Q&A with German coach Pierre Page

By KH Ehelechner

Pierre Page is the coach of the Eisbären Berlin in the German elite league and one of the greatest supporters of young German prospects. Very few coaches match his experience of more than 32 years, including some 13 years in the NHL.

His passion for hockey makes his team the No. 1 place for young German players not only to improve their skills, but get to know what pro hockey is all about.

Page sat down with Hockey’s Future to evaluate some of Germany’s top ranked prospects, and some who might have been overlooked by CSS for the upcoming NHL entry draft in Raleigh.

HF: You are widely known in the German Elite League DEL for fostering young German
hockey talents. Is this your passion?

PP: As most coaches, I am most interested and motivated to work with players who have a burning desire and willingness to pay the price to keep getting better. Experienced players help you win now while young players keep you young, motivated and focused and help you win now and later. As an organization, we are committed to helping the young German players understand how good they can be. We will do anything we can so that these players reach their goals. It is a circle, if these players get much better, it will help Germany get much better, and that goes a long way in helping hockey grow in Berlin and Germany.

HF: The word is that all those German talents love to come to Berlin, because it is
the best place for them to develop, mainly because of Pierre Page. Did you develop
a special place for those young guys?

PP: It all starts at the top. Mr. Anschütz’s group believes in what we do. Our Manager, Peter Lee, really believes in it also. I have made a career of it. Development is something I love, understand and can do. Berlin offers the Sport School and the best facilities possible (Olympic Training Center) to make it happen.

HF: Do you run special sessions with the young players?
PP: Peter Lee, Hartmut Nickel and all of the coaches in the Program are involved in summer training, summer testing and on-ice training. We want to give these young players a chance to have an edge so that they can play with the Eisbären as soon as possible and be a factor in the team being in a position to win a championship each and every year.

HF: What do they have to work on most to progress?
PP: They have to find an “identity”: Defensive Player, Offensive Player or Physical Player. Ideally, we are looking for scorers who can check and/or checkers who can score, or even physical players who can score,or even physical players who can score and check.

HF: Is there anything specific young German players are lacking most?
PP: Understanding competition and overcoming it. They are not only competing against the player from Selb or Riessersee or Ladshut, They are competing , each and every day, to be better than players from Finland, Sweden, Russia, Czech Republic, Germany, Slovakia, Switzerland, Austria and many others. They must also understand that an average length of a career in the NHL is five years. I don’t know what it is in Europe. But that means that the players must now commit to 11 months of training per year.

HF: What do you believe can be done to improve that?
PP: They need to be in good programs with good coaches. They need individual training programs. They need to pay the price now so that they can develop an “identity”. They need to hang around with people who have the same ambition, desire and willingness to pay the price to be better than all of them.

HF: You have Germany’s CSS top-ranked player Frank Hoerdler on your team. Could
you evaluate him for us?

PP: Frank is the prototype player for North America. His very good hockey sense will guarantee that he will get a lot better. He is very aggressive, loves to hit in open-ice, and can fight very well. He skates well forwards. His backward skating and pivoting will improve when he learns to hit at a 45 degree angle instead of running at people in a straight line or in a 90 degree angle all over the ice. Frank is getting bigger and bigger and will get to be pretty strong. He needs to shoot 100-300 pucks per day all summer. When you see the things that he can do in practice with us during the year, you understand why Frank has a lot of potential.

HF: What would he have to improve to get a chance in North America?
PP: As we keep telling him, you find the good players in the games and the future good players in practice. He must keep practicing at a world class tempo, at an NHL tempo, higher than anyone else, and he will play in North America.

HF: You supported Florian Busch with quite some ice time last season, would consider
him as a possible prospect for the NHL?

PP: He has the most talent of anyone of the young players here. He is fast, skilled and gritty. He will get much bigger and stronger. He will be selected this year from the 6th to the 9th round. If everybody would have seen what this guy can do this year, they would select him from the 3rd to the 5th round. He can play on the top 2 lines on our team. I don’t know too many 18-year-old players who can play as well as he can at this level at 18.

HF: He never made the CSS list. Do you believe he was overlooked?
PP: Wow! You can’t go wrong picking this player in this year’s NHL draft.

HF: Are there any other German players on your team where you believe that they will be drafted in Raleigh?
PP: I am quite sure that goalie Oliver Jonas and defender Tobias Draxinger from the Eisbären will make it this year.

HF: You just acquired Christoph Gawlik, a very promising prospect. Was it difficult to
get him from Mannheim?

PP: He loved Mannheim and enjoyed playing for Helmut de Raaf. Berlin can help him and others a lot between the ages of 17 to 23, critical stage in the true development of the player. Christoph is probably the most intense skilled German player today. He knows what he wants. He is very focused. He will pay the price. As good as he is now, he will get so much better. He is already 86 kilos.

HF: Most people say he is the most talented player in the German junior system. Will
he make the team as the youngest player on your roster?

PP: A coach should never promise ice time. A good player earns the right to more playing time. But as I told you before, an organization and coaches often commit to those who want to get better, can get better, understand how to get better and are willing to pay the price on a regular basis to get better.

HF: What must happen to get a spot on the team?
PP: Jiri Hudler played for Vsetin (Czech Republic) at 17 years of age. It is normally the exception. When you see how people train, practice, play and develop, you know.

HF: And what must happen to lose it?

PP: If you keep worrying about people being better than you instead of believing in your ability to get better no matter what.

HF: There is quite some competition between the young players on your team. Is this
the key to individual success?

PP: We want to get younger, faster and better. Who wants to get better? Who wants to help Germany be better and better? Who wants to play in the Olympics, World Championships? Who wants to win a DEL Championship? Who wants to play in the NHL? You need global competition to achieve that.

HF: Including with the acquisition of highly talented goalie Youri Ziffzer, you have now 10 young German prospects on your team, to my knowledge, a number, unsurpassed in
German pro hockey. Don’t you think other coaches should follow your path in order to
support young German players?

PP: You should see some of the other players! Who is going to develop the young German players from 17 years of age until 23. It is a very high risk! But it is not so high if you reward those who deserve it because they understand, want and are getting so much better. Should the 17-year-old German players play against the 15 and 16-year-olds or against 18 to 23 year-olds?

HF: What would you tell a young German hockey kid he has to do to make it to the DEL?
PP: Do you have an “identity”? What individual training programs do you have in the summer months? Who do you train with (players with ambition, focus) Do you believe in your ability to be better than players around the world? Are you willing to pay the price now for 11 months a year?

HF: What would you tell the same kid he has to avoid to make it?
PP: Don’t wait til next summer, next year, next time, next coach, next team, next league.
Find a good program, good coaches, good training facilities. Find out what you have to do now and do IT! And keep on trucking, and competing, and living up to your “identity”, or even become a more complete player!

HF: What would you tell a German junior player he has to do to make it to the DEL?
PP: Do you want to play or do you want to win? What is your “identity”? Do you want to be better than the other German players or do you want to be better than anyone who comes to Germany, or better than anyone you will have to compete against along the way?

HF: What would you tell a German junior player he has to do to make the NHL?
PP: The process is the process! Somebody has to tell you what it takes. Then you have to understand it, do it and do it better than players from other countries. The best NHL players now hire personal trainers to make sure that they stay ahead of the others. You need to find the right trainer, the right program, the right people to train with, the right attitude, one which is willing to sacrifice now for later. If you believe it and stick to the plan, it will happen.