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Skating through game day with Victoria Royals coach

Head Coach Dan Price is living his hockey dream

Photo credit: Kevin Light

With round two of the playoffs starting Friday, Victoria Royals head coach Dan Price and his team are working around the clock, preparing for our opponent. Every minute matters in the postseason.

But have you ever wondered what happens behind the scenes getting ready for game day?

Dan can spend up to an hour of prep time for just one minute of actual game time. “The real heavy lifting and the long hours come in the practice days leading up to game day,” he says.

By game day, the mission is mental and physical preparation, game strategy and energy management.

Morning of game day

“We meet as a group for the first time at 9:05am on game day. JF (Assistant Coach, JF Best) reviews two to three of our opponent’s recent games and presents eight to ten video clips to see what they’ve been doing,” Dan says.

Next, Dan presents clips from the Royals’ recent practices or previous games against their opposition. “The goal is to bring the focus back to what we want to do as a team. How we want to play. What we want to execute.”

While the team may tweak some systems based on their opponent of the day, “about 80 per cent is our systems. They’re the things that are fundamental to our team. Things that are part of our team’s DNA. The things that we know we need to do to have success.”

The morning skate

At 9:25am, the players follow a structured warm-up and an optional morning skate. It’s also an opportunity to work on specific fundamentals and work with players returning from injury.

“If we’ve had a particularly hard practice week or given them a lot to think about on game day, we will ask if the players need to hear any more of the head coach’s voice that morning,” Dan explains. “So some days, I’ll go on the ice and some days, I’ll intentionally stay off to give players their space.”

After the morning skate

While players head home for rest and pre-game meals, Dan turns to administrative tasks like ticket and media requests and watching the opposition’s morning skate. “We are always hoping that they practice something that gives us a little extra information for that night’s game. Whether it’s who’s out of the line-up or different player combinations.”

If all goes well, Dan takes a brief break to fit in his own workout or an hour of sleep, but by 3:15, it’s time to “get the energy cycled back up for the game.” It’s time to shower, eat, suit up and return to the rink, coffee in hand.

Pre-game

Just after 5pm, multiple meetings happen with military precision as coaches review pointers with the captains, power play and penalty kill units and the team as a whole. It’s an intense 30 minutes.

Between 5:30 and 6pm, it’s time for a short break from the heightened energy to calmly review the plan and mentally prepare for puck drop.

At 6pm, as the players dress for their warm-up skate, the coaches double-check line matchups, defensive pairings and scratches for both teams.

Just before game time, one player reads out the starting lineup and the players all cheer. “If we win, that player gets to keep doing it each night. When we lose, a new player gets to share them. It’s neat because they all have a different style. Some guys are very calm and matter-of-fact. Others are boisterous and try to get the team rallied.”

Together they listen to one last song to keep building the energy, then head to the ice.

Game time

In-game coaching is about sticking to the game plan and making quick decisions. “Intermissions are really intense and really fast. The coaches meet to figure out what adjustments need to be made and deliver that to the team before the ice clean is done.”

Post-game

After the game, Dan says he’s “too full of adrenaline and caffeine to sleep” so he, and often the other coaches, will re-watch the game video and debrief. “It helps to bring the energy back down. It’s hard to gear down after a win; it’s harder after a loss when the hundred ‘what ifs’ are running through your head.”

By the end of a week, Dan can spend close to 100 hours doing “video pre-scouting, lineup planning, game planning for both even strength and special teams, contingency planning, preparing the game day meetings, creating and editing the video content, staff and player meetings, and practice planning and delivery.”

With so much time at the rink, it leaves little time for much else during the season. Is it all worth it?

“This is my dream job. I literally have the best job in the world.”

To see Dan and the Royals in round two playoff action, get your tickets now!