“We got involved knowing the situation with coach (Gilligan) going through some battles,” said Houda. “It’s something where the Boston Bruins like to get out and support the community. That’s why we’re here.”
Houda began by calling the Beverly boys over to the bench, where they huddled around the B’s assistant. He wielded a dry erase board that he used to school the Panthers on the finer points of hockey.
More importantly, he told the kids the real life value in watching their head coach confront his illness head-on and the importance of living each life to its fullest.
Then, it was on to the hockey.
The first drill worked on angles and had the players doing 1-on-1’s starting in the neutral zone, where the defensive player wasn’t allowed
to skate backwards. The idea was for the defender to use good angles to shield the forward toward the boards while the defender makes sure to keep his stick on the ice.
“Stick on the ice is the biggest thing we try to teach young players, even at the pro level. Stick on the ice all the time,” said Houda. “Everyone has a tendency to keep their stick in the air, but you don’t get to play with the puck very much if the stick’s in the air. It’s the little things we’re trying to get them in habit of.”
Houda, who has a son on the Lynnfield High team, has seen his fair share of North Shore high school hockey. “That’s why I say they have to keep their stick on the ice,” he joked.
Next, Houda moved the boys into the offensive zone for some 3-on-3 work in the corners. Here, offensive players were tasked with keeping the puck in the lower half of the zone, maintain possession and look for a chance to go to the net. When Beverly forwards failed to keep possession, Houda forced the trio into sprints.