BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Todd Woodcroft should be in Burlington by now. The former Winnipeg Jets assistant was tabbed as the man to take over for Kevin Sneddon back on April 15th. But due to the coronavirus, he's had to hang around his offseason home in Minnesota and figure out other ways to connect with his new team.
"I think that you have to adapt in any situation, and this is a situation that is beyond the control of anybody," Woodcroft said. "So if you're gonna be a good coach, you're asking your players to learn how to be uncomfortable in situations that get thrown at you. And I'm learning how to coach in different ways which if you're a modern hockey coach, you have to learn how to be modern and learn how to do things via screen, via text, via Zooms or Microsoft Teams or whatever. So this has actually given me an advantage in a sense that I'm able to connect with players in the new way that people are connecting."
Pretty much every college hockey coach around the country is having to find ways to plan for the upcoming season virtually, it's especially tough for a new head coach who hasn't had the opportunity to see his players skate in person.
"It's hard because I'm a person that likes to be handshake to handshake and eyeballs to eyeballs and let someone and let someone feel your passion from how you talk," Woodcroft said. "And hopefully share your knowledge as a hockey coach by being in their proximity and actually talking the game but at the end of the day, this is the situation that we're all in."
Now obviously a lot of guys that come through the college ranks have aspirations of playing in the pros. Woodcroft has a lot of experience working with players around the same age to help them become contributors in the NHL, so over the past couple months, he's been letting his new team know what they should be working on now if they want to make it to that level.
"For our players, we want them to understand that if you have the luck to earn a professional contract, you have to earn that everyday and it starts now," Woodcroft said. "When we first get on the ice together, I don't know you as a player yet on the ice. I've watch all these games, I've watched all their shifts but it's a different feeling when you're in the trench with them, what are they gonna do to impress this coaching staff that they deserve to be on the ice the first game. The character of this team is off the charts, these guys are great and now it's just about giving them a little bit of direction if they do wanna play pro hockey."
The players are scheduled to arrive back on campus in August, and Woodcroft hopes to be able to go full steam ahead with his team as soon as possible, but he knows the health guidance from the state and NCAA are probably going to limit what they can do at first.
"At the end of the day, we don't want any of our players to come in where they're ever put in a position where they're not gonna be healthy," Woodcroft said. "And then for me it's gonna be a fun thing to then figure out how to do that competitively without actual physical contact so Jeff Hill and I have been coming up with some great ideas about games and just putting players into groups and keeping the competition part that's so important to hockey. They're gonna want to be showing me and Jeff and the new coach how good they are right off the bat but we don't have to do that on day one."
As for Woodcroft himself, the plan is to figure out the logistics of the move as soon as possible so he can be on the ground in Burlington by mid-Summer. And then he and the Cats can get to work on what is hopefully a successful and uninterrupted season this Winter.