It’s not every day you get to talk to someone who has such a unique perspective on how hockey is played and facilitated in North America, but that’s just the opportunity we have at the North Shore Winter Club with Guido Lamberti-Charles.
Guido grew up playing and coaching hockey in Germany, and for him, there’s so much to appreciate on this side of the pond. He’s a busy guy, but I managed to catch up with Guido in between his responsibilities as associate coach with our Bantam A1 team.
Kelvin: Hey there Guido, thanks so much for talking with me today.
Guido: It’s my pleasure Kelvin.
Let’s start with your background in hockey. Tell us about your childhood growing up in Germany and how you transitioned into a full-time coach.
I grew up in Germany like you said, and the reason I started playing hockey was simply because I lived ten minutes from the rink. It was real convenient. That time when I was a young kid I was every day at the rink, skating with my friends and then I started playing hockey full time. My minor hockey and junior hockey was played in my home town, my minor pro as well except for two seasons. I played 14 years at minor pro and 12 years for my home town which was great.
Basically for me, I fell in love with the game at an early age. When it was time not to play any more I became a coach. Sure enough when I had to wind down my career at 30 because I had some injuries and my team was struggling with bankruptcy, I had a chance to start coaching in 2001/2002, 2002/2003 was my first year as a head coach. The team I played for had to do a complete rebuild and they had to work their way up through minor pro again.
If you don’t mind me asking, when a team is bankrupt why do they go down a division?
All the leagues are connected over there. Basically it means that division 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, you have to win your division 5 to move up to 4 and so on. The teams at the lower divisions play off and try to move up. The last two or so teams have to play down to stay in the connected league.
So when teams lose money, they can’t afford better players, and they end up moving down. There’s pressure. The higher divisions have better star player but teams aren’t going bankrupt because the leagues are better with budgets so teams last the entire season. They can’t sign too many players any more like they used to. No matter what you have to win to move up.
What are some things you think hockey in North America and Canada could learn from hockey in Europe?
The biggest thing for me, and I was actually talking to a good friend this morning, a professional referee in Europe, but what helped me personally to become a better coach was really learning from other coaches isa big thing and that’s a big improvement I’ve worked on here.
But what I brought over the most from Europe is having the patience to work with young kids and continue working with them as they grow up. There are so many players in Canada, so each level is dealt with and then they move up. I was trained in Europe to take care of players from the young ages and then move them all the way up through the ranks into junior and pro. Here you select your team, you run tryouts, and players can fall behind because teams move on with better players. It’s not necessarily wrong, but it took me awhile to figure out. There are so many players here so it needs to be done different, but I still have that European model in my head to take care of every player.
You can have a player on your radar, train him properly, and he or she can improve rapidly and make it as far as you can make it. In Europe we make sure we don’t leave anyone behind.
And here we think that if you don’t make the A1 team when you’re young then there’s no chance of making it anywhere.
For sure. But if you play A2 or A3 or whatever, you just never know. It’s silly to count kids out, the thing that matters is that they like to play hockey, they’re passionate and they want to play. So let’s take care of all of them. Not making an A1 team doesn’t mean players don’t have a chance. Even if they never make an A1 team, if they’re learning and enjoying the game then that’s what counts.
Another good thing in Europe, I’m from Germany, I can choose tactics and ideas from anywhere. I like some Finnish stuff, some things from Sweden, North America. I’ve been talking to Iowa and colleagues at Iowa state, so I can pick the best attributes from everywhere in the world. Lots of Canadian coaches only look at the Canadian way. I can borrow stuff from Russia, I'm always talking and asking how they train players. How they train the powerplay in Russia is completely different over there, so I tried it and it works. I can pick from everyone, I like the physical play of the North American style, I’ve adapted pretty good but I like to steal stuff from different coaches in Europe. I would never have had the chance to do this if I was still in Germany. I’d probably be out of hockey if I was still in Germany.
Next week: Guido and I will talk about the right pace each minor hockey player should be taking as they get older.