In his first week as the new Surrey Eagles head coach, Linden Saip tried to focus on the little things – and get his team to do the same.
Saip, the 27-year-old former assistant coach who was bumped into the top job on an interim basis after last month’s firing of former head coach Peter Schaefer, said getting the team to change off-ice habits will be as important as any on-ice moves he makes in the near future.
The team is currently last in the BC Hockey League with a record of 7-23-0-2 (win-loss-overtime loss-shootout loss).
“At this point in the season, I don’t think our systems will change too much,” Saip told Peace Arch News Friday morning.
“I think what’s more important is how we act off the ice – that’s been the thing we’ve been working on. There’s a culture we started to develop last year, and we have to get back to that.”
Last week, a lengthy news release issued by the team to announce that Schaefer had been “relieved of his duties” also made numerous mentions to changing “team culture.”
“It’s doing the little things off the ice – things like taking care of the dressing room, showing up on time… being prepared to practise or being prepared to go play a game,” Saip continued.
“Those things go a long way. We’re just trying to instill those values back into our room. It’s a learning experience for myself, and for the players, too.”
Though he’s never had a head-coaching position before, Saip said his familiarity with the team – he’s in his third year on the team’s coaching staff – has helped in the transition to his new role, though he added that he knows the dynamic between him and his players has changed slightly, as a result of the promotion.
“I’ve been the assistant coach, where you’re more of a buddy and a mentor, in a way. Now, the mentor thing stays the same but it’ll be a bit of a change for me on how I approach the guys,” he said.
“But I’ve been around this group for awhile so they know what I’m about and they know what I believe in. This last week of practice has been really good, and we’re all on the same page… hopefully, we can build off it.”
With Saip calling the shots, the Eagles picked up a point in the standings last Friday, after a 3-2 shootout loss to the Chilliwack Chiefs. This weekend, they’re back at home for games against Coquitlam (Saturday) and Salmon Arm (Sunday).
The coaching staff upheaval – which also included the addition of new assistant coach Lee Stone – provided the players “a bit of spark,” Saip said, and the new coach admitted there is a feeling of newness that teams normally feel in training camp.
“We’re kind of living August days in December here,” he said.
And though there will no doubt be a learning curve as he adjusts to his new position, Saip – who played defence for the Eagles from 2010-2012 and also had a lengthy Western Hockey League career – said he isn’t looking too far ahead.
“It wasn’t my intention (to be a head coach) this year, at least, but it is what it is and I’m just trying to make the most of it,” he said. “Not many guys my age get the chance to be a head coach of a great junior ‘A’ organization, so I’m just grateful for the opportunity that I have.
“I have a great staff supporting me, and I think it’s a path I’ll be able to handle.”
As for one day shaking the ‘interim’ tag from his business card, the young coach said it’s not something he’s concerning himself with, and is instead focused on the challenge of getting the Eagles into a playoff position.
“It’s a challenge that our staff has here and at this point I’m not even looking to next year,” he said. “I’m just trying to build this team and this culture this season.”
Teddy Bear Toss
This Saturday’s home game against the Salmon Arm Silverbacks is the Eagles’ annual Teddy Bear Toss game, where fans are encouraged to bring a new stuffed toy – or buy one at the rink – to toss onto the ice after the Eagles score their first goal of the game.
The bears will then be collected and donated to the Peace Arch Hospital Foundation.
Puck drop Saturday is 7 p.m.
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