Behind The Bench: Way Out of The Slump

By Michael Moore

Okay, so this week’s newsletter is not specifically about rivalries, or playing in them. Granted, I always enjoyed playing in rivalries. The noise, the intensity, the physicality and the chirping were always fun. Well they were fun when you wound up on the victory side of the tilt. (Not so much the other way around.) 

However, I do need to make quick mention of a specific rivalry. Shout-out to our Valor Christian Academy players, who beat down their rivalry Ralston Valley this week, 6-3! Thanks to a tremendous effort by our own Victorious Players’: 

  • Nick Maronna 1G, 2A
  • Alec Alfieri 1G, 1A
  • Aidan Owen 1A

Great work Eagles!

No, the rivalry topic has more to do with Coach Littler’s choice of readings this week. Ever since the Red Wings left the division and the conference, the St. Louis Blues have risen to become my Blackhawks most substantial foe. Let’s put it this way, in 2019 I was pulling pretty hard for our 2013 runner-up. Regardless, interim coach Berube and the boys played exceptionally well and shut me up! 

This week’s reading is about finding the right mindset to get yourself out of a slump. So if you are presently in a slump yourself, hopefully this article will provide some insight to help you out. Personally, I hope the Blues don’t read it. I think their slump suits them just fine. 


Tom Timmermann, St Louis Today, Oct 30, 2022

After the Blues’ 7-4 loss to Montreal on Saturday, the team’s fourth defeat in a row in regulation, coach Craig Berube was perfectly clear on what his team needed most: Practice.

And on Sunday, that’s what the Blues got.

Whether it’s the answer to what ails remains to be seen, and the Blues will get an idea when they face Los Angeles on Monday night at Enterprise Center. But they do know it’s something they’ve been sorely lacking in the past 10 days.

What once had been a schedule with a vacation-like level of off days suddenly has become crowded with both games and planes. Since the Blues landed in Seattle on Oct. 19 they have had just three practice sessions, including Sunday, and whatever bad habits they’ve had have gotten only worse.

If you were expecting an angry Berube on Sunday after his team squandered a two-goal lead against Montreal on Saturday and gave up five unanswered goals in 10 minutes, 25 seconds to put themselves in a hole too deep to get out of, that’s not who turned up. Though Berube didn’t come to the rink all smiles (“I don’t think anyone was in a good mood today,” captain Ryan O’Reilly said), he also wasn’t ripping people apart. Berube certainly was loud at points during the session at Centene Community Ice Center, but he also had a feel for what his team needed.

“I think our guys are … unconfident a little bit right now, I would say,” he said. “So we gotta build them up here. Got a game tomorrow so we gotta get after it tomorrow. When I come here today, I’m more composed than maybe another day and we gotta try to get better, get better today.”

“I don’t think he was angry out there,” O’Reilly said. “I think he knew we needed a workday and I think the guys, too. We (need) a change of mindset. They know that we have a lot of work left and we have to get back to doing things our way and that starts with a good practice. I thought the energy in practice was great, the guys were working, pushing each other and that’s what we need. We got to start building, starting today.”

The fixes ultimately might be more psychological than physical. The mistakes players are making on the ice are ones that go against what they’ve been taught and what they have done many times in the past.

“I think it’s more a mindset where we’re always looking for something better when we’re in a good, great shooting position,” Berube said. “And sometimes, it’s too late. That’s the bottom line. Now, the empty net (misses) are empty nets. But other shots we have good opportunities and we’re not thinking of shooting, in my opinion, when we’re in a great spot to shoot. We’re thinking of what better play can I make and then, ‘Oh, I gotta shoot’ and we miss the net. That’s what I see.

“We can be a lot more direct with our game. That’s the biggest thing I can take out of it all: Being predictable to each other and being more direct in our game right now.”

There’s another place to find that missing mindset, in how the Blues play when they’re ahead. In the past two games, they were up 3-1 on Montreal ( had them with an 87% chance of winning at that point) and against Nashville up 2-1 (72.8%) and went on to lose by multiple goals.

“It’s about staying with things and playing the right way all the time,” Berube said. “We’re letting teams off the hook. We had a 3-1 lead and we turn a puck over or we don’t make good puck play and we kinda give them a little momentum when we don’t need to. We gotta keep hammering teams, keep going at ’em with our game. I don’t feel like we’re doing that for 60 minutes.”

“We know we’ve fallen apart in the last few games,” O’Reilly said. “Just get in these situations and then melt down. We’ve talked about it, we’ve discussed it. Just doing things the right way and we kind of get away from it a bit and then we get caught on our heels and you can see we get tight. It seems like the other teams get bounces because they’re sticking to their structure. We break first. We’re caught waiting a bit and that that’s the way it goes sometimes and there’s a lot to learn from it. Today, a good practice and a chance to change things.”

Oh, and did we mention the Blues’ problems handling the puck?

“Our puck play has been not very good so far this year,” Berube said. “One hundred percent right. We have to clean that up. If the play is there to be made, make ’em. If not, you put the pucks deep or put it to a good area. For sure, our puck play has to clean up.”

