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DAILY DISH: Hockey Pilgrimage to Las Vegas Junior Hockey News

Published: Tuesday, 16 Jul 2019  
By: Stephen Heisler,

Occasionally, the urge to want to get back to coaching shows its head. After spending a few games working Bliss Litter’s bench at the Great Western Futures Super Camp in 2017 and 18, that urge pushed me into seriously considering pulling the trigger. Fast-forward to last week’s 2019 camp and the urge has completely vanished from my consciousness. Yea, that’s going to happen after 3-4 games a day for the best part of a week. 

Adding Mark Carlson’s assignments to my workload may have doubled the number of games, but it also provided some valuable contrast to my own hockey education, making the four-day double duty effort more than worth the investment.

The coaching styles of Littler (BCHL Wenatchee Wild) and Carlson (USHL Cedar Rapids Roughriders) are as different as salt and pepper. Both highly successful and the best of friends, it was fun to have the opportunity to take a personal inventory of their contrasting styles.

Make no mistake, these coaches love to win, and both go about the task with a positive attitude that every player gets to be a part of.  I’m thinking that’s where the on-bench similarities end.

Littler comes to the bench with a smile on his face and a bit of a gleam in his eyes. “OK boys, lets get out there and have a lot of fun. We get to play hockey today so go make some good plays.” Yes, Littler is one of those guys that would likely be just as successful coaching women’s volleyball as he is in hockey. He has a way of letting each player know that the expectations are going to be a little greater today than the day before. But they also know that giving their very best effort can never result in failure. 

“Littler has a way of getting the most out of me,” one player said after one of Thursday’s final games. “I would get my game to an entirely different level if on one of his teams.” 

The first thing that’s noticed about Carlson is the expectation of professionalism. When the first thing I notice is the 20-year USHL Head Coach straightening out the spare sticks and picking up little pieces of trash from the bench, I knew we were going to be in for a grand experience. Make no mistake, I tried to make sure the sticks were straight, and tape was picked up before the coach got to the bench for the next game.

As the week’s games progressed, and through each of the three age groups, Carlson managed to get that same level of professionalism from every team that was coached. The players took his instructions seriously and needed minimal motivation to stay on pace, regardless of what the score was in the game. It was very easy to see that this is a coach with the uncanny ability to be the absolute difference maker to each player under his guidance. 

“Carlson was my favorite and it was fun to try and make him smile,” another player said of the coach on Thursday. I’m not sure how far I’m going to make it in hockey, but I’m never going to forget getting the chance to play for that coach, even if it was for just one game.”

Some of the other coaches at the event included Rob Pallin (HC Innsbruck European Pro), Dane Jackson (University of North Dakota), Darren Blue (Minnesota State University, Mankato), Fred Harbinson ( Penticton Vees BCHL), Jeff Tambellini (Trail Smoke Eaters BCHL), and Cliff Cook (Missoula Jr. Bruins NA3HL). 

Getting to watch NHL trainer Mike Muir (Las Vegas Golden Knights) in action was also a treat. Muir treated every player with the same level of professionalism he give the Knights, something that made every player feel like a pro. For example, one player got a nice little gash just above one of his eyes. The kid missed a single shift while Muir did his magic trick before quickly getting back on the ice. 

I want to thank all the coaches and players for making the event one to remember. This 2019 camp was a great success. I look forward to working with many of the same coaches and staff again next year.

Let the countdown begin for Vegas 2020, I’ll be there! Only 51 more weeks to go.

Author: Stephen Heisler from
Stephen Heisler has spent a lifetime in the game of hockey. Stephen is also working with individual teams, coaches, and players as a director with Victorious Hockey Company. Stephen, his wife Deysi, and four children reside in Orlando, Florida.

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