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Marco Sturm on NHL coaching future, growing hockey in Germany (PHT Q&A)

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Last week’s Pittsburgh Penguins development camp featured a special guest instructor with numerous ties to the organization. Germany’s men’s national team head coach and former NHLer Marco Sturm was on the ice working with the team’s prospects as he continues his education in the coaching world.

During this past season Sturm did a tour meeting with some of his national team players who play in the NHL, like ex-Penguins, now-New York Islanders forward Tom Kuhnhackl. He also kept in touch with Penguins assistant general manager Bill Guerin and Director of Player Development Scott Young and was eventually extended an invitation to help out at development camp. (More Sturm/Penguins connections include once being teammates with Penguins assistant Mark Recchi when the pair played for then-Boston Bruins and current Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan.)

Three years ago Sturm, 39, was hired by the German Hockey Federation to run the men’s national team, the first step in what he hopes will someday help him land a job behind an NHL bench. This past February he guided them to a silver medal at the Pyeongchang Olympics.

“We all have goals. I always had a goal as a player and nothing’s really changed now as a coach,” Sturm told Pro Hockey Talk last week. “Now I can see it again being around with an NHL club, it’s a lot of fun. I’m still young, I’m still learning a lot. My goal is to maybe come back here in the States and to work and coach a team in the future.”

We spoke with Sturm about his influences, the lack of European NHL head coaches and how Germany’s silver medal in Pyeongchang has helped the sport in his home country.

Enjoy.

Q. When did you know you wanted to get into coaching?

STURM: “I never wanted to be a coach, that’s for sure. I finished my career and we were still in Florida because of my kids, we didn’t want to move again. So we said OK, let’s spend another year in Florida, then all of a sudden it was six years. My son is playing, my kids were playing, so he got me into a little bit of coaching. I coached [with] the Florida Jr. Panthers and then after 2-3 years I got the call from [German Ice Hockey Association President Franz Reindl] to coach Team Germany.”

What coaches made the biggest impact on you during your playing career?

“I probably took the most out of him because I had him the longest, it was Darryl Sutter. He really showed me and taught me with hard work and a lot of discipline how to be successful in this league. He was a really good mentor for me and I learned a lot. Other guys, Claude Julien, I had him for four years. He kind of is a little bit old school, too, like Darryl. I like that he was very fair and also with the assistant coaches we had [in Boston] with Geoff Ward, [Craig] Ramsay and Doug Houda. Those were the guys who stuck out to me the most.”

Did you receive any interest from NHL teams after Pyeongchang?

“No, not serious conversation because I went right back, I had the World Championship coming up [in May]. We were talking at the draft to a couple of teams. But I want to take my time, too. I’m still so young, I want to learn. I love my job right now, but maybe in the near future something comes up.”

There have been only two European NHL head coaches. Why do you think that is? Why are teams so hesitant to go in that direction?

“I think there’s probably a little bit more risk than hiring maybe a guy from over here [North America]. Could be the language, but every GM has those kind of connections and worked with someone before. Most of them aren’t overseas. To hire someone from Europe, I think there’s a little bit more risk to it and maybe that’s why people just glad to take someone they knew before.”

When you took over the German program, what did you do right away to start to implement your ideas and change the culture?

“The first camp we had, even the players didn’t know where they were at. I tried to change a lot of things and that means putting a structure in place [with] what I think is going to be successful in the future and also having that core group go along with it. I had some huge help from my players. Even in the youth program, I put a new structure in place. The guys now are playing the same way I want to play or I’m playing with the big guys. Also, treat the players the right way. I think there was always that era in Germany that maybe they didn’t know. But I’ve been around some good hockey players and good organizations, so I’m trying to treat them the right way like they’re supposed to be. 

“It all came back to me. It was a lot of hard work, a lot of excitement from my players.”

How will the “PowerPlay 26” program help German hockey moving forward?

“I think in the little guys, the young age group, you can tell already there’s more kids coming up. It’s going to take time, right? We know it’s going to take 10 years. But it’s working. It’s a long process, but I like goals. Like I have goals in my coaching career, now I do like the way the organization has put that ‘PowerPlay 26’ together. We have a lot of work to do but I think it’s a good start. We tried to do our best, especially in tournaments like Olympics or World Championship to have a good result in the end. That, of course, helps getting more kids involved in the great sport of hockey.”

Since Pyeongchang what kind of reactions have you seen in the German hockey community?

“Right away. We came back and I think our lives changed a little bit, not just at home. We got recognized all over Germany, so that was nice. The media was great. We had a nice push there because it was not just about soccer. We talked about hockey and that’s the first time I’ve ever seen it was like that. Also the most important is we had thousands of kids actually signed up right after in those different clubs to learn to skate and wanted to be hockey players. That’s a good step — little steps, but it’s a good step to get more kids involved. We try together with the [Deutsche Eishockey Liga] clubs to get more kids and develop kids and coaches to have a better program in the future.”

