Allen Iverson’s rant on practice is a classic. Iverson had sat out a practice and it became a huge story in Philly. When Iverson retired Gary Payton told the story how in the summer prior to this interview Iverson had asked him how he was able to keep his body fresh and play every game. Payton told him his head coach, George Karl, wouldn’t let him practice very much. Karl knew he was a smaller guard and he needed rest to keep his body healthy. Iverson took it to heart, but he might not have went about it the right way.
It is still a great rant, and it relates to the Oilers because of what Ladislav Smid and Ilya Bryzgalov said regarding the pace and intensity of their new team’s practices.
After his first practice with the Calgary Flames, Smid said he was surprised at how intense the practice was, and last week Ilya Brzygalov said the Wild practices had “a much faster pace.“
Do the Oilers need to practice harder? Can they practice harder?
I went looking for the answers to those questions and a few more. I spoke with Dallas Eakins, Sam Gagner and David Perron about the Oilers practices.
I spoke to Perron because he was in St.Louis the previous six seasons, and I was curious if he noticed a difference in how the teams practiced.
Do you think it is up
to the players to control the pace and tempo practice?
I do. Dallas
mentioned it a lot. Do you want to be the guy driving the practice or do you
want to sit in the back of the bus and hope the day goes by, and that’s not a
way you get better. It’s up to us to bring that level higher. I think it has
improved over the season, but there is another level to get to for sure.
How can you make
practices more intense?
It’s pretty simple. Every time there is a rebound you try to
score. Every time you go by the net you stop. The hard work comes
with the habits. When you have good habits it brings your level higher because
you want to succeed.
If you’re not going to do it in the game, you have to start
doing it in practice and then it will translate in the game. You will go by the
net and it will be natural that you will stop. Early in the year we didn’t have
many guys going to the net, but I think it has gotten better and when we do
have one-on-one battles in practice we can be harder for sure.
What differences have
you noticed from practices in St.Louis to Edmonton?
Here they are a bit longer and we have more explanation at
the board. I’m not sure if it’s because we are a younger team and having to explain
more system stuff.
In St. Louis it
(practice) was pretty short, because when you’ve been on the same team for a bit
you’re on the same page, and that’s why they are having success and that’s what
we are trying to get to here.
The Oilers are younger than the Blues and Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, Hall, Yakupov, J.Schultz and Petry have had a new coach every season they’ve played. It makes sense that this team needs more teaching and likely why their practices don’t have a consistent flow as often as a veteran team like the Blues.
The Oilers still don’t go to the net as often as they should, but Perron was bang on that at least they are doing it more than they did earlier in the season. The issue with the Oilers top-six isn’t the individual talent of the players, rather that they are essentially all the same. Outside of Perron, the other five didn’t have a “drive-the-net” philosophy in junior. It is hard to completely alter a player’s game, and that’s why I believe this group needs a different mix of players. They are all too similar.
Sam Gagner has played his entire career in Edmonton. He’s had five different head coaches and I asked him his thoughts on the pace and intensity of Oilers practice.
Some former teammates
said the pace in practice was higher on their new team. Perron said your team’s
pace was lower at the start of the season, but it has improved throughout the
year. Have you noticed a difference, and if so in what way?
I think a lot of times when you are going to a new team you
are flying and stuff, and that first practice is going to be tough regardless.
For us, pace starts with puck movement and I think it has gotten better as the
year’s gone on. If you are going to be a successful team in this league you
have to be able to execute. That is something we are really focusing on, especially
in practice, and we have to continue to get better if we’re going to become one
of the top teams in the league. We still have a way to go.
Do you believe if you
practice harder maybe they will play harder and grittier?
I’m a huge believer in it. I’ve always thought when you are
in a slump you break it in practice before you break it in a game. You’re not
always going to feel great in practice, whether you played a game the night
before, but you have to find a way to get the most out of yourself, execute
properly and move the puck properly and get your pace going. It translates into
a game hugely.
Is the pace of
practice set more by the players or the coach?
I think the coach is driving the practice and we’re the ones
pushing it. The coaches have a practice plan and they lay it out, but it is on us to
make sure we are pushing it.
Gagner was on to something about the first practice with a new team. Smid’s first practice in Calgary came after an off day for the Flames and when he was traveling. However, Gagner did admit his team still has room to improve in practice.
A few years ago I interviewed Nick Lidstrom and he told me that bad passes weren’t acceptable during Red Wings practices. Players would get on each other if they made bad passes. He firmly believed that if you accepted bad passing in practice it would happen in the game. Mike Babcock said those rules were put in place by the players not the coaches, because the players needed to manage and decide which passes weren’t acceptable. He said it carried more weight when a teammate challenged a player on his passing rather than the coach.
The Oilers don’t have something like that in place, and if they do implement a similar rule, it has to be initiated by the players not the coach.
