It's not a conscious effort, but former NHLer Scott Walker can sense that he is incorporating certain techniques and strategies from his playing days into his current routine as coach of the Ontario Hockey League's Guelph Storm.
How he manages practice, what he likes in a team meeting, how he likes to send a message -- all those areas have been shaped by his previous experiences.
And having played for the likes of both Barry Trotz and Peter Laviolette during his 17 seasons in the NHL, the 41-year-old former Nashville Predator has a unique perspective on the changing of the guard in Music City, where Laviolette replaced Trotz, who was the longest-tenured active coach in the NHL when he was dismissed following his 15th season in April.
Both men are tremendous coaches, according to Walker, but given the amount of time Trotz spent in Nashville, a significant adjustment period should be expected.
"It’s funny because I had both of them and they’re both great people. The overall thing is, it’s going to be different,” Walker told ESPN.com in a phone conversation Tuesday. “It’s going to take a bit -- some players have been through this once or twice, but some players have only heard one voice and it’s going to take them a little while to adjust.”
That’s not a bad thing for the Predators, who finished this past season in 10th place in the uber-competitive Western Conference. A new voice and fresh ideas can be a good thing for everyone involved.
“Sometimes, it can infuse a little bit of excitement amongst the players, not because one guy is bad or good, but just because it’s different. You want to prove to the new coach, that ‘Hey, I’m a good player.' Sometimes, it can be a positive,” Walker said. “Some players will adapt and do well and some will struggle because they like to play under Trotz."
Walker described both men as “very detailed, very prepared,” but there are some obvious differences.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that Lavy is a more offensive coach and Barry is a bit more defensive-minded. [Trotz] got the most out of our team. There weren’t too many years where we underachieved. I think that comes from the coach,” said Walker, who played for Trotz in Nashville from 1998 to 2004.
Walker described Trotz as the type of coach who really took time to know each and every one of his players. He cared about them individually. Walker said Laviolette’s strength was his ability to inspire his charges. Having played under Laviolette after being traded to Carolina in 2006, he knows that the Predators' new coach will light a fire under the team.
“Peter was very emotional, very inspirational,” said Walker, who amassed 151 goals and 391 points in 829 career games. “He knows just what to say and when to say it.”
That may be the type of spark the Predators need to get back on track this season. In addition to hiring Laviolette in May, Predators GM David Poile acquired winger James Neal in a trade with Pittsburgh and signed veteran centers Olli Jokinen and Mike Ribeiro.
Walker tries to keep tabs on his former teams -- he also played for the Washington Capitals and Vancouver Canucks, in addition to the Predators and Hurricanes -- but there isn’t a ton of time what with coaching one of the top junior teams out there.
Walker led the Storm to an OHL championship last season, with his team losing to the Edmonton Oil Kings in the Memorial Cup championship.
He was always intrigued by the possibility of returning to junior hockey -- he played for Owen Sound as a teen -- and pursuing ownership opportunities (he also serves as owner of the Storm). Developing young players has become his niche, where he remains committed to helping each player develop individually in hopes of reaching the pros.
“For me, my biggest philosophy is, every day helping them get to the next level,” he said.
Seeing that process take shape and the advancement of junior hockey as a whole has been a treat for Walker.
“It’s amazing to see how far junior hockey has come. The talent level is amazing,” he said. “It’s pretty cool to see and it’s a lot of fun to be a part of.”