What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Since so much of my end of season state of the program article looked ahead at the team and with some input from the coach on the PC portion of the league preview I have covered most of the bases concerning the team itself I thought it might be nice to see what a coach does in his off season. I also plan on a November article which will talk about our recruits for '07 once the LOI's are official.

If Coach Tim Army had to write the infamous "What I did on my summer vacation" composition upon the start of the new school year he would have no shortage of material. Recently I had a chance to chat with him on what he been doing this summer and how it has impacted the Friar hockey program.

Not surprisingly a tremendous amount of his time was spent in two areas. The first was running the PC hockey camp and being involved in other youth hockey sessions. Recruiting, or the prep work to recruit, was the other big area. However he had his hand in other facets, from dealing with his players, to being involved in the giving Schneider a new look, to organizing the team schedule from the start of training through the national championship.

The camps, while a great deal of work, are also an enjoyable part of his job. As a coach he very much likes to be in the teaching environment. He brought up how when he lectures that it forces him to put his thoughts on paper and brings to mind things he wants to work on with his team at a later date. The work part of it stems from the planning and responsibility angle. Camp involved 3 sessions and with making sure the campers that were staying were in the hands of the people responsible for them at night, his days ended after midnight. He kept his staff small which made more work for the instructors but it kept things moving. Those instructors were mainly former Friar players ranging from Bob Bellemore to former teammates Rene Boudreault and Paul Guay to his assistant Dave Berard. He also had his brother Bill, a former BC player, as an instructor and in charge of the housing aspect. While the main focus on camps, seminars and instructional sessions is to improve the attendee's game he admitted it's possible they provide a chance to make an impression on a future player and plant PC as a place to play in their mind.

All of the staff, Coaches Army, Moore and Berard, spent time working outside camps and festivals. The most important were the New England festivals and USA Hockey. What these types of camps do is to bring the coaches in direct contact with players of high talent at an early age. Again your main responsibility is to improve the player's game, but early contact is a significant perk.

Recruiting was a major piece of the conversation. It is a never ending cycle. Right off the top the coach said his immediate plans in this regard is to secure one more forward for the 2007-08 season and to find a forward and a defenseman for his 2008-09 freshman class.

Even with such modest needs, what he outlined requires a lot of his attention. The first phase would be identifying your targets. Based on what he said and what you see happening in hockey recruiting in general it would appears coaches are really working on 3 classes, This cycle its classes for '07, '08 and '09. One thing to keep in mind with players not only coming from prep schools but from junior leagues you get few 18 year old and often see players coming in as freshmen who are 21. Thus for instance the birth dates for the freshmen class of '07 range from 1986 to 1989. Also it appears the top recruits for the freshman class of '10 are beginning to emerge. The point is that PC very well could be looking at a younger player, realize they have few slots for him till the class of '09, and in conjunction with the fact most players spend additional years in the feeder programs, look to have the player commit for a later date.

Since the identification process often begins before a college coach can speak officially with these prospects Coach Army said a key element of the process is the player's coach. That coach might be the intermediary who helps his player set up unofficial visits. From PC's perspective once they zero in on the pool of likely candidates the process moves to whittling the list down to those players who are good fits. Coach Army described his criteria for the type of perspective student/athlete he is looking for as being, "a positive fit for PC as a student-athlete, has supportive parents, is the type of player for PC's system, which means as a base need three elements, speed, creativity, and a desire to score, and finally fits into the team template".

After that fit has been made the player might visit unofficially. However the coach emphasized he prefers to see a player play in person before he speaks to them as it allows him to be forthright in discussing how they will fit into his program. It appears cross checking is a big element. The coach will never make an offer to a player he has not seen in person. He told the story of how he recruited Chris Eppich. Originally Eppich caught Coach Army's eye while reviewing a tape of another prospect on the team PC was interested in. However at the time one of the assistants told him Eppich was heading to Princeton. When a problem with his index opened up his recruiting again PC became very interested. However before any offer was made Coach Army himself flew out to British Columbia after a weekend series last winter and watched Eppich play in person. Essentially the coach wanted to make sure he felt comfortable with the player being an effective college player.

Coach Army acknowledged that while he lost several desirable players in the past year he takes it as a positive. His philosophy is recruiting is not easy, but if it was not a challenge then you should be doing something else. Secondly and probably more importantly he said because you are competing against the top schools for top talent that means the players you are trying to recruit are the correct players. This is a key point since, while hockey recruiting is much more under the radar then basketball is, it was generally known, and a reason for great frustration of PC fans that PC was not competing hard for much of the top talent in the previous administration.

One last point Coach Army said he will be very deliberate in deciding who to use the final scholarship he has for '07. Clearly he feels he is in position to fill it with a good player and does not want to take just any player. That feeling comes from his saying that by having a scholarship available at the time Mark Fayne was ready to commit we landed a blue chip pro prospect defenseman.

