USAHockey.Com Profiles Ice Dogs Coach Kevin ZifcakOctober 19, 2005
By Mike Scandura
Special to usahockey.com
While Kevin Zifcak was coaching at Worcester Academy last season, he saw perhaps four periods of Assumption College hockey -- despite the fact that the high school's Hilltoppers and the collegiate Ice Dogs both play at Buffone Ice Arena in Worcester, Mass.
Starting this season, however, Zifcak has an up-close-and-personal look at the Assumption ice hockey team -- earlier this year, he was named the Ice Dogs new head coach, the school's 11th in a history that has fielded hockey teams from 1917-19, 1956-60 and since the 1964-65 season.
This marks the first job at the collegiate level for the 31-year-old Zifcak, who played his college hockey in Brunswick, Maine, at Bowdoin College for the legendary Terry Meagher.
"I think I've been pretty fortunate with the timing of some positions," said Zifcak, a native of Burrillville, R.I., whose first head coaching job ran from 1997-99 at Bridgton Academy in Maine. "That worked out great. My wife was in medical school when I was leaving Bridgton and they were starting the program at Worcester [in 1999]. They were looking someone and the timing worked out.
"At Assumption, the timing has fallen into place. Obviously, everybody who has hired me, I feel grateful that they took a chance on me. I do reflect on this and try to work hard."
The timing also worked out well for Zifcak when he was recently working at the UConn Hockey Experience, a summer hockey camp, with Huskies head coach Bruce Marshall.
"Bruce had me contact [current Providence College assistant] David Berard, and David again took a chance on me and got me involved in USA Hockey," said Zifcak. "It was a great chance to work with some elite players and coaches. I gained a great deal of knowledge and experience."
Among other posts, Zifcak has served as New England's team leader when that squad played in the USA Hockey's Select event at the 14-year-old age level. Zifcak's knowledge through that process transcends mere Xs and Os.
"You talk tactics and different things, but one of the biggest things is the way coaches carry themselves and handle kids," he said. "Everybody has an opinion on how to handle things on and off the ice. I like observing coaches and seeing how they handle kids. The Team New England staff is unbelievable."
Despite his rapid ascent up the coaching ladder, Zifcak doesn't believe he knows everything there is to know about hockey. That's why he integrated something into his program at Worcester Academy -- and he's replicating it at Assumption -- that he hadn't in the past.
"The one thing I implemented the most was the small-games concept, and doing that at practice," he said, crediting his experiences with USA Hockey for the idea. "In my first three or four years of coaching, I didn't do that. I stuck to the traditional game plan of coaching. Now I see the real value of [small-game work]."
While coaching at Bridgton and Worcester, Zifcak had limited ice time for his team and felt he had to cram in every drill possible. Therefore, the small-game situations -- 3-on-3 hockey -- fell by the wayside.
"You see how good the kids become because they're in a tight area and are able to get shots off on net; otherwise, they wouldn't have [honed that skill] if I had not done it at drill," he said.
Zifcak has been participating in drills almost since he was able to walk.
He was raised in a hockey hotbed in Rhode Island and was coached in youth hockey by his father, Gerald, who was voted the 1963 Schoolboy Athlete of the Year by Words Unlimited, the statewide organization of sports writers, sports casters and sports publicists
"I've only played for four people in my life," he said. "My father was one large influence."
Aside from Meagher, Zifcak's college coach, his two other coaches hail from the same legendary hockey family in Rhode Island. Tom Eccleston Jr., who introduced the sport to Burrillville, coached Zifcak for two seasons at the high school level, then Tom Eccleston III coached Zifcak at the Holderness School in New Hampshire.
"I've been fortunate to have played for very knowledgeable hockey coaches," said Zifcak. "They all had different styles, but I was able to take a little from each of them. They placed the most stress on getting better in practice, so that what you do in practice will translate into a game.
"They emphasized skills and individual development during practice time. That's one thing I try to stick to because people tend to lose focus and drift toward the team concept. You must shoot, pass, handle the puck and skate. They all were outstanding in making sure that we concentrated on those skills in practice."
Zifcak took those lessons offered to him as a player. Now, as a coach, he is helping the current generation improve on the ice.
"The best thing they've done with Team New England is that we've tried to get as many coaches involved as possible to give the best experience possible for the kids," he said. "They may get something different from one coach as opposed to another.
"They get a lot of teachers on the ice and get different approaches to the game, rather than having one or two coaches on the ice. They're able to learn more."
Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc.