Wednesday, March 30, 2011

'Jacks coach Patrick grooms NHLers

By Christopher Heimerman

Blake Geoffrion recently scored six goals in his first 90 minutes of ice time with the National Hockey League’s Nashville Predators.

Less than a year ago, he was hoisting the first Hobey Baker Award ever won by a Wisconsin Badger. During Geoffrion’s four years at the University of Wisconsin, Muskegon Lumberjacks head coach Kevin Patrick played a vital role in the upstart forward’s development.

“I couldn’t be more proud of Blake. He got drafted by his hometown team and has gotten off to a great start,” Patrick says. “Despite the fact that he’s only been playing seven or eight minutes a game, he’s finding his way into the scoresheet. He’s doing just what you’ve got to do – he’s playing his role, being a great teammate and making it hard for them to keep him off the ice.”

Patrick also played the role of advisor for Geoffrion, a former United States Hockey League star who was ready for the American Hockey League following his junior year at UW, but elected to stick around for a fourth year.

“Blake had to make a real tough decision, and of course I was pleased to get the chance to keep watching his growth and further assist in his development,” Patrick says. “And in hindsight, he got to play for a national championship. He won the Hobey Baker and after spending about half the season in Milwaukee he’s tearing it up with Nashville. When he looks back, I think he’d probably make the same decisions.”

Geoffrion’s name is on some long, heralded lists. He has become the first fourth-generation player in NHL history. He also is one of many former Patrick mentees who are enjoying massive success at the highest level of hockey.

Patrick can’t help but gush when he talks about Jake Dowell, who was a captain on the Badgers’ 2006 national championship club, also wore the “C” with the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League and played a role in the Chicago Blackhawk’s Stanley Cup season a year ago.

“Jake Dowell is just a warrior,” Patrick says. “He is as hard-nosed as they get and was a big piece of the national championship team. He’s paid his dues and done it the hard way and now he’s getting the opportunity to be a regular in the Blackhawks’ lineup. It’s always great to see great players get rewarded.”

Dowell wasn’t the only Patrick protégé who had his fingerprints all over the Stanley Cup playoffs last season. Patrick basked in the opportunity to see one of his more cerebral students, Joe Pavelski, when the former Badger was running up the light bill for the San Jose Sharks during his goal-scoring spree in the NHL’s Western Conference playoffs.

“Joe is a special player. He’s a very cerebral player and thinks the game on another level,” Patrick says. “He’s a student of the game and can’t get enough. Those players are so much fun to be around and coach. Then to see him have such massive success on the highest level, I couldn’t be more excited for him.”

Throughout his celebrated coaching career, Patrick has learned that every player is different and coaches play a different role in helping them maximize their potential. For instance, Brendan Smith, who posted a 30-point season for the Badgers last year and currently is a Western Conference All-Star with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins, had something you just can’t coach – unbridled tenacity.

“You don’t coach Brendan Smith’s compete level,” Patrick says, laughing. “You try to manage it. He’s as competitive as the day is long.”

Which is why it’s a foregone conclusion to Patrick that Smith will be a Red Wing in the near future.

“If he was in another organization, I’m sure he would have already seen NHL games,” Patrick says. “But Detroit has a great process and it works – they’re very patient with their players. Brendan will be up when (Wings GM) Ken Holland determines that the time is right.”

Patrick had a hand in Smith’s arrival at UW, as he did with so many standout players. Scouting and recruiting is as crucial a facet of his current job as any other. Orchestrating victories behind the bench is only an excerpt from his “War and Peace”-like job description. Not surprisingly, the recruiting aspect is the one that Patrick relishes most.

“Why I love this game so much is the people who you meet,” Patrick says. “You’re going to a lot of different towns, a lot of different rinks, all in the hopes of not only learning about the player on the ice. You find out about what they’re about, what their character is and what their background is.”

And recruiting is one aspect of the job that can never be short-changed.

“The biggest thing is you’ve got to do the work,” Patrick says. “You have to be talking to people and have to be watching. You can’t fly in and fly out. It doesn’t work that way. It’s an inexact science to begin with, and if you’re flying in and out and not putting in the time, you’ll hit more foul balls than you do home runs. I like to focus on hitting a lot of doubles.”

1 comment:

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