I first met Dennis Chighisola (Coach Chic) several years ago thanks to social media hockey circles. After a few conversations, it quickly became apparent that Coach Chic was the real deal. His intelligence of the game, passion for teaching, and enthusiasm in helping youth hockey players hone their skills is well documented in his numerous blog posts and instructional videos and columns.
Coach Chic taught many former and current NHL players and hundreds of top collegiate athletes. A New England native, Coach Chic now resides in the Sunshine State, and we were recently able to chat with him about hockey and coaching.
Pure Hockey (PH): With the winter we’ve had up here this season, you must be even happier to now be living in Florida, eh?
Coach Chic (CC): Ha, I discovered that one of Florida’s top sports is Weather Channel watching, and smiling all winter at what’s happen up North. Or, as another former MA resident said when I joined him down here, “You don’t have to shovel sunshine!”
Joking aside, though, I surely do miss the passion displayed by the kids and families I worked with back around MA and RI. Oh, Florida hockey will come, but I was spoiled by dealing mainly with families who were second and third generation hockey people, and pretty motivated.
PH: How did you get into hockey, and ultimately coaching?
CC: As they say, “Timing is everything.” I started at a time when The Bobby Orr Era had just spawned rinks all over New England. And, while youth and adult leagues sprouted up well in most areas, the rinks needed more activities beyond practices and games to fill their off-seasons and other open ice hours. I had been running my own summertime skills clinic in Rockland, MA at the time — it was very popular, local rink owners took notice, and they started asking me to run clinics and camps for them. Over time, I went out on my own and ran some of the most successful summer hockey schools and clinics in the Northeast. All along, I’d been coaching teams, ultimately working my way up from the youth levels to high school and then to college. I had a number of minor pro GM/head coach interviews after that, but when I didn’t land one of those jobs, I returned to my real passions, in running my own programs and doing lots of writing and video production.
PH: What concept or skill do you find to be the toughest to teach, and for kids to ‘get’?
CC: Most might think that it would be a physical skill, but it’s not. Instead, I’ll suggest that having the right mental skills in place — and the backing of one’s parents — make it easy for a player to pick up the physical side of the game.
I think there’s also one specific mental skill that’s as important as any… I’ve lost count of the kids I’ve had who went on to play at high levels (with plenty of them reaching the NHL). And, the one thing they all seemed to have in common was an ability to laugh at themselves during difficult physical challenges. I mean, I could ask my kids to do some pretty wild things, but the good ones would always fail a bunch of times, keep laughing at themselves, keep getting up, and ultimately get it. On the other hand, the kids who were worried about how they looked — or the ones who were afraid of failing — never did get it.
PH: Up in New England, I remember practicing and staying sharp by playing pond hockey; one year my Dad built a backyard rink. For those without access to frozen ponds (especially in FL!) or indoor ice rinks, what are some of your favorite exercises to stay in shape during the off-season?
CC: A number of years ago I was asked to speak on the subject of off-ice training at an advanced coaches seminar in New Jersey. In the middle of my presentation — as I interacted with some of the attendees, I realized that there were a lot of youth coaches there from Southern states. So, I ultimately stopped myself at one point, and told those people in particular, that I would out-coach everyone in the Northern states if I had access to good weather and a decent outdoor training area.
I then told them about my long ago studies in the old USSR, and how the Soviets devised highly scientific “dryland” training methods, partly because they lacked the number of indoor ice facilities found in most other hockey playing nations. I said partly, however, because the other reason for doing off-ice training is that it’s often more effective than traditional on-ice stuff.
PH: Was there a ‘things-to-do’ list that you would provide your players with to improve stick-handling, build endurance, etc. during that time off?
CC: Owing to my ability to produce my own training videos, and to build websites, I’ve for quite a few years now made a hidden team site that only my players and parents could access, and then I’d post videos of things my players should do on their own.
I’ll make a video available to your readers, though, because it contains a lot of Food for Hockey Thought, and because the many pictures are going to be worth more than a thousand words. There are a lot of great ideas I welcome players, parents and coaches to borrow from the various clips.
PH: Finally, being a hockey equipment outlet, I have to ask: What’s in your bag?
CC: Okay, don’t laugh, but… I had a son and a grandson who shot right by me as they grew in the game, so I always got the best of hand-me-downs. Actually, I’ve always hated breaking in new gear, so that suited me just fine.
What I ended up with, though, are Eagle gloves (I love them), a mix of CCM and Reebok sticks, and (I’m dating myself here) Riedel skates.
If hockey folks would like to connect with Coach Chic, send him a note on Facebook, a follow on Twitter and his website CoachChic.com. If you’re a coach looking for coaches accessories, we have a TON of good options for you – just click here to see it all now!