“It was fun. It’s nice to have someone who has been in the NHL come and talk to us and let us know the stuff they do in the NHL,” said
Beverly senior winger and team captain Andrew Irving. “It’s nice to tell people we got someone to teach us how to play like a pro and work hard.”
The third and final drill focused on forwards and defensemen clearing the puck out of the defensive zone when it gets wrapped around the net. Houda instructed the players to play the puck with their backs to the blue line, keep it in tight to their skates and to chip the puck up and over the defenseman pinching in.
“I told the kids (Boston’s) defensive game is how they won the (Stanley) Cup (in 2011): starting from their own end and working it out,” said Gilligan. “Coverage in your own end is so important, and (Houda) is instrumental for (the Bruins).”
Houda made sure to emphasize the importance of this aspect of the game, citing Bruins players like Danny Paille and Chris Kelly as guys who’ve helped increase their value in the NHL by thriving in the half-wall situations.
Houda was certainly impressed with the Panthers, who have raced out to a 2-0 record this season while outscoring their opponents, 13-1. “They’re a great bunch of kids,” he said. “I wish them luck on the year. They’re pretty good.”
After the final drill, the kids gathered around the bench area as Tosi and Houda gave Gilligan the jersey.
“I’m as fortunate as can be,” said the unshakeable Gilligan. “I’m going to go home and the wife and kids are going to say, ‘What the heck happened?’”
Gilligan wasn’t the only one whose spirits were lifted. For a group who has watched Gilligan the past two years and witnessed his struggles, the opportunity to see their head coach in a moment of true bliss was uplifting for all of the Panther players and assistant coaches.
“It was great seeing the big smile on his face,” said Andrew Irving. “He loved it. He always loves finding someone new to talk with about the NHL and all the hockey stuff that he loves.”