What’s next for you and the German national team?

“We always have our Deutschland Cup. It’s a big tournament in November. But during the season I added more camps for young kids. I’m trying to push those young kids more and more into our game because that’s the way everyone is going right now. You can see it in the NHL. Our goal at the next World Championship, we want to finish in eighth place. Why’s it important? Because the top eight, they go automatically to the next Olympics. That’s going to be huge for us. We’re on that eighth spot right now, so we don’t want to get to the qualifying tournament again. We know how hard it was, so it would be nice for us to finish the season with No. 8.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

James van Riemsdyk on fatherhood, Flyers/NHL returning, and more

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Flyers winger James van Riemsdyk took a moment out of his day/put his car in park to chat with Mike Tirico on “Lunch Talk Live” on Friday. You can watch the full video above this post’s headline.

JVR didn’t do much to peel back the curtain on return-to-play issues, but he provided some useful information nonetheless.

  • Maybe most relevantly, JVR told Tirico that he’ll be close to 100 percent if the Flyers actually get to return to play. Van Riemsdyk injured his finger back in March.

JVR and Tirico didn’t really go into this, but the 31-year-old winger was heating up toward the end of 2019-20. Things didn’t start that smoothly, as Van Riemsdyk only managed five goals and 11 points through his first 17 games. Considering the $7M per year investment the Flyers made, JVR probably heard some grumbles.

But he played some of his best hockey with a still-fairly-new team before the injury and the pandemic struck. JVR scored 29 of his season’s 40 points (and 14 of his 19 goals) through the last 39 games. An updated version of Bill Comeau’s SKATR chart captures how much better JVR has been overall in 2019-20 after a disappointing return season with Philly:

JVR SKATR
via Bill Comeau

As disruptive as the pandemic has been, it had to be nice for JVR to be there for such a life event. An eager Tirico also learned that JVR’s child already has Gritty slippers.

(Please send Gritty slippers. I’m already quite googly-eyed from quarantining, anyway. At least my belly button doesn’t change colors [yet] though.)

  • He didn’t elaborate much, but JVR hinted that players prefer reseeding over a bracketed playoff format.

Really, though, the low-fi nature of the video pushes it to another level. Few things humanize a person quite like doing an interview in a parking lot. (Been there, JVR, been there. Kind of.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

USA Hockey president Jim Smith facing investigations

AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — USA Hockey president Jim Smith is the subject of two investigations surrounding his tenure as the president of Amateur Hockey Association Illinois.

USA Hockey spokesman Dave Fischer confirmed Friday that the organization has hired an independent investigator to look into Smith’s business dealings with AHAI. Fischer also said the US Center for SafeSport is investigating allegations that Smith was aware of sexual misconduct by a coach and didn’t take action against him during Smith’s tenure with AHAI.

The Athletic first reported on the two investigations.

Fischer said the US Center for SafeSport’s investigation is regarding allegations that were made against Thomas Adrahtas, a youth hockey coach. The Athletic reported in February that multiple players said Adrahtas had abused them.

The US Center for SafeSport said in a statement that ”consistent with best practices and federal law, the Center does not discuss matters to protect the integrity of the process and the privacy of the parties and any potential witnesses.”

Smith couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. He told The Athletic through a spokesperson earlier this month that ”in my time as president of AHAI, there were no reports alleging misconduct by Tom Adrahtas.”

Founded in 1937, USA Hockey is an organization focused on the support and development of grass-roots hockey programs. Smith was unanimously elected as president by the organization’s board of directors in 2015. He was unanimously re-elected in 2018.

Ducks’ offensive woes extend to rare 2-year playoff drought

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — The last time the Anaheim Ducks missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, they went all the way to their franchise’s first Stanley Cup Final just one year later.

Not many observers expect the current Ducks to duplicate the feats of those beloved 2002-03 Mighty Ducks after they complete another long offseason made even longer by the coronavirus pandemic.

These Ducks are still in full rebuilding mode after winning just 29 of their 71 games this season, including a Western Conference-worst 24 non-shootout victories. The Ducks were in sixth place in the Pacific Division standings primarily on the sturdy strength of goalies John Gibson and Ryan Miller, who bailed out their teammates all winter long.

Just three years after the Ducks reached the conference finals for the second time in three seasons, a long road back to Cup contention appears to loom in Orange County. Anaheim got largely disappointing performances from its collection of forwards – a star-free group outside captain Ryan Getzlaf – and the blue line was inconsistent while coach Dallas Eakins worked young talent into the lineup amid injuries and trade departures.

But during a second straight season without a playoff appearance – matching their total playoff-less seasons over the previous 13 years combined – Eakins and general manager Bob Murray saw signs of the team they want the Ducks to become. They’ll have an extra-long offseason to contemplate the next steps to get there.

