Behind the Bench

by Michael Moore & Bliss Littler

I hope that this edition of our newsletter finds each of you well. We are now at the precipice of the 2022/23 season. For that reason much of this week’s newsletter will be directed at the Victorious Hockey Company’s clientele specifically. 

Many of you are making your way to your new home for the season. If you are driving great distances on your own to meet up with your billet families please let us know, immediately. We have a vast network of coaches, players, billet families and alumni spread coast to coast. Many of which will gladly let you stop in during a lengthy road trip to grab a bite to eat, take a nap or just let you stretch and recharge along your journey. No, it isn’t “weird”. Nearly all of the aforementioned people were either once in your shoes or have a child that was (or is). We would much rather have all players being watched after and given support then have to report an accident or mishap. Hockey is a small world so make certain to make the most of it.

Rosters will soon be finalizing. Most of you are in a state of transition. Remember that the coming season is just a step within your journey. Maybe you are not at the level you know you can play at or perhaps you are trying to get yourself set  up for next season. This is the season where you have to put in the work both on and off the ice. If you are in school- YOUR GRADES COME FIRST. No exceptions. Do not let a slip up in the classroom be the reason you are left out of consideration for advancement. If you are in Juniors and this is your first time without having courseload, then hockey is your job and should be treated as such. Eat properly. Stay hydrated. Go to bed on time. Get your reps in. Get to the rink early and plan to stay late. Juniors is not a vacation. It’s work.

Many of you have reached out because you are in your last year of Youth/Prep hockey and are looking for information about team visits for the coming season. Please keep in mind that Junior programs are just now finalizing rosters and beginning their respective seasons. That is, coaches have a very busy schedule right now. So locking in team visits will slowly begin to pick up but for now we are only at the very beginning. However there is work we can do together in preparation. If this situation applies to you we are going to ask you for two CRITICAL pieces of information:

  1. When are the breaks on your academic calendar?
  2. When are the breaks in your hockey schedule?

We will not be able to even begin the discussion with a Junior club without that information. So, please email me ( those details as soon as you have them.

Also, the details on your vaccination and passport status are additionally helpful. *Especially those of you turning 18, as Canadian Junior placement now becomes much more feasible at your age. Being fully vaccinated and maintaining a valid passport is required by both the US and Canadian governments for entry.

Victorious players received an email yesterday (My email should be in your inbox. If it is not, please contact me and I will send it to you again.) about a new weekly column that I am compiling for publication on called “Victorious Futures”. The website is a subscription based site that has a tremendous following consisting of Youth, Junior and College hockey coaches. This audience creates a prime opportunity to showcase our players and their development. Each week Victorious players will be expected to fill out a form and provide updates to their week’s accomplishments. On ice, off ice, in the classroom or in the community -hard work deserves recognition and a bit of proactive marketing to a possible future coach never hurt anyone. Parents are asked to encourage their player to keep up with their weekly submission (Please do write their update for them. Coaches place high value on initiative). Players will be emailed the link to the form each Sunday evening. The deadline for submission will be that following Tuesday evening, at midnight.

Okay, now that business is out of the way I wanted to share this article from coach Littler’s collection. I feel that it is particularly relevant this time of year. It is an interview with former NHL Head Coach, Ken Hitchcock. Since so many are currently trying to click with a new Junior coach or are trying to make a solid impression with a coach for next season, getting inside the head of coach and gaining that perspective might be worth digging into.

Since everyone is trying to improve and gain that “edge” that will earn them that roster spot, be sure to check out Greg Revak’s piece on mental preparation below as well.


The Star chats with Stanley Cup winner and former NHL coach of the year Ken Hitchcock on his philosophy about coaching and motivating his players.

By Curtis Rush, Sports reporter, Toronto Star, Sat., March 7, 2015

St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, a former coach of the year in the NHL who has a Stanley Cup ring, is known as a coaching genius and master motivator.

Just don’t call him that, as he hates the word motivation because it infers a short-term fix. He prefers to say he “inspires” his players to be better.

The Star chatted with Hitchcock on Friday, a day before the Blues faced the Leafs, and we asked him about coaching and innovations in hockey.

You don’t allow players to hang their heads on the bench. Why?

We hate that here because there’s body language that the opposition is looking at. You never want the opposition to say you’re discouraged, we don’t put up with it. There are no sloped shoulders.

You speak of ownership from the team’s best players. What does that mean?

I think if the best players aren’t leading it becomes a little bit chaotic, so we ask our top players to lead us, not just in the games but in the practices. The demands we place on them aren’t so much what they say, it’s how they perform everyday when we’re together.

Have you ever been offered a chance to coach the Leafs, and would you if the chance presented itself?

I’m not commenting on that one, they have a coach.

This question comes via Twitter from Stan Butler, head coach and director of hockey operations with the OHL’s North Bay Battalion. In a team-oriented sport, how do you keep the individuals happy and motivate them to play with a team-first approach?

I think you have to change the value system, and the value system has to be based on sacrifice . . . what’s good for the group. It’s easy to say but hard to do. If your value system changes properly, then everyone will buy in to it. If the value system is on the wrong side of the balance between individual and team play, then it becomes a little bit of a me-first attitude and that’s what we try to avoid. We really embrace the sacrifices.

Scotty Bowman said of you that you get the best players to play important roles. Can you explain?

I think that’s critical, because your best players have to be out on the ice as much as possible. If people see your best players killing penalties, and your best players playing against top players and not running and hiding from the matchups, then everybody else embraces their role. It’s hard to do if you’re hiding your best players.