The Blues last lost five in a row in regulation in February 2018, a run that was convincingly bad enough that Blues general manager Doug Armstrong dealt Paul Stastny at the trade deadline right before the final loss of the streak, to Minnesota. For Robert Thomas, who joined the team at the start of the following season, this is the longest losing streak of his professional career. But this time, the clock is on the Blues side. They have 75 games still to play.

“Athletes get frustrated in general when things aren’t going right and that’s part of it,” Berube said. “Good athletes work their way out of it. That’s the bottom line, there’s no other way. We can give them instruction on what needs to be done playing a certain team or whatever. But it really boils down to a will and a commitment to work your way out of it as a team. Not individually, as a team.”

“You got to keep changing, keep reinventing yourself,” said O’Reilly, who suggested this might be his worst start in his career, “and find a way to make something happen. It’s a good thing it’s early. Now’s the time to reset and start building.”


How to get better at forechecking with Sean Kuraly

Greg Revak, October 23, 2022

First off, a big thank you to the Columbus Blue Jackets for granting me media access in the preseason.

I had a chance to speak with a handful of players, but for whatever reason, Sean Kuraly stood out. He’s articulate and bright, and it’s obvious to see why he’s made it to the NHL and been able to stick as a contributing member of a club. Just a few days after our chat, he scored a great goal (his first and only goal so far this season) by utilizing his forechecking prowess.

Let’s first take a look at the goal, then pull out Kuraly’s four keys to forechecking success. Using these will make players better at forechecking and increase their effectiveness.

Sprinting / First Few Strides

“First and foremost, you’ve just got to take away as much time and space as you can from the defender going back on the puck. The less time he has, the less space he has to look up ice. The more you have a chance.

You have to get up ice right away. First five strides out of your zone or out of the neutral zone. From there you can make a read.”

Kuraly will never be accused of not working hard on the rink. He constantly is sprinting to put himself in spots consistently. Most players fail to get into these spots because it’s difficult work and the odds can be low. Said another way, most of the time, nothing comes as a direct result from the hard work… but every now and then, he is able to feast. This is what coaches and commentators mean when they talk about a player “playing the right way” or “playing the game honestly.”

“[Patrice Bergeron & Brad Marchand are] never lazy. Their first strides are right up the ice.”

You want to put work on the front end, not the back end.”

This is a concept that can be illustrated well with your organizational habits.

  • Do you put work in on the front end (i.e., do you organize)? If so, your back-end work is very easy! You know exactly where your things are and there is no rushing or panicking.
  • Do you throw your things into a general area or junk drawer? This is easy work on the front end, but there is a good chance you have to rummage to find your things on the back end. You’re likely to take more time on the back-end too.

Front-end work makes back-end work better/easier and you’ll get “luckier.”


“You have to go in with you stick-on-puck.”

The first thing I’ll always remember about Bergeron is his stick. His stick is always on the ice, half the time it just hits his stick and disrupts it.”

The hockey stick is a tool. Humans have developed so well due to their ability to use tools effectively. This is why it drives coaches insane when players fail to use their #1 tool and willingly concede space/passing lanes!

Leading stick-on-puck allows players to close down space more effectively and break up pucks (“ticks”). Leading stick-on-puck often leads to stripping the opponent, getting a tick to create a turnover or 50/50 puck, or simply disrupting the opponent’s flow of play.

Understanding Tendencies

“Understanding tendencies and what the other guy wants to do.”

There are some universal tendencies such as players tend to favor their forehand. Then there are some personal tendencies.

At levels where teams don’t play often and little video is available, universal tendencies are great places to start. At levels where teams play often and video is readily available, players leave a lot on the table if they are not studying their opponents.

Funnel Up & Back

“It’s always sprinting up the ice through the middle”

Sprinting through the middle allows players to increase their luck. Players are close to everywhere when sprinting through the middle and can then read the play from there. Using the dot line/lane is a great reference point.

There are different forechecking roles for F1, F2, and F3. Rotating out of F1, the 1st player in on the forecheck, players are needing to “reload” and “get above the puck.”

Sean Kuraly’s Game

Now let’s look at Kuraly’s goal while looking for the four keys from above.

  1. Sprinting / First Few Strides
  1. Stick-on-puck
  1. Understanding Tendencies
  1. Funnel Up & Back

Further Study

For those looking to study Kuraly further and looking at why he may be a great bottom six-player compared to a top-six player, I suggest watching for these elements:

  • Sometimes he skates too far/hard and disrupts F2 and F3 spacing.
  • Lack of scanning and how it affects his ability to cover the correct space or opponent.
  • Underutilization of offensive zone space. Especially, ignoring the corners and behind-the-net switches. He’s carved a role out as a defensively responsible player so you’ll notice that he errs on the side of caution and stays ‘strong side’ on the defensive side of the puck.

Arizona Players- check out this scholarship opportunity. If you have any interest in Cybersecurity this might be worth looking into.

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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