Chilliwack Chiefs coach Brian Maloney talks about balancing structure with creativity

Ask the Coach is a bi-weekly feature in the Chilliwack Progress where Chilliwack Chiefs hockey boss Brian Maloney answers a question from a fan.

Gavin Basart asks, ‘How do you avoid overcoaching and turning players into robots?’

And the answer.

It’s tough at this level because most people judge success off wins and losses, but I’m a huge believer that this is a development league and sometimes you’ve got to stay true to your plan to develop kids.

They’re going to have off nights and make the wrong plays, but we don’t scream and yell at them. The only time we’re stern with them is when the effort isn’t there, or there’s bad body language or a negative attitude.

We want to allow our kids to make plays and learn from their mistakes, and our job as a staff is to correct the areas that need correcting.

But it is hard to not stuff tons of structure and systems which could possibly win you some games.

If you go that route, we find players become incredibly robotic, and/or predictable. You coach against teams like that where we feel we know exactly what they’ll do, and if we match or exceed their intensity and out-work them, we like our chances to beat them.

I’m not saying the Chilliwack Chiefs are a reckless group where they’re allowed to do whatever they want to do out there.

We teach them the best options that are available in certain areas of the ice and we allow them to be creative with their choices.

I took a lot of things for granted when I played at the pro level. We expected passes to be on the tape. We expected sticks to be on the ice. We expected guys to stop and start and communicate defensively and offensively.

I was so programmed to do that on a nightly basis that it didn’t even seem like that was part of it.

So at that level we were taught the structure to win hockey games.

But dipping back into this league, you realize that some of these kids never stop, they carry their sticks around like a flag pole, they never communicate and the passes sometimes can be 30 feet behind a guy.

Those are all things that, if they’re unable to do them on a consistent basis, it’s telling me to back it up and really concentrate on the development side of the game.

Let’s get these kids making crisp passes. Let’s get them making smart, quick decisions under duress.

If we can get these kids handling the puck and being able to make the proper play under pressure, we like our chances every single night.

Even if there’s zero structure added to it, if all they’re doing is making sharp passes, stopping on pucks, keeping their stick on the ice and letting their skill take over, we like their chances.

Then we can add in a structured forecheck.

What’s our identity going to be?

What kind of breakouts do we want to do?

Some pre-scouting on what the other team does.

There’s really no secret to our madness in Chilliwack.

We train hard off the ice.

Our guys are in shape because (associate head coach) Cam (Keith) and I know the importance of the off-ice part of it to get to the next level.

We ask them to sleep properly, eat properly and train properly.

Once they’re on the ice, we want to allow them to be creative and make decisions.

Now, if a kid is constantly making poor decisions, we have a conversation about that.

Every kid knows when they’re making the wrong decision, for the most part, so they don’t need to come back to the bench and be scolded for that. I don’t think that helps anything, but it’s understanding why they did it.

Why does this player panic under pressure? Let’s get him into more small-area games in practice and get him handling more pucks under pressure.

Maybe he’s a kid who has to hold on to pucks more.

Maybe he’s a kid who has to move it quicker.

Those are things we’re looking at.

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