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What it takes to develop a pro

Scott Pellerin

Shediac native Scott Pellerin, seen here as a coach in the American Hockey League, is now the assistant manager of player development for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Photo: Steve Babineau

“While growing up in New Brunswick, Scott Pellerin got his hockey career underway by playing an imaginary game against the fireplace in his family’s living room. And in his rug-rink fantasy, Guy Lafleur always got his goal.”

– Hockey Hall of Fame website

Business leaders understand that growing a business requires developing talent. In his current role as assistant manager of player development for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Scott Pellerin has a point of view and clear understanding on what it takes to develop talent in one of the toughest and most unforgiving business sectors – the National Hockey League.

Scott left his hometown of Shediac at an early age to attend the Athol Murray College of Notre Dame (a boarding school) in Wilcox, Sask., where he played hockey for the Notre Dame Hounds under legendary coach Barry MacKenzie. Scott advanced through the ranks to the University of Maine and was drafted by the New Jersey Devils in 1989. The minor/pro shuttle then became Scott’s way of life for three seasons.

Scott’s first real break came when he signed as a free agent with the St. Louis Blues in 1996-1997. In no time, he fulfilled his dream of being a full-time player in the NHL. From 1992 to 2004 Pellerin played in 536 NHL games scoring 72 goals and 126 assists for 198 points with stops that included St. Louis, New Jersey, Dallas, Phoenix, Carolina, Boston and Minnesota.

After his playing career, Scott was the assistant coach of the Manchester Monarchs, the Los Angeles Kings AHL affiliate from 2006-2012, where he was key in the development of several players who helped the Kings win their first Stanley Cup in 2012.

After a couple of years as head coach for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the AHL – the primary affiliate for the New York Islanders – Scott was recruited to help the Toronto Maple Leafs this year.

Q: Can you tell me about the move from playing hockey to coaching a team?

A: There’s a certain point in a player’s career when, at 35 years old, you just know that you’re probably not going to play in the NHL again and it is time to go on to something different. For me it was coaching. Mentally, it was very difficult for me as a coach not to feel like I was a player, but it’s something that you have to go through in order to become a good coach. I’m really enjoying coaching and developing players to reach their goals and dreams of playing in professional hockey.

Q: How do you approach developing hockey players?

A: I always look at three different things; you coach the technical, you coach the physical and you coach the mental. I’ve always used these three areas in my preparation when I was a player and now I’m using it as a coach. The real challenge for me is how to get players to max out their ability, be motivated and reach their potential.

Q: Goal setting is important in business and hockey, how do you approach setting goals?

A: When you look at setting goals– season goals, monthly goals, game goals or whatever your team is striving for – sometimes it can be overwhelming. Sometimes people give up. I don’t want my guys to give up. I want them to continue to find a way to push forward even if they fall on their face.

[Tweet “I don’t want my guys to give up. – Scott Pellerin”]

We have a way of focusing on goals called ‘the five-minute chunk’ and it’s about breaking the game down into segments of five minutes.
It refocuses our guys to have that sharp focus for five minutes and then move on from it.

Refocus again so that you can either continue the momentum in a positive direction or refocus that negative momentum and try to get that restart. I think it’s really helped players to have a strong focus and execution of their skills.

Q: I know you believe that building trust within a team is very important, how do you go about creating a trusting environment?

A: In hockey, you have to go through that process of looking across the room and looking at somebody in the eye and knowing that they’re going to go to battle for you. When I was a head coach, we talked about ‘holding the rope’ in our locker room. We have what we call ‘the rope’; if you were stuck on the side of a mountain who would you pick to hold the rope to keep you from sliding off the edge?

[Tweet “Who would you pick to hold the rope to keep you from sliding off the edge? – Scott Pellerin”]

The idea is that they are there to help you and support you and hold the rope for you – and you’re going to hold the rope for them. The attitude is that you’re going to be there for your teammate. That’s a tangible way of how we try to build that trust within a team.

Q: I’m curious about how would you want players to describe you as a coach or the leader of the team?

A: I would say fair and honest. If a player and I are on the same page, they know that I’m going to be fair and I’m going to be honest. Part of being fair and honest is that I may tell them the things they don’t necessarily want to hear.

[Tweet “I may tell them the things they don’t necessarily want to hear. – Scott Pellerin”]

Q: How do you help players prepare to move their game to the next level?

A: I like to push players out of their comfort zone. For example, as a coach in an important game, I’d put somebody in to kill a penalty that hasn’t penalty-killed all year. My assistant coaches would be looking down at me, like,“What are you doing?”I know that I have to put this player in that role to see how he reacts and to see him play when the game’s on the line. Is he going to get better in that position? You have to put people in tough situations to help them get better. And that’s the fun part for me – helping these guys get to that next level.

[Tweet “I like to push players out of their comfort zone. – Scott Pellerin”]

Q: So you’re constantly pushing people just outside their comfort zone.

A: Yeah, they’ll get to a certain point where they’ll fail, but you don’t want them to fail and then crash and burn. You want them to get back up from failure, having elevated their game.

Q: What has been a highlight for you so far in your career?

A: I was fortunate enough to be with the Los Angeles Kings organization in Manchester where we had, I believe, 12 players that won the Stanley Cup with the Kings – players that came through Manchester that I was able to help coach.

Q: What in particular was rewarding about watching a player develop from a minor league hockey player into a Stanley Cup champion?

A: It took six years, but it was amazing to me to see the progression of some of the players and the important impact they had on other players. They might not have been the star players, but they were that core group of guys that really helped the Kings win the Cup.

Q: What has been your proudest professional moment so far?

A: The proudest moment for me was being in that locker room after winning the Stanley Cup and looking across the room and seeing all the guys that I had coached. Lifting the Cup in the locker room and having the players around me – that was pretty cool.

[Tweet “Lifting the Cup in the locker room – that was pretty cool. – Scott Pellerin”]

Q: How would you finish the following sentence;“A leader’s job is to …”

A: A leader’s job is to make people around them better and to empower people to get the best out of your group.

Q: Final question, how does a person become a great coach in hockey?

A: An old coach once told me,“The makings of a good coach are a great goalie, great wife and a real supportive dog.”

Dave Veale is a business and leadership coach and founder of Vision Coaching Inc. in Saint John. Email Dave at Dave@VisionCoachingInc.com or follow him on twitter @dave_veale.

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As published in the March 21, 2015 Telegraph-Journal

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