Dave Rook – From BHL to NHL
For many fans of the British game, any link to the top is a cause to celebrate.
Whether it was the arrival of Theo Fleury in Belfast or David Ling in Nottingham, or Owen Nolan’s birth in Belfast; every thread that links the British game to the NHL is talked about.
Some players, like Fleury, former Bracknell stopper and current Chicago Blackhawks Director of Hockey Administration Mark Bernard, or current Detroit coach Mike Babcock, are remembered with great fondness by British fans.
One man’s playing career brought him to the British Hockey League, but his coaching career took him all the way to the top – former Paisley goaltender David Rook.
Rook came to Scotland in the mid-90s, hoping to learn a little about his families history:
“My parents were born and raised in Scotland. I wanted to travel over and experience life in Britain, and see where my parents grew up and went to school.”
Talking to Rook, now goaltending coach with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting, it feels almost by accident that he found himself playing in the BHL:
“I was in the hotel business at the time, and got a job in management at the newly opened Hilton in Glasgow. I hooked up with Jackson McBride in Irvine, playing for the Flyers.”
“We played a friendly against Paisley and I spoke to Martin Shields about playing for them. I’m not sure how it worked out, but I was able to move up to the Pirates without being classed as an import, and so, the following year I was playing for the Pirates.”
Rook played alongside household names such as Dino Bauba, Kenny McKie, Bobby Haig and a young Colin Shields for the Pirates; appearing in 40 games during the 1994/95 season.
His playing career did not last much longer, but other opportunities meant Rook was able to stay in the game:
“Moving back to Canada, I wanted to stay involved in hockey and knew that wouldn’t happen if I played. I was approached to be the goalie coach for the local Junior B team (the London Nationals). I had always worked in hockey schools and worked with kids, so I thought this would be a great transition and the opportunity to work with older goalies.”
Rook explained however that making a living from the game wasn’t ‘part of the plan’ when he accept the job with the Nationals – “At the time, moving onto a career being a goalie coach was the furthest thing from my mind.”
But his coaching career did develop, taking Rook from the Nationals to the OHL’s London Knights, where he would go on to work with former Calder Trophy winner Steve Mason.
Rook spent 6 years with the Knights, who won the Memorial Cup in 2005, and served as a goaltending consultant for the St Louis Blues organisation, working with the AHL Peoria Rivermen, before being hired as the Columbus Blue Jackets goaltending coach in 2009.
The move from OHL to NHL gave Rook a much different work load, with the two leagues offering much different challenges for goaltending coaches:
“The roles were quite a bit different. In the OHL, you work with 16-20 year old goalies who have the goal of playing at the professional level. However, they tend not to know what is needed to play at this, or a higher, level.”
“This may be down to the physical, mental or technical attributes needed. Your job is to create work habits, attention to detail and to try to teach them to be hockey players. Development is key at this level.”
“In the AHL, they have already been through the OHL/NCAA level, so most of those areas are developed, but you continue to work on these areas to help them get to the next level. Obviously they are one step away from getting to that next level, however, they find out getting to this next level isn’t always easy.”
“In the NHL, it is not so much about development as it is maintenance. Most goalies are aware of the mental, physical and technical aspects of the game and have, for the most part, got them well under control. It is just a matter of reinforcing them. The schedule is alot busier, with games and travel, so you don’t have as much time to work with the goalies and in the AHL/OHL.”
Having played and coached in quite different eras (the position has changed perhaps more than any other in professional sports over the past 30 years); I asked Rook how things have changed for goaltenders since his playing days:
“When I was coming up through the ranks, I rarely had a goalie coach. I was self taught, trial by error.”
“Now; almost every goalie has a personal goalie coach or attends goalie schools. The game has changed so much from alot of aspects. More emphasis is put on handling different technical situations – video, for example, is being used to make sure goalies are handling these situations properly now.”
The Ontario native also touched on one area that has changed drastically, and is never far from the headlines in recent years:
“Equipment is better. I was always walking around with bruises when I played. Skates are now sharper, selection is better.”
One other change Rook notes is a change in attitudes – “Coaches are more aware how to handle goalies now. Practices are being designed to include or be aware of the goalie.”
It’s a slow change in some quarters, one Team GB netminder Ben Bowns is hoping to help drive in the UK, but it’s a positive for all goaltenders that change is coming.
Rook parted company with the Blue Jackets in April 2011, and the next stage of his coaching career took him to Switzerland – where he found the approach to the game much different again:
“One thing I noticed in Switzerland, that I don’t notice even in Canada, is the emphasis on skill development as opposed to team systems.”
“They spend alot of their practice time on developing skills (passing, shooting, skating). In Canada we spend alot of time on defensive zone coverage, break-outs etc. However, without being able to skate or pass, these systems aren’t going to be very successful.”
The rise in the number of Swiss players at the top level, as well as the national teams progress at major tournaments, suggests this approach is paying off for Switzerland – it’s an approach I have long hoped Great Britain might look at and learn from.
Rook’s commitment to helping young goaltenders develop remains as strong as ever, and his Pure Hockey Goaltending clinics continue to go from strength to strength.
“I really enjoy working with the young goalies who come to PHG. Every year, our numbers increase.”
“One thing I pride the school on is that I am on the ice for every session. Over the years, we teach all aspects of the position and focus on read/react drills as well. I don’t want goalies to become robots, and encourage them to understand the game, read situations etc.”
“We also include different speakers to include psychologists, nutritionists, sport therapists. Visual training is very important to a goaltender, so we do alot of work in this aspect.”
“At the end of the day, hockey is a game and it should be fun. So we encourage the kids to work hard and we always have fun when we are on the ice.”
It’s an ethos he is hoping he might be able to bring to the UK again one day:
“I would love to come to the UK and help in some way; to assist in the development of the young goalies. I used to have a goalie school in Scotland during the summer shortly after retiring and would like to somehow help out again.”
One can only hope someone in the UK will take advantage of an opportunity to bring someone who has worked at the highest level to these shores; for the benefit of all.
Thanks to Dave for his time. You can follow him on Twitter: @rooker2929