Dillon Giancola: Coming to terms with the NHL coaching issue


Let me state at the top that I never played hockey growing up. Well, I was a very accomplished street hockey player but that doesn’t count.All that is to say that even though I was never on a real team, I still have a pretty good idea of what hockey culture is in the locker room and on the bench, while fully acknowledging that I barely know anything.

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I heard about what my buddies went through during their hockey-playing years, and saw how their coaches treated them in good times and in bad. Now, I get a look at how coaches treat players at the local minor and junior level on a weekly basis.

Coaches yell at their players, this is a thing that has always happened no matter what the sport, and it will happen 10 years from now. Hockey is definitely at the high end of sports whose coaches can be hard on their players.

However, it seems that it’s mostly been that way for any player whose ever played hockey at a high level. While yes, there are hard coaches and there are “players coaches” in any sport, and certainly hockey, even the players coaches will make a team bag skate after an 8-0 loss or two, and try to use emotion to push them if need be.

But what I do know is that Mike Babcock can’t possible be the only coach who was hard on Johan Franzen, the former Detroit Red Wings star who came out in the media recently aledging he was driven to a nervous breakdown by verbal and emotional assaults by Mike Babcock. He said Babcock was the “worst person I have ever met.” He didn’t say that all coaches he’s ever had were the worst people he’s ever met, and I think that’s a very important distintion.

Here in Fort St. John and in the North, we really love hockey. Whether you’ve played it all your life, just played shinny, or were just a mediocre street-hockey player like myself, it’s still a part of you, and it sucks to see the sport come under this kind of scrutiny. If you have nothing but great memories of your coaches, even those who were hard on you, it can seem like the culture is changing too far, all of the toughness is being taken out of the sport, and players are complaining about coaches yelling at them and hurting their feelings.

But that’s not really what’s happening here, is it? Some players have complained about coaches kicking them behind the bench. I bet I’m not the only one that, when I first heard the accusations of NHL coaches kicking, wanted to overlook it somehow, or justify it, as in, “He didn’t really kick them hard, probably just a little tap to let them know it was their turn to jump on the ice.”

The fact that we are driven to attempt to justify coaches kicking players in the back shows the very necessity of change in the hockey culture.

Nobody is saying a coach can’t yell, or bench, or ask a player to work harder if they underperform on the ice. They’re mostly asking for coaches to keep their comments about the players ability on the ice. Bringing up someone’s race, family background, or past trauma doesn’t really apply.

Similarly, I think a team is capable of winning a Stanley Cup without its coach kicking players in the back. Just because it’s happened with more than one coach doesn’t mean it’s not a big deal. It only means that a lot of coaches either already have or will need to change how they go about doing their business. The fact is, I don’t know one single person that would be ok if their boss kicked them, much less punched them or did any other kind of abuse, so why the need to justify it?

It’s because many of us, hockey players or not, know these tough, strict kind of people we’re talking about when we talk about old-time coaches. Coaches that wanted to make a “man” out of you, make sure you grew up the right way and played the right way. Sure, they were hard on us, but, most of the time, they mean well.

It’s only natural that we feel this attack on hockey culture is an attack on those same beloved people from our past, but that’s not what I think this is. It’s only an attack on the worst of those people, and unfortunately, those people exist. 

Email sports reporter Dillon Giancola at sports@ahnfsj.ca

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