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NTDP’s Coaching Development on Full Display with Current Staff

By Becky Olsen, 03/05/24, 12:15PM EST


Former players Bourque, Hayes and Kolarik have all returned as assistant coaches

The main focus for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program is turning the country’s top prospects into the best players they can be. However, the development of hockey coaches is just as important for the program.

“Developing coaches is as much as what we do as developing players,” said Scott Monaghan, assistant executive director of USA Hockey for the NTDP and USA Hockey Arena. “We always try to find the best up-and-coming coaches we can that are on the cutting edge and help us to continue to hone the development we are doing with the kids.”

Monaghan added that he’s thrilled whenever a former player from the program returns to be a part of the coaching staff to share their experience with kids currently going through it.

The NTDP has plenty of those examples this year, as three of the four assistant coaches — Chad Kolarik (Abington, Pa.), Ryan Hayes (Syracuse, N.Y.) and Ryan Bourque (Topsfield, Mass.) — are alumni of the program.

Kolarik is in his second season as an assistant coach and is working with the Under-17 team alongside Hayes on the bench with head coach Greg Moore, who’s also a former NTDP player. Having a full staff of former players has helped the coaches gain a quick understanding with their players.

“When we think about the troubles we have gone through, wins and loses as a 16-year-old player, and working out every day for first time, we all understand that,” Kolarik said. “We can put ourselves in the kids’ shoes.

Hayes returns to the NTDP after spending the last 13 years playing professionally. While this is his first full-time coaching gig, he said it was something he’s planned to get into for a while.

“I have always been into the coaching side of it even while I was playing,” Hayes said. “The last few years, I started doing some coaching during the summer. Once this job opportunity came up, it just seemed natural. I always loved hockey and being at the rink.”

Bourque also enters his first season as a member of the Under-18 coaching staff, working with head coach Nick Fohr and assistant coach Matt Gilroy.

After working in sales in the Boston area for a year, he realized his heart was still on the ice. He coached with the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays for two seasons before returning to the NTDP.

“When I played, I felt like I was a little extension of the coaching staff and always trained to be a leader,” Bourque said. “When the opportunity to come to the NTDP opened, it was something I needed to take seriously. It felt like a no brainer for me.”

All three coaches cited their deep connection with the program as a reason to why they chose to join the coaching staff. Despite being away from the NTDP for more than a decade, it’s remained a part of their lives.

“You practice with the best and build relationships and form friendships. I still talk to my teammates in the ‘91 birth class,” Bourque said. “It’s something that’s near and dear to my heart. It’s cool to see it as an adult now and as a dad.”

Hayes said his relationship with the NTDP started years before he ever played a game in a red, white and blue sweater.

“I was fortunate enough that there were some guys from my hometown that went to the team the three years prior, so I had some information,” he said.

“I never forget the guys on the team or the coaching or the days, whether they were hard or when we would get together as a team. We went to high school together for two years.” 

Much like playing at the NTDP is a constant learning experience to become a better player, each coach is learning on the job as well. For Hayes, he’s trying to figure out the best way to effectively communicate with each player.

“I watch how different coaches work with the kids and how to get that information to the players on the ice. Every player is unique so it’s important to get my message through in a positive way to the kids,” Hayes said.

While Kolarik already has a year of experience coaching with the program, he’s going through an adjustment this season by coaching the U17s after being on the bench for the U18s a year ago.

Coach Ryan Hayes • Photo by Rena Laverty

“Last year when I came in, I was with the U18s and they had already been coached and taught what we are going through,” he said. “The U17s are fresh and so talented. … The conversations and teaching points are so detailed so they can learn. Everything is a slower process. Everything must be so detailed in the way you talk to the kids.”

The one thing that the new coaches notice that’s drastically different than when they played is the talent level in the program.

Kolarik said the kids in the program today are significantly faster and more talented than his ‘86 class. Hayes noticed that gap to and pointed out the number of resources players have today compared to when he played. 

“When I was here, we didn’t have the sports science part from GVN Performance,” he said. “When I was here, I was a very picky eater and knowing what I know now, I would have prepared differently.”

All three newer coaches played at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube during their playing days with the program, and they now get to coach at an arena specifically made for the NTDP. Bourque said making the transition from a player to a coach was weird at first, but he’s honored to be back where his hockey career took off.

“Even though it’s a completely different environment and facility, it was like my first day of school at a completely different venue. It’s cool to see how far the program has come,” he said. “It’s no mystery or secret why they have taken huge steps in being a dominant program.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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