BREWER, Maine — For Tobin Trautz, head coach of the Maine Freeze’s Midget Under-16 Tier II team, how his players win is more important than whether they win.
“One thing we push with the kids is the process [skill development] is more important than the product [wins],” said Trautz.
The fact he’s getting both from his team tells him that his system is working.
“We’re 8-2 overall, 4-0 in the league,” said Trautz. “Got a great group of kids. Couldn’t be happier. Lot of passion, lot of heart in there and that’s the big thing.”
If it sounds like he’s speaking at warp speed, he is. Trautz gets out a lot of information in a short period of time, which meshes perfectly with the skills he is building with his players.
It all starts with speed.
“He’s a speed guy, he likes speed,” said Owen Trundy, 15, of Bangor. “It’s pretty much what we all need for high school. It helps out a lot.”
To get that speed, Trautz has three basic skills he’s trying to instill in his players — underhandling, shooting off the front foot and stick on puck.
Underhandling means limiting stickhandling by any one player because it can kill puck movement.
“When they’re stickhandling you see a lot of guys stop skating because they’re too busy with watching their hands, watching the puck,” said Trautz.
“He really emphasizes keeping our feet moving. If he catches us standing still, it’s not pretty,” said a smiling Cam Dickson of Bangor.
“With underhandling, we teach them they can stay square, stay ready, be in position at all times while also moving their feet,” said Trautz. “It makes you a faster player, and nobody anywhere will tell you speed is a bad thing in hockey. You never hear a kid say, ‘I’m going too fast, coach.’”
Dickson sees that.
“I’ve seen a big improvement in speed while carrying the puck,” he said. “You’re not focusing as much on where the puck is, but keeping focused on moving your feet and keeping your head up, making good plays.”
Trautz also tries to make sure they’re ready to head up-ice.
“We keep a kid so [their feet] are either at 90 or 45 [degrees] in the [defensive] zone,” said Trautz, explaining the toes-up concept, “so they’re always looking up-ice or cross-ice, so they’re always ready to progress the puck north-south vs. toes down, which would be facing into the corner.”
The third concept is stick on ice.
“That’s just leading with your stick in the passing lane to try and deflect pucks, create turnovers, really protect the interior of the rink by angling the other player and the puck to the outside through putting that stick in the lane,” said Trautz.
And every one of those concepts leads to speed.
“We preach speed and we preach being constantly ready,” Trautz said. “I don’t want a kid to ever turn his back to the play, that he doesn’t know what’s coming at him. … We’re always trying to make the puck move and always trying to make our feet move so that we’re a fast team. And in Maine hockey, that’s one thing I think is starting to get lost.”
He sees the progress the players are making.
“I think they’ve done quite a good job of it,” said Trautz. “When we were in [Massachusetts], we did a couple video sessions. … And when you show them on video, here’s a toes-up situation, look how nicely that worked, and here’s a toes-down situation, look how that didn’t work, they go, ‘Oh, I get it now.’”
And the games are the proof.
The Freeze have outscored their opponents 24-7 in the first four league games, including 16-2 in the first half (games are two 20-minute halves).
Trundy is the team’s leading scorer in league play with team highs of four goals and four assists. Nick Graham and Luther Vom Eigen each have three goals and two assists, and Cam Cota also has three goals.
“It’s really cool to see everything we do on and off the ice come together and be able to win games,” said Dickson, who has two goals and two assists. “We’re all really close and it just helps us out on the ice. We know where each other are and we play really good together.”
Trundy sees firsthand how what Trautz is teaching works.
“He stresses shooting off the front foot and getting them off real quick and getting them on net as fast as you can without making a lot of moves because they don’t work,” said Trundy. “It helps to just shoot it right on net and get an opportunity.”
Trautz believes they will continue to build on the concepts they are absorbing.
“I think there’s a lot of potential on this team,” he said. “They can go out and play junior hockey, they can play college hockey, and I would love to see them do that.”
Skills clinics for Freeze
The Maine Freeze is holding hourlong skills clinics on Thursday nights for Freeze players of all ages, both Tier II and Tier III.
Players are divided into small groups and they progress around a series of stages with coaches running the stages and occasionally using older players to demonstrate the drills.
“It was fun grabbing one group of kids,” said Trautz, “and saying, ‘I don’t know if you guys want to do this, but we’re going to try a college drill. Do you want to try a college drill?’ And they’re a bunch of squirts and they’re all fired up and they went out there and they did it and did it great and they had a blast. They were so proud to do it.”
The first two have been held starting at 6:10 p.m. at Penobscot Ice Arena in Brewer, but check the Freeze calendar for details.