Do you have a response to what Bryzgalov said last week and Smid earlier in the
season about the difference in the pace and intensity of practice?
I would totally agree with them. In the Smid case, he traveled the whole day and his first practice came after a day off and of
course that will be a high-paced practice.
In Bryz’s case he is excited; he is going to a team that is coming off the
trade deadline where they made some moves to try and take a good swat at the
Stanley Cup. After that deadline I’m sure their practice was very exciting to
get the new players in.
Did they have great pace in those practices, absolutely? But
I will tell you this. I’ve watched a lot of teams practice in the NHL, teams
that have come into our building and a lot of times when your team is struggling
you go watch to make sure you aren’t missing something. I put our practices up
against anybody in the league and I’ve seen some very good teams practice that,
boy, there was no pace.
It was more rest, move the puck and conserve for the
game. There are so many different ways you can skin the cat getting ready for
the game. But for our team right now, when it’s supposed to be pace, we go after the
pace, but a lot of time it has been about teaching.
How much do you feel
is on you to set the pace, or how much of it is up to the players to set the
I think it is up to everyone. It is up to the players to
push each other; it is up to the coach to make sure they are going. The
structure of the practice depending on the day of the week and how many games
they’ve played, what you need to work on, that usually dictates the real pace
of the practice is what you are trying to accomplish.
If you are coming off a day off and you don’t play for a couple days, that’s going
to be a tough, hard battle, very high-paced practice. When you’re playing every
other day you might be just working on your powerplay, which slows down the
practice. And for our group, especially this year, we’ve had to do so much
teaching that you are stopping practice and going into the details and trying to
hammer home these new concepts and new habits. You could go watch a team
practice five different days and each day the pace would be greatly, greatly
Is the plan to have
less whiteboard time next year which will increase the pace of practice?
Exactly. The less you have to go to the board, but more
importantly, the less you have to stop the drill and make sure everybody is in
the right spots and re-enforce it, then you can get on to other stuff.
You have to be careful with pace in practice. We can go out
and do a whole bunch of shooting drills that look nice and shiny and everyone
will be skating fast, but they have little to do with the structure of the
game. There are days you want the pace high, and there are days where you need
the detail and the teaching. Our team right now, much less than at the start of
year, we are still in the teaching phase and we are not going to let the
- The Oilers top players aren’t very physical or gritty, so I wouldn’t expect them to be in practice. They are also young and inexperienced and they keep turning over the puck in games, so I understand why the coach is still spending a lot of time on the whiteboard. I still don’t think they battle as hard as they should — Perron said the same — but I think that is also a product of the make up of this team.
The Oilers don’t have a very big or aggressive blueline. Prior to Mark Fraser’s arrival, Andrew Ference was the only D-man who would play physical. I’ve watched Fraser in practice and he doesn’t go easy on the forwards. That will help them. If they are never exposed to playing against big, mean and aggressive defenders in practice, it makes sense that they would struggle against them in a game. Fraser at least gives them an idea of how hard it will be to go to the net or come out the corner against a big D-man. Petry, J.Schultz, N.Schultz, Potter and Larsen never presented that challenge.
I remember watching Steve Staios, Jason Smith and Ethan Moreau practice. Smith and Staios practiced like they played, and they used to have some great battles with Moreau. I believe that helped them during games.
The Oilers are starting to get a few more players like that. Hendricks brings an edge to practice as does Gordon and Perron, but until the Oilers get more skilled players with size I don’t see this issue being solved. You practice like you play and the Oilers aren’t blessed with many big, strong or aggressive players right now. They also don’t have a lot of “old man” strength in their top-six. The Oilers skilled players will be much better and stronger when they are all 24 years of age and older, but they currently they lack the size and strength to compete with other teams.
I still would like to see a bit more intensity in the battle drills, but like Perron and Gagner said that has to come from the players.
- I watched last night’s game from the lower bowl and the size difference of the Oilers and Kings was even more obvious. If you don’t believe the Oilers need more size in their top-six now, then I’m not sure what games you’ve been watching. I thought the Oilers overall effort was fine, they just aren’t as big, mature and experienced as the Kings. The Kings could manhandle the Oilers when they wanted to, and until this team matures and adds some skilled size I don’t see that changing.
- Jordan Nolan sucker punches Jesse Joensuu and nothing happens to him. I didn’t see anyone even mouth him off when he was on the ice in the 3rd period. I’m sure Gazdic said something from the bench, but I don’t understand why he wasn’t put on the ice against Nolan. The score was 4-2 with 10 minutes to play, did anyone think the stingy Kings were going to relinquish the lead? For me it was another example of showing teams they can get away with anything against the Oilers.
At some point isn’t it important to send a message, other than the one that says it is okay to take liberties on our players?
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- Oscar Klefbom is a now considered a regular recall and will make his NHL debut in Minnesota tomorrow.
- Is coaching on the verge of ruining hockey? One NHL sniper thinks it is. Read here.
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