Second time’s Ducharme
Second time’s Ducharme
Canada’s coach looking to right a wrong
Canada’s assistant coach experienced the disappointment of a weak 6th-place finish, and during the tournament his father passed away.
Undeterred—or, perhaps, more determined than ever—the 43-year-old Ducharme soon after applied to Hockey Canada for the head coaching position for the coming year.
“It’s something I wanted to do since I started coaching,” he said after practice during the U20 evaluation camp held this past week in Plymouth, USA. “Gradually, I got into the program and worked my way up. No one way happy with the way it ended for us last year. I’m a guy who likes challenges. I wanted to be the one [to get the job] this year and work with the players.”
Of course, he wasn’t the only applicant, and he had to give an interview that convinced people at Hockey Canada that he could right the ship.
“Every coach has his personality,” Ducharme explained. “I talked about the way I liked to do things. At last year’s tournament, I could see how big a step it is for a kid to play in the CHL in December, and how quickly he has to raise his game for the tournament. I think that’s the biggest thing, and that’s what we’re trying to do this week [in Plymouth] is to refine those habits, those little things that will bring us success, so that when we come back at Christmas we will build on that and get ready for the tournament. I think it will help our guys to raise their game.”
Ducharme has coached the Halifax Mooseheads for five years now, including 2012-13 when the QMJHL team had one of the greatest seasons in junior hockey history. Stocked with star players including Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, the Mooseheads won the Memorial Cup and lost only a handful of games all year. They lost only six times in regulation during the regular season, had a 16-1 record in the Presidents’ Cup playoffs, and won three of four games in the Memorial Cup. In all, they won 77 of 89 games.
Prior to that, Ducharme coached at the AAA level for several years, so clearly his focus is coaching younger players.
“I like teaching,” he said. “Every level has a different challenge. At our level, I think we need to prepare them to reach their full potential, to prepare them for the next level, whether it’s the NHL or minor pro or Europe or university, getting them ready for life. They’re young adults and will be facing challenges, so we need to teach them the values of discipline and hard work and respect. All those things are a great challenge, and it’s a cycle in junior. You get kids for three or four years, so it’s a continuous challenge.”
But like a player, a good coach has ambitions and looks ahead to a day for greater challenges. “At one point I’d for sure like to go into the pros and one day become an NHL coach,” he admitted, “but for now I challenge myself to grow every year and become a better coach.”
Most top coaches start out as good hockey players…just not NHL good. In Ducharme’s case, he attended University of Vermont to study Phys Ed and play four years of NCAA hockey (with teammates Martin St. Louis and Tim Thomas), but he had no pretensions that an NHL career was a given.
“Like every player at that age, I wanted to play in the NHL, but I wanted to study at the same time. I felt good there and had a good time.”
After earning his degree, he played minor pro and ended up playing in France for several years. “I went a bit to the AHL and East Coast, but I wanted to see something else. I knew I wasn’t going to play in the NHL at that point, so I wanted to use hockey to see the world and have a different experience.”
As for this past week in Plymouth, Ducharme is like the players he’s coaching. This is a learning experience, one he hopes will lead to greater things at the formal U20 in December.
“We wanted to come here and get some good competition, and for this time of the year it’s a great pace,” he enthused. “It kind of sets the tone for the rest of our preparation. But it’s a good experience for me as well. I was there last year as an assistant, but getting to know the players is really important. We’re going to be building a team and working together, and during the year we don’t have much time to be with the players. This is an important week to get to know them, and them to get to know me, and our expectations.”
Indeed, games scores and statistical results are the least of his worries. “It’s not so much about evaluating the team as it is about getting to know the kids. They go away and play, and how are they going to come back? Where are they going to be with their game? This is a time to get to know their character rather than deciding who’s going to be on the team or not. It’s too early for that.”
But it’s not too early to prepare, and that’s what Ducharme hopes is a difference-maker in 2017.
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