Now in his 15th season as head coach at Bemidji State, Tom Serratore has taken the Beavers to great heights, including the 2009 Frozen Four. A native of Coleraine and a graduate of Bemidji State, Serratore says communication is the key to making quick, smart decisions in a fast, high-octane game.
“Teams that communicate well usually have a certain edge to their game in a positive way,” he says. “They typically do little things well, and they’re more consistent during a 60-minute hockey game than a team that doesn’t communicate very well. There’s a fine line between winning and losing. A team that communicates well is usually a team that is strong tactically and very difficult to play against.”
Here are five communications tips from coach Serratore:
1. Communication is a skill
It doesn’t matter if it’s verbal or non-verbal, communication can be the difference between winning a game and losing a game. It’s very important that all five-man units have proper communication and work together. For example, is a defenseman communicating with the backchecker on who he should pick up in a rush? Another example is how defensive partners communicate with each other in a breakout situation under heavy pressure.
2. Understanding the game
More often than not, communication is just having a good feel and understanding of the game. Line changing is actually a form of communication. When the first player goes off on a change, that’s the cue for his linemates or defensive partner to get off as well. On a puck that’s dumped in or rimmed, it’s critical for the goalie and defensemen to read pressure and go to certain spots so the play can continue on smoothly. It’s very important for coaches to work on situations where communication can be the difference between maintaining puck possession or putting your team in a situation for an untimely turnover.
3. Face the play, know the play
To communicate effectively, it’s important to not turn your back to the play. By facing the play, you’re going to be more efficient and quicker in your decision-making. Having a high hockey IQ helps communication because smart players know when they should make a play and when they shouldn’t. Players with advanced hockey sense know where they should go on the ice to support the puck, and they learn how to play away from the puck.
4. Talk in a tough environment
The best way of communicating in a hostile environment is having good habits as a player. By having good habits, you and your teammates will have the necessary chemistry to counter the surroundings that can be difficult to play in. During stoppages, a coach can communicate with players and instruct, but more importantly, the breaks allow players to talk things over and develop more chemistry together.
5. It all starts in practice
I think the best way to teach communication is by repetition in practice. I encourage players to verbally communicate in practice. It not only forms a habit that can carry over into games but also forces players to be more alert and be into the practice mentally. Use drills that are fast-paced and simulate game situations. Small games force players to think and react quickly and develop hockey sense that helps non-verbal communication.