CHICAGO -- Darryl Belfry won’t be anywhere near the ice, but his name will likely be invoked by the Chicago Blackhawks' Patrick Kane and Minnesota Wild's Zach Parise over the course of their Western Conference semifinal series.
Belfry trains both players in the offseason and provides them in-season performance analysis. For no specific reason, he’s become a bit of a running joke between Kane and Parise.
"There's times where [Parise will] just skate up to you on a faceoff and say, 'Hey, Darryl, what’s up,'" Kane said before Game 1 of the series. "Just something funny to get you a little chuckle on the ice in the middle of a hockey game."
Belfry, a skills analyst and development coach, wasn't aware of that until Friday, and had a good laugh about it himself. He's worked with Kane since the Blackhawks superstar was 9 years old, and has had Parise as a client the past two years.
Belfry has witnessed Kane’s game evolve over the years, a process that has continued the past few seasons. Their focus in recent years has been helping Kane become more of an all-around offensive player. Belfry believes the league saw the results of that as Kane compiled 27 goals and 37 assists in 61 games before suffering a fractured clavicle in late February.
“His whole thing -- we’ve talked about this the last couple of years -- is being able to establish himself as a legitimate shot threat and not only be generating offense of what he’s able to create for other people,” Belfry said by phone. “By doing that, he becomes more of a dual threat. That evolution has increased over the last two or three years. You can see this year he was able to generate a lot of goals for himself. He was scoring from distances that he hadn’t been scoring from before.”
Parise came to Belfry more of a complete product. What Parise sought was to improve his offensive game. Through training with Belfry, Parise feels he’s accomplished that.
“Darryl, he’s opened up a lot of things for me on the offensive side of the puck,” Parise said before the series. “He just shows you different ways to get the puck more, how to get up the ice more efficient off the rush and how to make plays off the rush and try to manipulate defensemen more than I had been. You watch Kane do it. He’s the best in the league at doing it. You try to take a couple things from what he’s teaching you. It’s amazing on the offensive side how much he’s helped my game.”
Kane appreciated Parise’s praise about manipulating defensemen, a phrase Belfry often uses with his clients.
“It’s nice of him to say that,” Kane said. “I think you try to improve every season and every game and be prepared about certain defensemen you’re playing against, certain ways to find open ice. I think that’s the biggest thing in today’s game, if you can find that open ice and space. We have so many skilled players in our game. When you get that time and space, good things are bound to happen.”
Belfry has enjoyed assisting Parise develop that skill -- though it has been a different process trying to make an established player better.
“With a player like Zach and getting him at the stage of his career I got him at, this guy’s already scored 50, he’s already been a 100-point man, so it’s different with those guys,” Belfry said. “They’ve already experienced a certain level of success. So now he’s in a mode where he tries to reinvent his game to maintain a sense of offensive relevance because the offensive game evolves. Players need to evolve with it.
“What’s interesting about him is he experienced a high degree of success by playing a certain way and has really embraced and been able to balance a lot of just simple new concepts and been able to incorporate that into his game and become a lot more relevant offensive player now in today’s game.”
Kane and Parise are different types of players. Kane’s game is about finesse and avoiding contact. Parise relies more on power and doesn’t mind using his body. Belfry has noticed one common trait between them and among a lot of elite players.
“Zach plays a much harder game in terms of how much contact he actually seeks out, but they both play off of feel,” Belfry said. “That’s reflective of most of the top players in the game. They have a real sense of feel for how they’re going to be able to generate space or create space. That comes with space of origin for most players, and that’s not uncommon between those two.”
Belfry often sends his clients videos analyzing their performance and lets them know what they’re doing well and what they can improve upon. Kane and Parise may receive videos during their series, but it doesn’t reveal the other player’s weaknesses.
“There are no secrets that you can share about one or the other to give the other an advantage,” Belfry said. “It doesn’t work like that. The secret is play the best you can play. That’s the best secret. Don’t worry about the other guy.
“It’s neat because it becomes the player that executes the best wins. It becomes fun to see them as they work through their adjustments that they have to make.”