Zoook Knows How To Come Up Really Big
Dec 15, 2014Posted by james

At Madison Square Garden, you can hear the crowd call out “Zoook” a number of times during each game. Forward Mats Zuccarello is one of the most popular New York Rangers. He has speed, good stick-handling skills and scoring ability. He also likes to check and scrum with the big boys.

Mats is just five feet and seven inches tall. Most players tower over him—up to a foot higher and 50-100 pounds heavier. Despite his size on the low end, Mats is easy to spot on the ice whether you are sitting in the nosebleed seats or watching the game on television. His long, shaggy hair flows from the helmet. He carries an extra-long left-handed stick. The puck seems to find him, or vice-versa.

Mats’ skating and passing are so quick that sometimes television cameras are a half-step behind him. You must rely on the video replay to fully grasp his unbelievable passing or how the puck got behind the goalie. One of his teammates said that Mats also is sometimes tough to find on the ice as he’s often hiding behind somebody else in the corner.

Though his stature doesn’t measure up to players on his team and on other rosters, Mats already has enjoyed significant success in the game. He was one of the Rangers best offensive and shoot-out players last season. He was the only NHL player on Norway’s roster for the Winter Olympic Games in Russia. Before coming to the NHL, he had starred for his team in the top-rated Swedish league.

Mats certainly is quick, but he also works hard on the other areas of his game while remaining calm on the ice. Practice is the one place where Mats displays a demonstrative side. He will compete fiercely with goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, and he celebrates scoring on his teammate with something described as a slow-motion dance, gliding with one skate off the ice and knee bent with arms and stick raised high.

The way Mats works and the way he plays has elevated him to Norwegian sports star status. In New York, the Ranger fans salute him by constantly calling his name and listening for the echo throughout MSG—“Zoook!”

Mats Zuccarello shows us that it doesn’t matter how tall you are, but it does matter how big you play the game. That can guarantee longevity in the NHL and for the rest of us in our careers.


A Firing That Turned Into Success
Dec 02, 2014Posted by james

We are in the midst of another competitive hockey season in this area so soon after the New York Rangers played an exciting 2013-2014 season that fell just a few games short of a championship. Leading the team is Coach Alain Vigneault.

Alain spent 36 years living, playing and coaching hockey before he accepted, during 1997, the most demanding position in the NHL. He became the second-youngest coach of the Montreal Canadians.

The Montreal position was his first head coaching job in the league. In three seasons, he reached the playoffs one time. Where Stanley Cup championships are measured not by the season but by the week, he was replaced quickly.

The experience validated his approach as a tactician and communicator behind the bench. The position reinforced his core beliefs that led to seven winning years in Vancouver and his successful debut season with the Rangers. The short time in Montreal, according to one player, put Alain through more than some coaches will see in an entire career.

Confident in his ability when he accepted the Montreal job, Alain also was smart to surround himself with established assistant coaches. With them, he planned practices that were weighted with instruction. The sessions were timed to the second. Hours were spent discussing tactics and devising game plans. He clarified every detail so his players clearly understood their responsibilities.

Alain always has employed a direct approach with his players—candid and respectful in closed-door meetings. He speaks in black and white, and players always know what he is thinking. During the game, no matter the situation, he breathes a calming influence on the bench.

Alain was fired from Montreal for what the team president said was an unacceptable performance. His boss did not take into account that Alain fought through three years of injuries that forced him to integrate minor leaguers who may not have been ready to play in the NHL. More likely, his boss understood the situation, but the pressure in Montreal to win is a daily event. Alain, as the coach, was on the hot seat and he was fired to release some steam.

Ever the diplomat, when he heard the news that he was out as coach, Alain said that Montreal was a great place to coach and that the place brought out the best in him. He took that experience first to Vancouver and then to New York, leading each team to a Stanley Cup Final appearance.

Alain’s philosophy is simple: “Everybody says to be yourself and to stick with what you believe in. If at one point you’re shown the door, at least you did it your way.”

Good advice for coaches and for those of us in business.