tocchet.

Another weapon at Tocchet’s disposal is to keep practices fresh by changing up drills and routines but sometimes such moves are met with resistance.

“It’s funny because some times I want to add new drills and the players want the same stuff, so it’s give-and-take. I still think in the dog days you have to come up with some freshness in practice to get some fun drills with competition. Players like competition and I’m a big believer in competition,” said Tocchet, who adds he sometimes will throw in a reward as incentive.

As we mentioned in part one of this story that can be found here, practices in today’s era are shorter than when Tocchet played.

Tempo is a key to any successful practice but a practice can come to a standstill when coaches have to stop a drill to correct mistakes or explain things. After all, you don’t want your players developing bad habits.

“I don’t like going to the (dry) board very often. Maybe once a practice, maybe twice. But to me, when you have drills and you keep going to the board and talking to players, you lose your tempo. You have to find that balance,” Tocchet noted.

One thing that tempo does help with is players being forced to communicate with one another. Much like a game situation, players will make the necessary corrections by communicating with themselves.

“If you’ve got a really good leadership group, guys will correct their mistakes on the bench as the drill is going on. So a guy makes a mistake. As he’s on the bench for those 30 seconds before he goes out again - whether it’s a coach or player -they’ll talk and correct the mistake. Whereas when we stop the drill and go to the board, you lose the tempo,” said Tocchet.

Another key for Tocchet and his staff is to not only teach players their individual responsibilities within the team’s structure but to understand the overall concept of what is going on.

“I think when you teach, you just don’t tell the winger to go here and that’s your job. No – we want to teach you the whole concept. The winger has to know why we want the center here and why we want our defense here,” said Tocchet. “If we’re in a meeting, the winger can’t shut his brain off because we are talking about the defensemen. He should know what’s going on because he might be in that position at some point. It might not happen all the time but there might be a time when he is in that position.

“So in those meetings or practices where he was paying attention, it will make a big difference.”


* The Canucks ended their four-game road trip with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Dallas Stars on Thursday night, securing six out of a possible eight points on the trip. Vancouver got goals from Brock Boeser, Conor Garland and Dakota Joshua. For Joshua, he continued his strong play as of late with his fourth goal in his last five games.

* Vancouver went 0 for 3 on the power play and finished the road trip 1 for 15 with the man advantage.

“Our energy wasn’t there. When you don’t have energy on the power play, it’s tough but we had a couple of looks. Power plays are ebbs and flows. It won us a lot of hockey games early and got us to where we are at. I’m not worried – we’re still getting some good looks,” Tocchet said post-game when the subject was broached.

* The point earned against the Stars pulled the Canucks into a tie with Vegas for first place in the NHL’s overall standings with both teams accumulating 47 points in 34 games.

* Forward Andrei Kuzmenko was a healthy scratch for the second consecutive game.

* The Canucks now return home for a game against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night prior to the Christmas break. San Jose limps into Vancouver having lost four straight games.

Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media.

READ MORE: Duchene scores with 9.2 seconds left in OT, Stars edge Canucks 4-3

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