Another important area that Coach Army spent a lot of effort on was the facilities. After a summer of hard work he felt PC has a new rink. The biggest change is the publicized replacement of the old seats with new retractable black seats. Combined with work that was done on the ceiling and some fresh paint on the railings and new stenciled logos and banners he said the changes will have a, "huge impact for people coming to games" and it will give the rink, "an old time look". For his part he said that was quite a bit of effort coordinating and bringing it all together, but he several times passed out kudos to Ross Brooks as the key man behind many of the changes taking place. However he took a hands on approach at times, for instance he recalled being the person going to Home Depot to get the shower heads will doing the locker room upgrade.

Also of note were several changes which will not be seen by the average fan. The men's locker room was upgraded. More functionality was provided to the trainer's room. Also new fitness equipment was purchased including several new bikes equipped with TV monitors so players can watch games or clips from the library they are building while the players workout

Once more money is raised a second phase of changes will take place. These include redoing the Friends of Friar room. The makeover will make it a better environment to watch and enjoy before a game and between periods. It will also have more functionality as an activity room. The training room also is slated for more work. This time the plan will be to tear down the walls giving the room more space which will be converted into a rehabilitation center. There are also plans to get more equipment designed to work to facilitate work outs for core strength work.

The raised money also provided the coach with a new video system. The new system is called XOS. The name went right over my head when he first said it, as it comes from the X's and O's to diagram plays. This is the newest model of a system that he used when he worked with the Washington Capitals. From what I understand the system PC got is cutting edge used by NHL teams. Many elements of preparation can be utilized by this system. It can help break down film of opponents, can be used to help introduce new concept into the PC system, and can help individual players better their game. That last piece fits in with the clips that can be watched on those new fitness bikes.

In an earlier conversation Coach Army talked about how one of the things he liked most about the NHL was the chance to immerse oneself into breaking down so many games. This new system allows him to use tape of pro games to show some of the concepts he wants to get across to his team.

As an aside one of the things the coach did all spring was to watch the NHL playoffs closely. He said that preparation is on going and learning is continuous. He still feels watching pro games is his class work for it helps him to see things in the pro game at a time where he can step back from his own game preparation a bit, giving him a chance to think about things. The results of his graduate work thus providing him a learning tool that he will process in season and incorporate into a game environment.

During the summer many of the players were away from PC. He actually encouraged it, as a player he enjoyed the chance to go home and be with his friends and just like now how he steps back a bit from his coaching, it lets the players step back from the game and refresh themselves for the season.

Before the players did leave for the summer he had formal meetings with each which went into great depth. He wanted to let the players know what their expectations were and not just as a player. The coach said he stresses growth in three areas, academics, social, and athletic. They get discuss where the player can grow and where he should be in the fall and what the new expectations will be upon his return. The point is to leave them with a good feeling.

Each player also has a work out plan for the summer provided to them by strength coach Ken White. With them off on their own for the summer the expectation is they will accomplish this. Those that stay locally have the benefit of PC's facilities. By NCAA rules he can not actually mandate the off season work out sessions. However the players knew they would be tested upon their return to school and this year all the returning players met their goal when they were retested.

The self motivation is another way to weed out those not ready to commit. The reason to do it is because it will make you a better player not because you were told. Several players from the past season who did not make that commitment are now gone. The coach again brought up the idea of finding the right players to recruit because if they don't follow through on their own development the staff made a recruiting mistake.

As far as working out goes the schedule the coach sets up for the players has a couple of weeks of down time following the season. That is followed by an intense month of spring workouts. Likewise once the players return, they again have an intense period of workouts in September. These sessions are under the direct supervision of Ken White.

In season a team is limited to 20 hours a week of formal workouts such as video sessions and practice. The coach has planned out using about 17 hours a week in October when he has longer training session to go along with the video and workouts. By midseason he is down to 13 or 14 hours a week. With the base established he looks to keep the troops fresh for the final push.

The players academic progress is closely monitored, but again players are being recruited who will do well in school and are motivated to do so on their own.. Likewise he did not feel the need to push his players to take classes in the summer, but instead enjoy the break away from campus. He did say that he had one player take an on line course to get ahead, another, who had transferred in, to get even with his class as he gets ready to graduate. The only freshman in early was Chris Eppich as he was a special case. He will be a Biology major and the conflict of labs and practice conflict.

The coach ended this part of the discussion by pointing out the academic achievements of the entire freshmen class as they enter PC. He also had special praise for Kyle Laughlin who had the highest gpa on the team last year as a freshmen, simply saying, ‘his academic record speaks for itself".

Finally there were the more necessary but mundane things. The biggest thing is a giant calendar which lists out his schedule such as practices, work outs, team meetings. The purpose is both to be organized, and to make sure his plans are in compliance with NCAA regulations. He forwards copies of this to key people at the school, in particular the compliance officer, and he continually updates it.

All in all it's clear that preparation and an eye to the small things before the season begins will go a long way to improving the program. As the opening exhibition game looms only hours away the Providence College hockey team should benefit from all the little things their coach accomplished in the past 6 months.

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