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Best of the Daily Dish: Anatomy of a Championship Junior Hockey News

Published: Tuesday, 21 Jul 2020  
By: Stephen Heisler,

Everybody feels like they are a contender at training camp. Sometimes optimism can get the best of us before the hard dose of reality can set in. Every league has a set of favorites before the first puck is dropped.

There is one common denominator within the heart of just about every championship team; confidence and unconditional faith in the system. It takes more than just talented players and just about any mega-rich guy can spend his money on hired guns to be a competitor. In most cases, it is the team that did not take the shortcuts that get to raise the cups.

How to make a champion

Foundation- There are good owners and there are great owners. The guys that provide a great foundation for a coach to work with are the same guys that get to kiss the hardware.

Support- The team needs an iron clad support staff and diehard supporters that will go down with the ship if needed.

Coaching- The right guy can make all the difference. Championship caliber coaches are made at championship winning programs. Talking about winning and having the experience to actually do it are entirely different animals. The coach needs to have confidence in the players he brought to the table and be able to actually coach them through the developmental process.

Chemistry- It only takes a single floater in the punch bowl to keep everyone from drinking the Kool-Ade. Coaches need to select guys that are going to fit into the system and get along with the rest of the group. The programs that create a family atmosphere often experience a high degree of success.

Leadership- From the guy signing the checks, to the coach and to the team captain, the leaders of the team are always going to be the most important component of a champion.

Confidence- This cannot be taught or bought. It has to be installed at the first day of training camp and reiterated all along the way with practice, patience, and execution. A champion goes the distance expecting to win.

In 1990-1991, the Anchorage Aces formed a team to compete at USA Hockey's National Championships and managed to win the hardware. In 1992 and 1993, the team worked itself to both finals, only to come up short. In 1994, everything was in place for the club's second championship. 1995 saw the third 2nd place finish. During these years, I learned about the difference between a champion and contender.

In 1995-96, I skipped out on the Aces move to pro hockey to help jump start a new junior program in Alaska. Because the closest junior teams were in Seattle or British Columbia, we played an entire season against the strongest adult men's teams that Alaska had to offer. We begged USA Hockey's Dave Tyler to allow us to enter the "B" tournament, but he would have none of it and forced us into the "C". He can't say we did not warn him. Our team headed to Pittsburgh with confidence and a roster choke full of guys with "A" level experience. We leveled the competition and cruised to the championship.

Today, every player on that team can reach back to that season for an easy smile. I am still very proud of that group, a perfect mix of leadership, talent, and confidence.

There is an old saying that you can't teach old dogs new tricks. I have a better one. A few old dogs can teach the younger ones all kinds of new tricks.

Carry on with your summer boys.

Author: Stephen Heisler from
Stephen Heisler has spent a lifetime in the game of hockey. Stephen is also working with individual teams, coaches, and players as a director with Victorious Hockey Company. Stephen, his wife Deysi, and four children reside in Orlando, Florida.

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