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  • Writer's pictureRick Traugott

Coaches: Don't Make This Mistake at Tryouts

Tryout time is difficult for all concerned. Players are stressed about making the team. Parents are stressed about where their player will fit into a new lineup and season, and coaches are under the gun to do what's right when it comes to picking players - knowing at the end of the day there will be cuts to be made.

My advice? You have to respect offensive talent. Some players just have a gift of putting the puck in the net. AND...they may not be the most skilled players in the group. In fact, often they do not stand out so much in a tryout setting and it takes a little research and a couple of exhibition games to see the real value in some players when it comes to scoring goals.

I learned this lesson the hard way a few years ago when I was coaching a minor hockey peewee team. We had not had an exhibition game through the tryout period and I had one underage player that was just awful in tryouts. He had trouble with almost every drill but was an extremely hard worker and really nice young man. I just couldn't keep him though, and he probably missed making the team by one or two players.

The weekend after tryouts we had an exhibition tournament and we were missing a couple of players due to school commitments. I had asked this particular player to play up with us for the tournament and of course, murphy's law, he was our best player over that weekend. He only scored a couple goals but you would never have thought his poor showing at tryouts would translate into such a terrific weekend playing for us. He was excellent on the team he ended up on and played up with us regularly but at the end of the day, he would have been a good player for our team that season.

I was also disappointed to hear that one of my players from last year was cut from the local team with a new coach that doesn't know him as a player. This is a player who as an underage bantam last year was my second leading scorer. Moving up a level, but now being a second year bantam, he should have been a shoe in to make the team. But, his size and skill level clearly wasn't deemed good enough to make it. Now to be fair, I didn't see the tryouts but, I would have thought that a coach would have done his homework and known that this player was a true offensive threat. He is not flashy and doesn't "look" like a hockey player at times, but he can make it exciting watching him bob and weave through traffic and find the net with a quick flick of the wrist. (I heard he even scored one of the two goals in their only exhibition game during tryouts!)

A number of years ago I coached a player on a girls varsity high school team that would have finished in the bottom half of the standings (there weren't any 12-0 wins that season!). She scored 50 goals in 57 games in her grade 12 year and there was no question she was simply a gifted goal scorer. I believed she would be an asset to any division 1 program in the NCAA. Unfortunately, many coaches didn't share my enthusiasm. Her skating ability was questioned, her work ethic, her fitness level. Coaches always seemed to find something wrong with her as a player. They somehow always found something that would get her named crossed off the scouting list.

She ended up at a division 1 school that perennially finished at or near the bottom of the standings - mostly because they scored far less than an average of two goals per game in all four seasons that she played. Unfortunately, she struggled for ice time through her first three seasons with the team, even though she continually managed to score when she was dressed and playing. It was my understanding that her coaches had difficulty with her fitness level and off ice training. I would argue that when you have players with goal scoring talent, you have to find ways to get them on the ice and leverage that offensive threat.

So my advice to coaches at tryout time? Don't always assume that the top skating, skilled player is going to be an offensive threat. Sometimes it's the unassuming, less skilled player that just has that "knack" of finding the net. And in a short tryout period, it is often difficult to identify that "knack" unless you are looking for it. And don't forget, you are allowed to ask former coaches about players. They are usually more than happy to give you some feedback on players they have coached.

You can't win games if you don't score goals and having a team full of big, skilled, flashy players only helps you if they can put the puck in the net.

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