Saturday was a really, really, bittersweet day.
I was so happy to spend some quality time with my wife and daughter in Worcester watching Cornell play in the NCAA Tournament. As a new dad, carrying Paige into the arena and hearing the buzz from the Cornell faithful will forever be a memory that’ll make me smile. Nothing can beat a day spent with family AND hockey.
But as cheerful as I felt, the day was also a stark reminder of what I gave up in leaving college coaching.
Coaching is a rush, and there’s something extra special about doing it in the NCAA Tournament. All the hard work you’ve put in from a recruiting and coaching standpoint brings you to four more wins. Four more wins and you are a National Champion. That’s it. Years of hard work on the road recruiting and countless hours with your players for four more wins. It’s a little scary, but man is it EXCITING.
But the wins, losses, and tournaments are not what I miss the most. Walking around the arena that day and seeing so many of my former colleagues, it hit me like a ton of bricks that what I miss the most is the RELATIONSHIPS.
Because as a college coach, your life is all about building relationships.
Building relationships with your players and earning their trust so you can figure out how to get the best out of them. Building relationships with families and encouraging them that your program is the best fit for their son’s development. Building relationships with coaches and scouts and sharing the names of players we’ve seen or coached.
On Saturday, I was able to reconnect with so many of those incredible people in the hockey world. It was awesome checking in with the coaches from BU, Northeastern, and Michigan and wishing them luck in the tournament (I wished BU luck AFTER they beat Cornell…)
It was great catching up with the NHL scouts that I’ve sat with in numerous rinks while scouting players. And it was devastating seeing the players, families, and coaches from Cornell after the game and giving them all big hugs, congratulating them on an amazing season.
But the one that really made my day was watching one of my greatest mentors hold my daughter…playing with her and making her laugh and smile. Wil Nichol was my coach in junior hockey and he’s now the Director of Player Development for Vegas. He was such an unbelievable role model and I’m not surprised in the least that his career has taken off. He taught me so much about hockey and life, and being able to share that moment with him and Paige is something that I’ll always remember.
It’s easy to forget the value of our relationships in the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives. If we all took some time to think about it, we’d realize that we don’t put nearly as much time into our relationships as we should. The daily grind can certainly have that effect.
But by being passionate about connecting with others we are able to learn, grow, and be inspired. I love the notion that we are a reflection of the people we surround ourselves with…and if that is the case I am a lucky, lucky guy. The relationships I’ve made in the hockey world have certainly made me a better person, and I am grateful that my journey has been impacted by so many people with outstanding character.
I’m excited to continue that journey while coaching midget hockey next year. We are going to have so much fun, and I hope to be able to have a similar impact with the kids and families as Coach Nichol had with me.
I’m excited to be on the other side of the recruiting process too, watching how my former college coaching competitors go about building relationships with our families and players. I’ve already gotten a bunch of calls from those guys and it’s been fun reconnecting and talking about kids in our area.
There’s a brotherhood that is formed between coaches and scouts while grinding it out on the road…often sharing hotel rooms, meals, and rental cars while shuttling from one city to the next. And while getting to sleep in my bed every night is nice, I certainly miss those days connecting with a lot of great guys.
And to end this post I’ll talk about one guy in particular, Todd Knott, an Asst. Coach at Minnesota State.
One thing I used to do when I was on the road or on the phone talking to different midget and junior coaches was ask them who was the best recruiter they’ve seen…and what they did differently than everybody else. I wanted to learn and get better, so I figured I’d try and find out what the best were doing.
Almost every single person I spoke to said Todd Knott. It was amazing. And when I asked them why…they always gave me the same answer:
His ability to build relationships.
Knotter is an unbelievably genuine guy, and while it was crazy how many people said his name with the amount of great coaches there are out there, I’m not surprised. He’s done an AMAZING job in Mankato. And when I told him about my little “experiment” while watching a game with him in beautiful Merritt, BC…it was funny to see his humility in full form. He’s an A+ guy who has made our game better.
And he’s done it with his ability connect with others. At the end of the day, that’s what life is all about.
And as I sit here writing this post, I can’t help but be thankful of the relationships the game of hockey has given me. The hockey world is a unique and wonderful place, and I feel blessed to be a part of it every day!
*Photo by Ned Dykes