Behind the Bench with Peter DeBoer

By Stephen J. Holodinsky

When it comes to Peter DeBoer you might excuse some of the other coaches in the OHL for being a bit jealous. A babe in the woods by most counts at 31 years old, the coach of the Plymouth Whalers has, in his four years at the helm, finished first in his division twice, played for the OHL championship, won the OHL’s Coach of the Year twice, and just recently copped the CHL Coach of the Year honours. All that and a team brimming with NHL prospects to boot. Last week Coach DeBoer and Hockey’s Future had the opportunity to sit down and talk about his time in Plymouth and what might come next.

Hockey’s Future: You’ve just finished up what can be termed both a very successful season (finishing first overall) and a disappointing one (losing to Barrie in the playoffs). What are your thoughts on the year just passed?

Peter DeBoer: It was a special season. We were predicted to be in a fight just for a playoff position and ended up a game away from a championship.

HF: What kind of feeling did you have going into the Barrie series, putting your comparably inexperienced club up against a veteran club with as many offensive weapons as they had this year?

PD: We knew it would be a test. We were going to have to rely on our team play and discipline to overcome our obvious talent and experience deficiencies.

HF: What were some of the things you set out to do against the Colts and how did your strategies pan out?


PD:

1. Team Defense-wanted to limit their scoring chances

2. Pay attention to Jefferson, Keefe, Shvidki and Henrich

3. Discipline!

I thought we did all three to the best of our ability

HF: Now that this season is over, there is some talk that with so many returning players on the Whalers side, of Plymouth being a prohibitive favourite next year for the OHL and beyond. How do you see next year shaping up for your squad?

PD: Well we are definitely in a better position than a year ago. I am very skeptical of pre-season predictions because so much more than talent on paper goes into a championship.

HF: You won your division in your first year at the helm and again this year. How would you compare the two teams?

PD: In my first season we were lead by two legitimate superstars in their final year of Junior hockey. (Berard/Haggerty) This team had no superstars and relied on team defense.

HF: Does this division winner have more of ‘Peter DeBoer’ in it that the first and if so, in what way(s)?

PD: That first team was a group I inherited from Paul Maurice. I did not play a significant role in drafting the team. This team was selected by my hand (along with my scouts).

HF: What kind of qualities does the proto-typical ‘Peter DeBoer coached’ player possess?

PD: Hard work, determination, and above all else a team first approach to the game

HF: Who, in your time with the Whalers, best typified that kind of player and why?

PD: Randy Fitzgerald (our captain)

HF: A lot has been made out of this year’s draft eligible Plymouth players, you have about 4 or 5 that are fairly highly rated. Was there a master plan behind the Whalers acquisition of these particular players in terms of team building and timing or was this luck on the part of how well these skaters developed?

PD: Scouting. Our scouting staff deserves full credit for finding players like Justin Williams (6th round) and Nate Kiser (5th round)

HF: It’s time for the ‘BtB Squint Test’. When you squint and watch the following players, which NHLer do you see.


Libor Ustrnul: Ed Jovanovski
Jared Newman: Adam Foote
Justin Williams: Steve Larmer
Tomas Kurka: Peter Bondra
Rob Zepp: Jeff Hackett

HF: Who hasn’t the hockey world heard of yet on the Plymouth team who will make a name for himself in two years time?

PD: Stephen Weiss is going to be a great pro prospect.

HF: Situation Hockey-You’re down a goal to the Sarnia Sting with 53 seconds left in the game. You’ve already pulled your goaltender and the face-off is outside of the Sting blueline to the goalies right. Who do you put out there and what kind of play do you have on to get the puck in the zone?

PD: TOP SECRET!!

HF: You’ve been in Plymouth for four seasons now, and have two division titles and a Spectator Trophy to show for your efforts. As much as the franchise has moved either literally or identity-wise, it has maintained a pretty good track record. What were the things you set out to accomplish when you became the team’s coach?

PD: Stability, if a player is here for 3 or 4 years he should know what to expect.

HF: How did you get into coaching?

PD: Retired from playing. Moved into an apartment with an old teammate, Paul Maurice while attending law school. He asked me to help out.

HF: Who was responsible for developing Peter DeBoer, the coach, and in what way did he/they help you to learn the ropes?

PD: I had many influences over the years. I played for Tom Webster, Paul Maurice, Ron Wilson, Curt Fraser, Mike Murphy and Ron Lapointe and took something from each

HF: Michigan is comparable to Canada in terms of hockey fanaticism. In one direction you have the storied Detroit Red Wings and their veteran coach Scotty Bowman. In the other direction you have virtually the same thing in Ann Arbor with the University of Michigan and Red Berenson. Was that ever a factor either good or bad when you took this position and if so, how?

PD: The competition for players and fans is very tough. I was excited by the challenge.

HF: You’re both a young and experienced coach. If you look at the NHL, an immediate comparison can be drawn to Paul Maurice of the Carolina Hurricanes. Are the two of you anomalies in this respect or is there a youth movement going on in the coaching ranks?

PD: I think there is a definite youth movement.

HF: Is coaching in the NHL or the NCAA something you’d like to experience or are you happy in the junior ranks?

PD: I am very happy where I am now. My immediate goal is to win a Memorial Cup and then re-evaluate.

HF: If you knew for certain that an NHL organization was interested in hiring you and you had the chance to either be the head coach of their farm club or an assistant coach with the pro team, which would you choose and why?

PD: (It would really) depend on the situation.

HF: Where do you want to be in 20 years time?

PD: (I’d) still (like to be) involved in hockey in some capacity.