When Mike Babcock was hired to be the new head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, he said he didn’t want to just make the playoffs – he wanted to be involved in establishing a Stanley Cup Process. In short, organizational culture greatly influences the environment that the team operates in. Creating a “Cup Process” means everything and everyone, from ownership, hockey operations, coaching staff, management, right down through the player development team, and on to the medical team and scouting staff, would be on the same page and held accountable for living out the team culture.
Creating a Culture of Success
This is what it has been like for me for the past four years as a member of the Carleton Place Jr. A Canadians in the Central Canada Hockey League. The expectation of winning is there, but the organization’s culture, how it treats the community of Carleton Place, staff members, and volunteers are in place to ensure the club has what it takes to win.
For the third straight year, the team won the CCHL Bogart Cup championship and Fred Page Cup, and earned an appearance at the RBC Cup. We also fell short of winning the RBC Cup for the third straight year. It’s tough. It’s the big prize. But, don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to be proud of. There are 131 Junior ‘A’ teams in Canada and to achieve the level of success we have is truly special. The list is long, but here are just a few of the reasons why the Canadians have been so successful:
Accountability: Every player has a role and knows what their job is on and off the ice. There aren’t any secrets or surprises when players receive feedback on their performance. All that’s asked is that players perform to their potential. It’s not about how many goals are scored or saves are made, it’s about playing to your potential. That’s it. And each and every individual is held accountable for their performance.
Coaching and feedback: Players and coaching staff have weekly one on one meetings. During this time, feedback and coaching is delivered on player performance. Every player is given specific feedback on how they performed at practices and games during the week. I can tell you that not every meeting is about hockey. Conversations about life happen, too. Part of our culture is to develop people first, and hockey players second. Our culture coaching and feedback is all designed to help players grow and develop as people.
Video: Video is the key to our success, in my opinion. Hands down. Thanks to the great work by our video coaches (I’ve had the pleasure of working with Jamie Rintoul for three years, and Chris Cram this year), our coaching staff and players are prepared for games and have the ability to specifically address areas of personal development. Without our video coaches, and the work our head coach Jason Clarke pours into video, we don’t even come close to being as good as we have been in the past four years.
Working with NHL Prospect Colton Point
In four years with the Canadians, we’ve had very talented goalies suit up between the pipes. We have seen goalies graduate to join the OHL, CIS, NCAA Div. 3, and NCAA Div. 1 programs. We've also seen goalies represent Team Canada East at the World Junior 'A' Challenge in two consecutive years. And each year, the bar rises day in and day out. As I mentioned, the Canadians have created the culture to support the environment our players need to have in order for the team to be successful. A new milestone was reached this year for Carleton Place's program: One of our goaltenders might hear his name called at the NHL Entry Draft in Buffalo.
This year, newcomer Colton Point and I spent a lot of time working on the mental side of being a goalie. In addition to his technical skills, much of Colton’s success this year is tied to his mental toughness. I’m going to paint a very simplified picture of the process he went through this year to become so mentally tough.
First, he learned there’s no such thing as pressure. There's a lot of research out there about this topic, but I'll do my best to explain it in a nutshell. Pressure is fabricated by us, by people. Pressure literally doesn’t exist. It has no smell, no taste, and no look. This understanding enabled Colton to consistently perform at a high level because he was able to play games with a clear mind.
Second, he learned how to focus only on the things he can control. As I said, our culture asks our players to perform to their best ability. Believe it or not, we talk about this more than we do about the outcomes, about the wins and losses. To help narrow his focus on what he can control, Colton learned how to focus on each moment within the game with undivided attention and honesty.
Finally, Colton learned how to mentally separate his actions from his feelings. Things may not always go as planned. That’s okay. That’s life. That’s hockey. Mentally, however, it takes a lot of conditioning to regroup and focus on the next moment that you’re faced with. Time and time again, Colton took charge of his actions and used them to dictate the pace of the play where possible.
Keep the Game Simple
At the end of the day, the ice is still white, the crease is still blue, and the puck is still black (very Hoosiers of me, right?)
Colton learned how to simplify his game and focus his energy on one moment at a time, keeping in mind only the things he can control. When he did that, he had the most fun playing the game and it was a gentle reminder that the game remains that – just a game. With the right environment and culture in place, the game and everything that goes into it is just part of the process - a championship process.
One final note. The success of the Carleton Place goalies would not be possible without the generousity of Charlie McTavish, Complete Goaltending Development, and the Complete Hockey Development Centre. Every week, the facility would donate one hour of ice for free for the goalies to come in and train. This has been going on for four years and, without it and the resources made available to the Canadians’ goalies, we would not achieve the level of success to date. There’s a reason why the best goalies in the National Capital Region and across the world train at CGD. If it’s been said, it hasn’t been said nearly enough, from all of us – thank you.