Fans of the Elmira Sugar Kings will recall that our local GOJHL team shares with the Listowel Cyclones a rivalry nearly as dramatic and eternal as that of Valjean and Javert. Now, bearing that in mind, a question for Jeff Flanagan, the Elmira team’s newly-minted coach: is transitioning from being coach of the Cyclones to the coach of the Kings a challenge?
“It is a little bit, because with the Cyclones, we certainly built a rivalry, and the players and coaches really get onboard with it,” laughed Flanagan. “Essentially, they’ve been attacking each other for years upon years, right?”
But for Flanagan – who is stepping into departing coach Dean DeSilva’s shoes for the Elmira team’s 2013-14 season – to focus on such saber-rattling misses the point. “Both are excellent organizations. I’ve been around, and in Canada and the U.S., they’re two of the best organizations that I’ve seen from a management standpoint and community support.”
And, over the years, Flanagan has certainly accumulated enough hockey experience to make that judgment with authority. Prior to serving a year with the Cyclones, Flanagan led the Guelph Hurricanes and the University of Guelph’s Gryphons men’s hockey team. He also led hockey clubs in Johnstown and Italy.
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“When you’re a player, you’re predominately focused on your own skills,” said Flanagan. “From a coaching perspective, we are responsible for 20 to 25 players at a time.
“We’re dealing with skill development, but we’re also dealing with the personal lives of the players, and helping them out – issues at schools, career paths, and any issues they might have. It’s certainly a bigger job on the mental side.”
All those games across from the Kings have given Flanagan opportunity to study the Elmira team. While Flanagan and his newly-selected assistant coach, Matt Desmeules, are early in the process, some goals have already been outlined.
“I think we’ll have to find some more scoring to replace Brady Campbell and Jake Weidner,” said Flanagan, referring to last year’s top-scorers, both drafted by the NCAA. “I’m excited to work with some of the leaders that are coming up. … Just focusing on the team aspect, and making sure we have the right players that are all-in on being Sugar Kings, being the best that they can be.”
Turning a hockey player into a Sugar King is the job of an effective coach. What are some of the other qualities that a good hockey coach needs to have?
“Obviously, they need to know the game, and be able to adjust in an in-game situation,” said Flanagan. “I also think that communication is certainly one of the biggest things that a coach needs to have.
“They need to be able to get to know the players – what kind of personalities they have, what kinds of things motivate them, and how to communicate with them to achieve their goals. There are a lot of situations where players might not be playing as they should be, and a coach needs to manage those in a positive manner and help them see where they can be better. Also, when they do things well, there needs to be recognition.”
Flanagan’s first opportunity for praise and guidance will come at the team’s annual prospects camp, at which aspiring players will try to convince coaching staff they’ve got what it takes to be Sugar Kings. The application period closed April 10, and those who applied on time will hit the ice on April 20 at the Woolwich Memorial Centre.