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THE MOJ: Practice makes perfect a Tocchet foundational principle

Vancouver Canucks coach has shaped his practice regimen from an impressive group of mentors
Practice is a valuable tool for Rick Tocchet and the Canucks. Photo courtesy Vancouver Canucks


With all due respect to NBA Hall of Famer Allen Iverson, it is an important tool in improving the performance of your players and your team.

It’s a fact that is recognized by Vancouver Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet, who views each and every practice session as an opportunity to develop good habits and cultivate talent.

Practices have changed from when Tocchet played in the NHL from 1984 to 2002.

Gone are the days of one or two coaches on the ice running practice for an hour or more with plenty of drills featuring contact. Practices today are usually in the 30-minute range with way less of a physical toll on players.

That doesn’t mean Tocchet hasn’t taken some ideas for practice from the list of coaches he’s played for over the years and utilized them in today’s game.

That list, by the way, sounds like a Hall of Fame roll call. Scotty Bowman, Mike Keenan, Larry Robinson, Ken Hitchcock, John Tortorella, Roger Neilson, Barry Melrose, Terry Crisp and Jim Schoenfeld are some of the more noteworthy names to have coached Tocchet at one point during his 18-year career.

Almost all of those coaches have influenced Tocchet when it comes to how he runs a practice.

“Scotty Bowman – he was big on changes and on the little things in hockey. Mike Keenan – the pace of practice and the tempo of practice; he would always drive that. Ken Hitchcock has a great hockey IQ, so his drills were really system specific. Jim Schoenfeld always liked repetition. Terry Crisp, who I had in junior, he did breakouts every day for 15 minutes. I kind of adopted a lot of those things,” Tocchet explained.

Tocchet’s thirst for knowledge is never quenched.

During his time in Pittsburgh as an assistant with the Penguins, he visited the Steelers facility and watched how Steelers boss Mike Tomlin conducted things. He’s sat down with NFL Hall-of-Famer Ray Lewis over cigars and picked his brain. He’s read books including Tom Brady’s TB12 Method, which chronicles everything from nutrition to training methods. The fact of the matter is that Tocchet is always looking to gain knowledge when it comes to being a better coach.

“It’s something that you have to love and get better at,” said Tocchet.

Practices have come a long way from when Tocchet broke into the league in 1985 under Keenan in Philadelphia.

“I think there’s more science to it now. You don’t practice as long as you’ve got to give the guys a little bit of rest. There’s not as many battle drills. When I played, we did a lot of battle drills but now we will throw in maybe one or two battle drills in a practice and that depends a lot on the schedule. With less time on the ice, you have to make sure that practices are a little crisper and more efficient than back in the day when they were longer,” noted Tocchet.

What’s also changed is the amount of interaction between players and coaches based on numbers alone. When Tocchet played, most teams would have a head coach and two assistants on the ice. The Canucks have had seven coaches on the ice at times this year with Tocchet and his assistants in Adam Foote and Mike Yeo being aided by the likes of Daniel and Henrik Sedin as well as Ian Clark and Sergei Gonchar, all of whom help in player development.

“Nothing puts more of a smile on my face when I come out for practice and I see the twins working with (Nils) Aman and (Phil) De Guiseppe on body position. Then you have Sergei Gonchar working with the defensemen and three forwards on deflections and shot patterns. Then you got Mike Yeo talking to a player about his game last night or Adam Foote doing something with a couple of players. If you look at stations of coaches getting to players…sometimes you could have gone days without communicating to a player but I find that we get to a player pretty regularly and I think that’s important,” said Tocchet.

On Friday, Tocchet tells us what makes for a good practice and how rest has become a weapon.


The Canucks continued their successful road trip by defeating the Nashville Predators by a 5-2 margin in the Music City on Tuesday night.

* Casey DeSmith continued his solid play in goal by making 28 saves in the win. “(General Manager) Patrik (Allvin) made a great trade getting him. He obviously stops the puck but he is one of the most well-liked guys in the room. He doesn’t start for two weeks and he’s taking shots after practice with a smile on his face. That boosts the morale. He’s a high character guy,” said Tocchet afterwards.

* The Canucks got goals from Aman, Teddy Blueger, Nils Hoglander, Pius Suter and Elias Pettersson in the victory. The Predators came into the game having won four straight and seven of their last eight games. With the win, the Canucks sweep the three-game season series against the Predators.

* The Canucks are now 19-0 when holding a lead after two periods. They also sit at 22-9- overall, trailing only Vegas in the Western Conference standings.

* Forward Andrei Kuzmenko was a healthy scratch against Nashville, marking the third time that has occurred in the last month. Kuzmenko’s situation has led to plenty of speculation on social media regarding his future as a Canuck.

* The road trip continues with a game in Dallas on Thursday night against the Stars, who have won three of their last four games after a middling stretch.

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

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