I recently sat down with Blair Couchene, the founder of BAC Hockey, to talk with him about the Bantam Draft, transitioning to the next step in your hockey journey, and his thoughts on this unique offseason.
He has over 10 years of coaching experience at the U15 AAA and U18 AAA level. He also has experience as a WHL scout for the Prince Albert Raiders.
You worked as a Scout for the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL for two seasons and were part of the 2018-2019 Championship team. Can you give us some insight into what things a scout looks at in a 14-year-old player? And how hard it is to predict what a 14-year-old will look like in 2, 3, 4 years?
Blair: You’re looking for projection, you need to find players that will help you when they are 16,17, 18, 19 and maybe 20. Scouts have indicators that tell them there will be progression in a player. Every team and scout will be a little different, but for me, it’s about compete, drive, hockey IQ, and how players handle the ebbs and flows of a hockey game.
You also try to get to know the player the best that you can. You try to do your homework by talking to their coaches, previous coaches, personal trainers, other teammates, and parents trying to understand the type of person they are.
What kind of advice do you give to players who go undrafted in the Bantam Draft?
Blair: Players have to understand what the draft means and understand that they are only 14 years old. This is the very beginning of their hockey career.
There are usually two routes players will go down when they don’t get drafted. Route one is the player will make excuses for themselves, they will run from it, they will turn into the “cool” guy and joke about it and pretend that it doesn’t bother them. Route two are the guys who go on a mission to prove people wrong.
I could name you plenty of players who were either late picks or never got drafted. You look at Kieran Ruscheinski undrafted, never played U15 AAA, and three years later, he’s getting drafted by the Montreal Canadiens. Carsen Twarynski went undrafted in the Bantam Draft, and he’s played games in the NHL this year for the Philadelphia Flyers.
The big thing for me is the player needs to decide am I a “hockey player” or just a guy who plays hockey.
You have been involved in coaching in Calgary with both the U15 and U18 levels. In your opinion, what skillsets have you noticed that makes a U15 player successfully transition to U18?
Blair: For me, above anything else, it’s attitude and work ethic. Players are in a rush to get to the finish line. The hockey journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Players need to take their time to develop. A misconception in hockey circles is players need to play U18 AAA at 15 years old. This is not true. They have to find a team and a place where they’re going to develop.
For players transitioning from U15 to U18, they are used to dominating their whole hockey career. If they are playing U18 AAA as a 15-year-old, there is a good chance they have been one of the best players in there age group. The bottleneck starts to happen in U18, where their skill might not be enough anymore. Other factors come into play, such as Hockey IQ, compete, and drive.
The most successful players I’ve seen transition are very open to learning, they are patient, and they ask questions.
Do you see a tendency for players eagerly wanting to jump from U18 AAA to Jr to soon?
Blair: This is an interesting question as I think most U18 AAA teams face this situation every year with players. Speaking about Alberta, the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) has some strong programs that entice players to choose that route.
For me, it’s a case by case situation. Like I’ve said before, hockey is a marathon, not a sprint. I’ve seen 16-year-olds leave for the AJHL that I thought should have played U18 AAA, and it turned out great for them.
On the flip side you look at players who have taken there time, Brayden Tracey returned for his 16-year-old U18 season, the next year he won WHL Rookie of the Year and was drafted in the 1st round of the NHL draft to the Anaheim Ducks. Matthew Phillips played U18 AAA at 16, and he went on to score 50 goals in the WHL and get drafted in the 3rd round to the Calgary Flames.
I always tell players and families if you are unsure if leaving to play junior hockey is the right decision, take the safe route and play that extra year of U18 AAA. I haven’t seen a player impacted by playing an additional year of U18.
The spring I worked with you, I was very impressed with the small, subtle details of the game you implemented into your practice plans. What trends have you seen in the NHL lately that you believe players should be working on?
Blair: Some of the things we have been working on is being able to handle bad pucks, working on hand-eye coordination, and having the ability to release the puck quickly. We try to help players understand the subtle details and make players aware of different skills they should be working on and how that will translate in elevating their games.
I love what you’re doing with BAC Hockey, and the BAC 4 Hope, to have players share their stories. Is there a message you have relayed to your players during this unique offseason?
Blair: The one thing I’ve told players is this COVID 19 is going to even the playing field. Every player is in the same boat, and we’re all stuck at home, none of us have access to an arena or a fitness facility. This will show the players who have accountability and have the drive to be a hockey player.
Once hockey starts, people will see the players who have that competitive drive to keep getting better every day versus the players who rely solely on their skillset. You will see the players who put in the work separate from the pack.
Last question, who’s the best player you’ve got to coach or work with, and what makes that player so special?
Blair: Tough question, honestly, I’ve been lucky in my coaching career to work with so many great players. I could have named 30 guys after I went through each team I’ve coached over the years. Off the top of my head Brayden Tracey and Matthew Phillips stand out.
I think what makes them great is they embrace the struggle; they embrace adversity and hardships. They don’t blame others. They wanted to get better every day. They wanted their teammates to get better every day, and they were open to learning.
The journey from U15 to Professional hockey is challenging. There are a lot of obstacles and distractions. Some players will run from these obstacles, and other players will run right through those obstacles.
Share this Post