By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — Kevin Constantine didn’t take the lead during the first day of Everett Silvertips training camp.
Everett’s head coach instead deferred to his assistants during camp’s opening practice sessions Thursday at Comcast Arena, spending his time during practices watching from the bench and taking in the proceedings from a different perspective.
But while Constantine wasn’t occupying his usual home on the ice, he was still in a more comfortable position than he was a year earlier.
Constantine is beginning the second season of his second stint as Everett’s head coach, and this year he’s able to hitting the ground running instead of starting from a standstill.
“I probably feel the same way as maybe a 16-year-old who tried out last season as a 15-year-old,” Constantine explained. “You come and you’re a little more comfortable, you have a few of the things already figured out, there’s less to know, you feel more confident coming back. It’s kind of the same for me, I don’t have to soak in quite as much this year because I already know so many of the guys. I think it will allow me to focus on some of the people I don’t know, some of the 15s, 16s or older invites to camp. That will be nice.”
In a strange way Constantine was Everett’s most prominent rookie last season. Yes, he was the first coach in franchise history, guiding the Tips to three U.S. Division championships in four seasons from 2003-07. So the team, the town, the arena and the organization were all familiar entities to Constantine.
But what wasn’t familiar to Constantine were the players. Not one player who was in camp with Everett last year was part of the organization during Constantine’s first stint behind the bench. Therefore, last year’s training camp was just as much a familiarization process for Constantine as it was for the incoming bantam draft picks and camp invitees.
However, now with a year under his belt and a thorough knowledge of the returning players, Constantine isn’t having to play catch-up.
“I think this year there is a foundation,” Constantine said. “I know what to expect from them, I know what kind of players they are, I know what kind of roles they can play, they know how our practices go and what our style of play is.”
The familiarization extends beyond Constantine, too. Last year, the players were wondering just what they were going to get from their new head coach. They’d heard the rumors about his detailed systems and intense coaching style, but had yet to experience those themselves. Now that the returning players know what Constantine is all about, they also come into camp better prepared.
“It’s good to kind of know what we’re getting into before we actually come here,” goaltender Austin Lotz said. “I think we’re more prepared for everything that’s coming our way and for the workload we know is coming, because obviously K.C. pushes us to the limit, which is good. It’s definitely good to know that’s going to happen before things get going.”
Added overage forward Brayden Low: “He’s more comfortable in the environment, we’re a lot more comfortable with him, we know what to expect. But we know there’s a lot of work to be done. We want to come back here a winner and we’re chasing excellence in this program. It’s nice to come back and be more comfortable with the whole situation, but there’s more pressure to perform and hang some banners.”
Constantine brought with him a level of discipline that hadn’t been experienced by any of Everett’s players previously during their tenure with the Tips. So, the first season under Constantine involved a lot of learning.
“I think we all learned a whole lot, just how to play hockey the right way,” Low said. “I was never really taught how to play a complete structured game before last year. That’s what I took away: Do what you can to your strengths, and do them really well.”
Because the majority of the players who will ultimately make the team already know the program, it gives the coaching staff more options with how to use their time.
“We’re going to make some small changes,” Constantine said. “Ninety percent of what we did will be the same way, but 10 percent will be slightly different. We don’t have to spend quite as much time on some details of a certain way we play. We can maybe take some of that time and dedicate it toward some individual skill development type of stuff because we don’t have to spend as much time putting our systems in place.”
All of which the Tips hope will have team running at full steam when the season begins.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.