March 6, 2018

Behind the Bench: Inside the Mind of Hockey’s Greatest Coaches by Craig Custance

They are motivators, key strategists, tough bosses, and choreographers. They can be branded as heroes, ousted as scapegoats, quietly valued as friends, and everything in between. It's all in the job description for an NHL head coach. In Behind the Bench, ESPN's Craig Custance sits down for film sessions and candid conversations with some of the game's most notable modern luminaries—names like Mike Babcock, Joel Quenneville, Dan Bylsma, Todd McLellan, Ken Hitchcock, and Claude Julien—all of whom share their singular views on topics ranging from leadership secrets to on-ice game plans. Dissect some of hockey's greatest moments with the men who set the pieces in motion. Go straight to the source on what it's like to manage a dressing room full of the league's top stars or execute line changes with everything at stake. Signature games, including Stanley Cup finals, Olympic gold medal clashes, and World Championship contests—both wins and losses—are reflected upon and broken down in detail, making this essential reading for current and aspiring coaches, players, and hockey fans alike.

Being the self-proclaimed hockey nerd that I am, I couldn’t help grabbing a copy of Craig’s book. Most of the time, you have no issue hearing from players and getting their perspectives about the game, but this one was different. This one dives into the mind of an NHL coach – maybe one of the most scrutinized jobs in the sport.

I’ve got to admire the work and time that Craig put in to crafting this book. It wasn’t as simple as writing his thoughts out about the coaches and their successes. He took the time to travel to them, spend hours with them, and watch a hockey game that has defined their career. That takes effort, commitment, and passion for the work. That shows through in the quality of writing.

If you are also a hockey fan (which, I couldn’t really imagine a non fan picking up a book all about the sport) then you will probably fly through this one like I did. The writing is crisp and to the point while allowing each coach’s personality to come through. Quotes, descriptions . . . he’s got it all.

I’ll admit my bias and say I was most interested in reading Joel Quenneville’s chapter since I’m a Blackhawks fan. But, I think it says a lot about the book that it wasn’t even my favorite interview or the one that stood out the most. That award would probably go to Tortorella/Sullivan or Hitchock.

Behind the Bench is a great read, and I highly recommend it to any fan of the sport.

5/5 Stars

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