‘Don’t freak out,’ communicate & stay off YouTube: Bruce Cassidy, Don Sweeney & more offer tips for hockey coaches, young players

(Photo by Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Once a regular sight each season at Warrior Ice Arena, the Bruins' annual coaching symposium — like most things this year — was flipped on its head this winter due to the ongoing pandemic that has shredded the NHL's calendar and halted hockey at lower levels all over North America.

A Zoom conference might not hold a candle to the Bruins' primary practice facility, but the over 200 coaches that took part in Wednesday's USA Hockey virtual conference were still able to pick the brains of some of the top minds of an Original Six club — as Bruce Cassidy, Don Sweeney, Providence Bruins head coach Jay Leach and player development coordinator Chris Kelly spoke for an hour as part of a panel hosted by moderator Roger Grillo.

While some of the topics involved the inner workings of Boston's organization as it pertains to scouting, development and Cassidy's personal preferences when it comes to structuring his team's practices, the lion's share of the discussion centered on anecdotes and words of wisdom for coaches across all levels on how to best connect and get the most out of the next generation of young hockey players.

Here are a few of the lessons that Cassidy, Sweeney, Leach and Kelly shared on the conference:

"Don't freak out" about missed games — in a pandemic, no less

Given the current climate we're in — in which COVID cases continue to spike and just about every fabric of our everyday lives has been impacted — hockey at every level have taken a major hit, with various youth circuits, junior competition and collegiate play all halted by season stoppages, delays and outright cancellations.

Even though a number of leagues and levels of play have at least been able to soldier on in Massachusetts and various parts of New England, Cassidy and Sweeney acknowledged that a fair number of youth players could be missing out on a full season's worth of games in 2020-21.

So what can players do to remain active and work on their skills, even when a sheet of ice isn't available to them?

Well, Step 1 — don't fill your suddenly open schedule with NHL21 sessions on your new Playstation5.

"I would prefer that they not acquire their hockey sense just by playing video games," Sweeney joked. "I know my sons — they put the thing in GM mode and tell me how much better they are than I am. They’re making trades left and right and accusing me of not being able to complete them.”

But Sweeney stressed that missing out on a season's worth of game action doesn't mean that your development curve has suddenly flatlined. While Sweeney did feel for student-athletes in the collegiate ranks for a season either completely shuttered or at the very least seriously augmented, he did add that kids in earlier stages of competition still have a ways to go in their development, and can still find ways to hone their skills away from the ice.