”While we would have preferred to conclude our season normally and play 82 games, it became obvious over time that was not practical,” Murray said this week. ”We remain excited about our future and can’t wait for the 2020-21 season.”

SELDOM SCORING

Perhaps appropriately for a team with a long-standing reputation as an intimidating, defense-first organization, the Ducks’ biggest problems during their two-year playoff drought have been all about offense. Eakins was hired last summer to implement a speed-based system designed to produce more scoring opportunities, but it’s just not happening yet.

One season after Anaheim finished last in the NHL in goals, its minus-39 goal differential this season was the conference’s worst. Anaheim scored two or fewer regulation goals in a whopping 39 of its 71 games. Only Adam Henrique (26 goals) and Jakob Silfverberg (21) found the net with any frequency.

The Ducks’ problems ranged from Rickard Rakell‘s two-year regression to the disappointing numbers from youngsters who weren’t ready to produce at the highest level. Murray also curiously gave up on Ondrej Kase and Daniel Sprong in February, trading two young forwards with clear NHL-caliber scoring ability when they didn’t produce enough for his liking.

IN THE CREASE

Gibson and Miller didn’t post impressive statistics, but anybody who watched these Ducks knew their most valuable players were between the pipes. Gibson’s game has grown and matured even while his team has regressed, and the 39-year-old Miller still shows no drop-off in his abilities. If Miller decides to return for another NHL season, he’ll have the chance to pass Dominik Hasek on the NHL’s career victories list – and the Ducks won’t have to worry about this vital position for another year.

DROP THE BALLS

The Ducks have an 8.5% chance of getting the No. 1 overall pick in the NHL’s complicated draft lottery. Anaheim hasn’t had a top-five draft pick since 2005, when it snagged Bobby Ryan with the second overall choice. Murray and his scouting department have a long history of finding impressive talent outside the first round, but they’ll likely have the opportunity to choose a game-changing star this summer for the first time. The Ducks also have Boston’s first-round pick from their trade of Kase.

DARK BLUE LINE

Anaheim’s collection of defensemen appears to be thoroughly average, and none seems likely to get much better. Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson are solid pros, but they’re likely past the points in their development where they could become stars. The Ducks could use an injection of game-changing talent on the blue line.

GETTING BUCKETS

Linemates Henrique and Silfverberg bucked their team’s offensive struggles with a pair of impressive seasons, and they’ll be a foundation of the rebuilding effort. Henrique was particularly productive, leading the roster with 43 points. They’re both locked into long-term contracts.

GETZ BACK

The 35-year-old Getzlaf will head into the final season of his contract later this year when he begins his 16th season with Anaheim. The playmaker still racked up 29 assists this season despite finishing the year on a line with Danton Heinen and Sonny Milano, two 24-year-old recent additions with a combined 59 career NHL goals. It’s a long way down from his heyday with Corey Perry, but Getzlaf appears eager to keep working on the Ducks’ rebuilding project.

Supporters quickly raise $500K to try to save Alabama-Huntsville hockey program

UAH Hockey University of Alabama-Huntsville logo $500K
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Mere days after it looked like the University of Alabama-Huntsville men’s hockey program was going to get cut, supporters raised a whopping $500K in hopes of keeping the UAH program alive.

With another $500K expected to come from boosters, the University of Alabama-Huntsville men’s ice hockey program reached the seemingly unrealistic goal of $1M to try to avoid the end of a program that stretches back four decades.

UAH supporters drove that $500K by combining a Go Fund Me account with T-shirt sales.

Now, this doesn’t outright guarantee the continuation of UAH’s men’s program.

“[School president Darren Dawson] did make us a verbal commitment that if you get to that number, we’ll make it happen,” former UAH player Sheldon Wolitski told AL.com. “We’re hoping he’s going to honor his word. We were asking for a formal statement from him to say that. It would be a shame to put all this effort and we raise it and he doesn’t follow through.”

Even if school officials stick to that verbal commitment, there are some hurdles to clear.

Not the first time the UAH men’s ice hockey program has been saved

Paul Gattis (also of AL.com) argues that the UAH men’s ice hockey program needs more than just money to survive. This is not, after all, the first time that this program needed saving. It was teetering on being canceled back in 2011 before victory was snatched from the jaws of defeat.

Even so, it’s pretty remarkable, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Does it justify comparing UAH officials to “Dr. Evil?” I’d zip it on that one.)

Those fighting for the UAH men’s ice hockey program aim to preserve something quite unusual, as Joseph Goodman noted as fundraising intensified:

UAH hockey is the only NCAA Division I hockey program in the South. How cool is that? It’s one of one — a singular, special thing just like the city it skates for and represents.

Will we see this program survive after giving Cam Talbot and others the chance to chase their dreams? It seems a lot more likely after an eventful week.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.