Name three people, alive or dead, that you’d like to have dinner with.

First is obviously Lincoln, the second is Arnold Palmer, and the third one is George Strait.

What’s the most under-rated part of analytics?

The most under-rated part for me is zone time, quality of zone chances, red-zone opportunities. I think that stuff is really invigorating. I think anytime you can get those they tell you everything about the work ethic of your team, how many chances you’re giving up, how many chances you’re getting and where you’re getting them from. What type of second-effort chances you’re getting. Those are great analytics to run. To me it’s scoring chances-related, but it’s more quality scoring-chances related.

What’s the most overrated part of analytics?

A I think matchups are a little bit overrated because you can hide players in the matchup and they don’t get the bad ratings that maybe their play dictates.

What’s the most important thing as a coach? Motivating your players or teaching discipline?

Inspiring them, not motivating them. Motivating is short-term. Inspiring a player to play better, you do that by making it bigger than himself, making it more important than him. And that inspires guys. Motivating is easy. It’s a bit like praise and encouragement. Encouragement lasts a long time. So encouragement for me is earned and so is inspiring them. If you show them how they’ve earned success, that inspires them to do it more.

Name one coaching decision you regret.

Oh, boy, I’ve got a lot of those. The one decision I regret was when we played Prince Albert in the Western Hockey League final (mid-1980s), I went up and visited with the coaches and we talked hockey. I was a first-year coach and I gave them too much information and they used it against me and beat us four straight. That won’t be happening again. I learned overnight to be an information gatherer, not a giver.

We’ve seen the neutral zone trap, the left-wing lock. What do you think will be the next innovation to come along?

I don’t know, but don’t look for it in the NHL because we’re copycats. It will come from junior, and it will be in junior for a couple of years, and then we’ll copy it because we’re too safe. The left-wing lock was created in Switzerland, and the trap was created in Czech (Republic). Believe me, whatever is in junior now, in two years we’ll have it. We don’t take risks. The swarm (1-3-1 in the neutral zone) was sitting in junior for two years. It started in the West. It came into the (AHL), it came into the NHL and now it’s a part of the fabric.


Preparing mentally and breaking a mental sweat in warm-ups

Greg Revak, September 4th, 2022

If you’ve been around a sport for any period of time, you’ve probably heard some version of “Wake up!” or “Get your head out of your #&$!”

It’s no wonder why these phrases are used so often in gameplay after mentally grueling warmups like the “Pretzel”:

Alright, joking aside, let’s dive into mentally preparing and warming up for competition.

Mental Preparation

F1 drivers are peak athletes. They experience crazy amounts of G-Forces and loads of strain on their bodies during a race. Beyond the physical warmup, they are keenly focused on mental sharpness and preparation. A slow start can ruin a race or even worse, cause a serious crash.

F1 drivers memorize the track and their responses before ever entering the track on race day. Their preparation goes something like this:

1) Study and memorize the track

a) Study the racetrack on a map

b) Practice laps within a simulator

c) Walking the track on race weekend

2) Practice mentally and physically

a) Physically warm up with exercise to activate their muscles

b) Mentally work through a lap

The goal is to imprint the track into their long-term and working memory. Yet, that is not enough! Drivers then work to quickly retrieve that information from their memory and visualize what they are about to experience so they can respond efficiently and effectively.

Just before the race, drivers will rehearse mentally what they are about to see and their responses.

As the saying goes, “you don’t rise to the occasion, you fall to your level of training/preparation.”

Applying this to Hockey

Warming up mentally is just as important as warming up physically. Some ideas for hockey players:

  • Journaling
  • Pre-game/Pre-practice visualization, focusing on common situations and your response/process
  • Reminders/phrases written on your equipment
  • Eye & head exercises (scanning for relevant information)

Heck, before even heading to the rink… go play a fast-paced video game that forces quick decisions (Call of Duty is accepted).

Challenging the Pretzel Warmup

Okay… I can’t let it go – I have a bone to pick with the coaches that go with the infamous warm-up that is a staple in youth hockey. Here you have:

  • No decision making
  • Little player involvement

USA Hockey does regional and national camps as part of its process. It’s a great time and place to experiment (e.g. potential rule changes).

At one of the events, coaches were told no pretzel warmups would be permitted. Here is the creativity they came up with. Pretty similar to what we saw above, no?

Heck, this isn’t even specific to hockey. Here is a local youth football warmup.

Compared with the other side of the field. Can you guess who won?

Hockey-wise, there once was a coach in the NCAA that asked the rink staff to throw out another net for warmup and played small area games.

Warmup Study

In my early coaching years, I did a study of a 7-minute warmup. I’m not going to give you my results (at least, not today), but rather challenge you to track your own and bring back the results to share via social media or email… Seriously, I want to see your results and talk about them!

  • Decisions made, puck touches, shots, etc.

For example, a pretzel warmup might have a player with 0 decisions and 4 puck touches, and 2 shots. As a community, we can do better.

College Hockey Inc. is accepting applications for the third annual College Hockey Inc. Scholarship, presented by JLG Architects. The grant is awarded in honor of JLG founder Lonnie Laffen, a passionate hockey supporter who passed away in 2020. 

Application link

Players and families, we want to hear from you. If there are any questions, concerns, or if you just want to have a conversation, please feel free to contact us directly. We want to hear from you. Good Luck and Great Hockey!

Thank you,

Team VHC