Last week, we looked at two of the coaching candidates that have been named in the Minnesota Wild head coach search. We looked at Ken Hitchcock and Michel (not Michael) Therrien. Neither candidate fit what Wild fans are hoping for, with defense first systems. Both have proven track records in the NHL, and Chuck Fletcher would know exactly what he is getting in either of them.
Up until last week, we also thought we knew the names involved in the search, and who the possibilities were. Then Russo told us that there was another, completely unknown, candidate in the mix. Peter Horachek was confirmed as having been interviewed for the position, showing that Fletcher is truly not keyed in on a veteran coach only.
I'll admit it. Until the report from Russo, I had never heard of Mr. Horachek. Not even in passing stories or in interactions with Preds fans. I mean, how many Preds fans do you think know who Bob Mason is? Likely not many.
To get us acquainted, we reached out to Predators bloggers and got some solid information. First up is Mark Willoughby from The View from 111. After his piece, check out what SBN's own Dirk Hoag, from On the Forecheck, had to say.
by Mark Willoughby
Peter Horachek has spent the past 7 seasons as an assistant coach for the Nashville Predators with a responsibility for running the forwards and the Predators power play. The 51 year old Stoney Creek, ONT native spent 13 years bouncing around the minor leagues as a journeyman right winger, primarily in the IHL and AHL, concluding his playing days after the 1989 season in which he served as a player/coach for the Flint Spirits of the IHL. . He embarked on his full time coaching career in 1990 as the Head Coach of the Nashville Knights of the ECHL. Horacheck coached the Orlando Solar Bears to the IHL title in 2001. He joined the Predators AHL affiliate in Milwaukee and served as Head Coach for one season in 2002-3 before joining the Predators for the 2003-4 season.
Horacheck's background serves him well as an assistant at the NHL level. He has a natural ability to relate to players, both veterans that might struggle through the course of a long season, and especially with young players as they transition to the NHL. Horachek is an affable person who is approachable and very easy to talk with, which are important traits as a coach. His charges know that he is able to understand the challenges they face and can provide sound and practical counsel to them.
His pleasant demeanor notwithstanding, Horacheck can be a bear when he is crossed. I was with the team on an eastern Canada road trip a few years back and was watching a practice in Toronto. In the previous game, then Predator forward Scotty Nichol had take a foolish cross checking penalty in a game with the Canadiens that resulted in being suspended for one game. Nichol felt the wrath of Horacheck as he was put through a brutal bag skate at that practice.
Horacheks's physical stature- he still looks as if he could play a power forward position- gets your attention. As Nichol can attest, his physical presence is the least of your worries when Horachek is not happy.
As an assistant coach, Horachek has done a very good job of developing young players. The Predators have gotten solid contributions from young players, some of whom were thrust into the line up due to injury, such as Blake Geoffrion, Matt Halischuk, and Nick Spaling. While these players might not possess the offensive skill of some of their higher profile brethren in the League, they were developed under the tutelage of Horachek and became solid contributors for the Predators.
Horachek also relates well to the veterans on the roster. One aspect of the Predators that can't be quantified with stats but is very evident is the cohesion that is in the locker room. Horacheck does a good job of keeping the forwards happy with their ice time, but more importantly, has the veterans playing with the same fire as the young players that are trying to make their way in the NHL.
This is not to say that there are no shortcomings. The Predators power play under his direction has been woeful. In the second round of the playoffs against Vancouver, the Predators were an anemic 1 for 21 with the man advantage. Throughout his tenure, the Predators PP has been weak, Part of this is a function of the talent that is on the ice, but a part of this is the coaching of this unit. By far and away, this has been a sore spot for the team and its fans.
One cannot ignore the fact that Horachek's tenure behind the bench in the NHL has been standing alongside Barry Trotz. I think there are two traits that this has imparted to Horachek, one that is already seen. The first, which I have already mentioned, is that Trotz, and by extension his assistants, know how to get the most out of the talent they have on the ice. The second is that the system the Predators play is a defense first system, and I would expect Horachek to employ the same approach as a Head Coach. The Predators have built the team from the net out, and the forwards are expected to buy in and be solid, two way players if they want to see the ice. The Predators have employed an aggressive checking system that is designed to bottle up the opponent and create turnovers. The emphasis for the forwards is responsibility in the all zones. Free lance, play loose in the defensive zone, and you will be fortunate if you see the ice. As a Head Coach, I would expect Horachek to employ the same type of system.
Is Horachek ready to be a Head Coach? Obviously, that is the question that the management of the Wild are asking. In my opinion, he has had the grooming and experience to handle the on-ice responsibilities and the off ice player issues that every Head Coach has to address. He has stood beside one of the best Head Coaches in the NHL and has learned a lot from his association with Trotz. I think it is his time.
Do the Wild?
From Dirk Hoag:
HW: What is Peter Horacheck's role with the Predators?
DH: Horachek's role on the Predators has been somewhat fluid in recent years, especially in light of the progression of Brent Peterson's Parkinson's disease. At one point he was talked about as holding primary responsibility for the power play, for example (long a Preds weakness), but right from the start of this season Barry Trotz took that on his shoulders. Horachek is very involved with running the daily practices, including the one-on-one work you see with specific players long after the rest have gone into the locker room. During games, he typically manages the defense while Trotz handles the forward lines.
HW: Is he ready for the head coaching position?
DH: He's got head-coaching experience in his background, at the AHL level in Milwaukee and the IHL back in 2001, when he led the Orlando Solar Bears to the Turner Cup and was named IHL Coach of the Year. He was actually the head coach in Nashville once upon a time, too, with the ECHL's Nashville Knights about 20 years ago. He certainly sounded like a head coach during this radio interview from January, when there needed to be some "adjustments to attitudes" after a poor stretch of play by the team. There's no reason to believe he's not qualified to be an NHL head coach at this point.
HW: What is his style of coaching? His system?
DH: It's hard to say what specific elements of the Predators' game are attributable to Horachek, but considering how long he's been here and the distinctive style of play that Nashville is known for, I think you could expect a lot of forwards hustling on the backcheck, an emphasis on guys getting on the "right side of the puck" in the defensive zone, and an emphasis on team play over the showcasing of stars. Nashville also enjoys a reputation for having a pretty player-friendly atmosphere on a daily basis, and you have to give Horachek some credit for that. Whether he's a good fit for the Minnesota organization at this point in time, well, who knows. I'm sure there's more than a little familiarity there given the fact that Horachek joined the Preds a few years before Craig Leipold sold the team.
From the editor: We would like to thank Mark & Dirk for taking time out of their schedules for helping out with this piece. Please do yourselves the favor and visit both sites. Good people running good sites. Hockey is awesome.