April 5, 2012
Senior Advisor Ron Mason brought a time-tested teaching tool to Muskegon three months ago. Discover which guidelines to victory the Jacks aim for each game
by Matt Gajtka
MUSKEGON, Mich. – Hockey players are drilled from the day they start playing that team objectives trump individual accomplishments, but that’s not entirely accurate.
After all, the right combination of players performing to the best of their unique abilities is the recipe for consistent success in the won-lost column. Luckily for the Muskegon Lumberjacks, they have some time-tested guidelines to shoot for.
In the team dressing room, there is a large magnetized sign (pictured) that lays out 10 easy-to-grasp objectives – goals that promise to deliver effective play if met. The arrival of the board coincided with the Lumberjacks’ mid-January leadership change, but Head Coach Jim McKenzie is quick to point out that Senior Advisor Ron Mason is the man responsible for the road sign to victory.
“Most of our good ideas come from Ron,” said a smiling McKenzie of Mason, who coached collegiate men’s hockey for 36 years and accumulated the most wins ever at that level. “[The board] is based on what he had used in the past and he suggested it when we came in together.
“The idea is to hold the players accountable to themselves and their teammates. We’re putting the onus on them to be more aware of how they’re playing and how that affects the team’s success.”
Mason, for his part, notes that the 10 objectives the Lumberjacks see before and after every game were developed over the years and with plenty of help from various assistant coaches.
“The objectives you see today emerged gradually,” said Mason, who mentored the Michigan State Spartans for 23 years, guiding them to more than 600 victories and the 1986 national title. “We constantly tried to find ways to get the players to understand that there are certain keys to success, and if you meet those the team will accomplish their goals.”
As far as specifics go, the list of goals runs the gamut from generating more scoring chances than the opponent, to winning the special teams battle and avoiding offside infractions.
A few objectives beg for additional clarity, and McKenzie lends his thoughts on the following:
· No unnecessary penalties: “The game is not won after the whistle. If you’re yapping at the ref or trying to get back at a guy after the play is over, you’re not thinking about winning the game. True toughness is what you do during the play, not after it.”
· Finish plus or even in the first and last minute of each period: “The first minute is all about being ready to play and being focused on having a good first shift. In the last minute the players should be concerned with finishing strong. It encourages the guys to communicate.”
· Achieve 40-second shift times: “You only have so much energy to expend, but if you keep your shifts short, you can play harder and faster. Phyiscal and mental mistakes come when a player is tired, and just because you’ve been defending the whole shift doesn’t mean you get to extend it to play with the puck.”
· No danger zone turnovers: “The danger zone is just inside your own blue line and just outside the opponent’s. When it doubt, get the puck out and get the puck deep. Make the simple play, especially when you’re tired.”
· No offside calls: “One more area of discipline is staying onside. It’s a bad habit that can send a poor message to your teammates. It’s about being aware when you’re on the ice.”
While additional improvement is still desired, Mason believes the team has benefited from keeping the board’s principles in mind.
“They were new to them at first and I think it took a bit for them to get used to,” he said. “But I think they’ve bought into them and their play shows that.”
Lumberjacks defenseman Ryan Bullock had experience with team objectives of this kind prior to joining Muskegon for his first USHL season, and the Dartmouth recruit is a believer in the system.
“It’s proven to be very accurate, that if you meet the goals your team wins most of the time,” said Bullock, who is ninth among league defensemen with 28 points. “It gives players a chance to simplify aspects of their games and be more effective.”
In McKenzie’s opinion, getting his players to direct their attention on something productive kept them from falling into a common trap when an organization makes a coaching change.
“A lot of times when a new coach comes in everyone tries to impress him right way,” said the 15-year NHL veteran and 2003 Stanley Cup winner. “But these objectives are all team-oriented. Individual accolades often come from team accomplishments, and this gets the players working toward a common goal.
“Peer pressure can be a very effective teaching tool.”
Matt Gajtka is the Communications Director and Broadcaster for the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the United States Hockey League (USHL). Reach him at email@example.com.