Practice ended five minutes earlier but Marty McSorley remains on the ice for a little game of keep-away with Phoenix Coyotes’ top-prospect Fredrik Sjostrom.
It would appear to be an uneven match-up, the 20-year-old speedster from Sweden versus a man who was never known for his stickhandling during his solid, though unspectacular, 17 years of service in the NHL. Both player and new coach laughed and smiled through the exercise as they emptied their bag of puck tricks with varying degrees of success.
But even though McSorley’s most limber days on the ice are behind him, he knows that his future as a coach is right there in front of him, closing in quickly with each day that passes.
After being appointed in June as the bench boss with the Coyotes’ AHL affiliate, the Springfield Falcons, McSorley is looking to prove himself in this, his latest test.
“I’m ready to learn and put the work in that’s needed,” says McSorley. “I’m very curious and very alert because there’s so much you need to learn and so many little things I didn’t do before that I’m prepared to do now,”
To help sort out some of the wrinkles early and become acquainted with players in the Coyotes’ system, McSorley is coaching the prospects team in this years’ rookie tournament in Hull, Quebec. Thus far, the early returns of a 0-3 record haven’t been anything to get excited about, but he’s had little time to put any kind of stamp on the team and knows it’s going to take some time.
“I went to a lot of hockey games, talked to a lot of coaches and tried to get myself into the right frame of mind that’s needed to learn,” says McSorley of his preparations. “I’m sure there’s things that are going to take me quite a bit longer to do than the coaches who are seasoned, so I’ll put the work in early.”
He’s also been putting the work in late, often among the last off the ice after practice as he goes through the finer points of a drill or a defensive situation with one of the young players in camp. McSorley will stick around for an impromptu game of one-on-one, a chance to answer questions or even to help pick up the pucks.
“As a former defensive defenseman, he’s actually taught me quite a bit the last few days,” says Jay Leach, one of the players making an early audition for a spot in Springfield. “He showed me a few tricks but I basically have to play the game simple, kind of like he did.”
What Leach says is telling of the reasons why McSorley is here. He owns a wealth of knowledge and experience to share with the next generation of hockey players and help them develop. He’s won Stanley Cups, he’s had a long career in the NHL and he’s been in their situation before.
Undrafted out of junior hockey in the Ontario Hockey League, McSorley was invited to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ training camp on a tryout basis and eventually left the camp with a contract in hand. He knows what it’s like to chase the dream of the NHL.
“You know when you’re wearing number 78 that you better do something,” he says with a laugh.”
“I was invited to camp at 18 and took advantage of the situation. I was very fortunate.”
But if you think this venture into coaching is solely about him, you’d be sadly mistaken.
It’s a shame the soft-spoken coach will be remembered by many for one incident, a slash to the head of former Vancouver Canucks enforcer Donald Brashear that sent him to the hospital with a concussion. But McSorley isn’t here to try and change the past or how some people will remember him, he’s here to help kids develop into better hockey players, and that’s what he’s preparing for.
“It takes some preparing to make sure that every day, no matter what’s gone on, that I can come in and deliver a creative environment that’s more conducive to their development,” he says.
Leach says that’s exactly what McSorley has provided the team of prospects so far in this tournament.
“I find the best coaches are the ones that let you play and give you confidence and he’s done that tremendously,” says Leach. “I think he’s very interested in learning this and helping guys develop, so that’s perfect.”
Though he’s starting out, McSorley already has a strong idea of the type of team he wants to build in Springfield, but he knows it has to be flexible based on the type of players he’s given. It’s not the overtly physical style that you might expect to come from a man who built and maintained a career from 3,381 career penalty minutes, but it does stress the teamwork and responsibility that formed the backbone of his own game philosophy.
“I’d like my team to skate very well and attack very well both offensively and defensively,” says McSorley.
“It should be more about team commitment than personal goals,” he adds. “It’s important for them to take the puck and go into traffic, not just stand at red-line and hope to get points.”
This season should prove a solid proving ground for just how well his philosophy works as the enthusiastic McSorley tackles coaching duties head-on. The same way he did things as an NHLer.