When it comes to hockey camps, Peter Horachek has seen his fair share.
But when asked on Tuesday, the Panthers newest coach to the organization felt a little like one of the prospects who were drafted just over a week ago in New Jersey.
“From my standpoint it's really getting to know the players, getting to know their characteristics, their strengths, their weaknesses, what stands out, a little bit of their personalities so I can recognize them,” said Horachek. “I still have to ask who that (player) is. I think that it's been really good for me.”
Named as San Antonio’s new head coach last month, Horachek was out there running drills on the second day of Development Camp. And while he was still trying to put faces and numbers to the players names on the roster sheets, the man in charge of helping develop the Panthers prospects at the American Hockey League level was pretty happy with the first few days of practices.
“I think the ice got better today and I think the practices were pretty decent,” said Horacheck. “The guys really seemed to pay attention, want to do the right things. I think it's been a pretty decent first two days.”
Horachek has a wealth of knowledge to provide the Panthers and their young players. He spent the past nine seasons in Nashville under Barry Trotz as an assistant and associate coach. Before that he was a head coach at the minor levels, including with Milwaukee in the AHL.
“You just take all your experiences of 10 years with Barry and I've run my own teams before that,” said Horachek. Going back to being a head coach again, I think that's a good experience for me.”
The Stoney Creek, Ont native has been in the coaching game since 1987 when he was an assistant for the IHL’s Saginaw Hawks so he’s seen a lot of players come and go. When it comes to the Panthers group, the talent that Panthers GM Dale Tallon and Assistant GM Mike Santos have put together has him excited.
“They scouted very well, they've got some very talented young players and they're good players,” said Horachek. “They've got really good character to them.”
And what was the thing that caught Horachek’s eye?
“One of the first things I noticed, coming in on Sunday and walking in the room, I was like 'wow there's some really big guys here',” said Horachek.
Players like Nick Bjugstad (6’6), Alex Petrovic (6’4) and Drew Shore (6’3) all met the newest coach and over the last two days have been put through drills by the coaching staff, including Horachek. It’s definitely a chance for them to make a great impression, especially for those that will be seeing time in the AHL this upcoming season.
“Working with the kids and seeing their developing to a point where they're ready to play in the NHL. Some guys are close and some guys need a little bit more time,” said Horachek. “You know they are going to be players. They're going to be NHL players but when and how long is it going to take so that's the exciting part.”
Florida has gained a lot of attention from around the world on the Panthers prospect pool. While that may be good to a degree, Horachek is focused on the intangibles that Tallon, Santos and the rest of the scouting staff have put together for him to work with.
“Just the quality of people. I think that's the key,” said Horachek on what he’s noticed so far. “It's too early to make a decision on people. You watch a guy in a skills practice in a non-hockey environment; it's just really about his technique. Having one practice today, it's really just too early to see that so I'm just noticing that the kids seem to be good people.
“That's where it starts and that's the key, you don't really have any bad apples.”
And as far as Development Camp goes, these camps are extremely crucial for those 18-22 year olds. It’s a chance to start on the right foot.
“I think camps like this help the kids help make that first development stage to turn into a pro,” said Horachek. “It's a big jump from going from junior and college and Europe to even the American League. It's a big jump going from the American League to the NHL.”
From learning about the on-ice skills to off-the ice, holding camps just makes for a better all-around pro.
“Learning how to be accountable, learning how to be a pro, learning how to bond with their teammates, these guys are all coming in at the same time,” said Horachek. “They're getting to know each other. When they are all together at one time on the big club, they're already close and they've already got that kind of bond. These things help with that.
“They should just soak it all in and take advantage.”
And when he’s talking about soaking it all in, for this camp at least, he’s just not talking about the young Panthers.
“It will be a great experience. I'm looking forward to it and looking forward to coming into a new situation and getting to know everybody,” said Horachek. “I'm still kind of feeling my way around in how people do things and how they run things but it's been great. I've enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to it as it goes along.”
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