MONTREAL – A new face appears on the Wild bench after the first period each game, setting up behind the forwards and wielding an iPad that he pores over during a stoppage in play.
“He’s great,” winger Ryan Donato said. “He immediately will come back up to you and say, ‘Hey, you can do X, Y and Z instead of what you just did there,’ and obviously you can immediately go and correct it and see it firsthand. So it’s pretty cool.”
Since the second game of the season, the Wild has brought assistant coach Darby Hendrickson down from his post in the press box as an eye in the sky to the front row of the action for the second and third periods — a change implemented to help players quickly watch what just happened on the ice to better prepare for future scenarios.
“You’re trying to get guys to slow down and just get back to what their game is and simplify it,” said longtime fixture Hendrickson, who scored the first home goal in franchise history. “That’s my job, to slow it down.”
Tablets on the bench isn’t a new trend in hockey; every team received three iPad Pros ahead of the 2017 playoffs, and the NHL announced a partnership with SAP and Apple earlier this year that would provide real-time individual and team stats to the device.
Previously, assistant coach Dean Evason teed up sequences for players to study. But now, Hendrickson handles the task. He has a livestream of the game on the iPad and can pause or rewind in 10-second increments.
“It leaves Dean more time to talk to the players,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “They all want to see the clips of what they did wrong, and Darby’s very good at showing clips of that.”
Visual explanations of mistakes aren’t the only upside, though.
Players can look at what alternatives might have been available to them on the ice, they can evaluate a play to validate their decision or they could choose to relive a goal to stoke positive vibes.
“Being able to re-watch something or correct something right away or gain confidence, it’s definitely vital,” Donato said.
Winger Jason Zucker is one of the more active users, reaching for the tool after almost every shift.
But he isn’t focused on unpredictable plays like breakaways. He examines the routine scenes, like dump-ins, because those are situations that are going to repeat. And if he’s equipped to respond, that awareness could lead to a scoring chance.
Take the 4-2 loss to the Maple Leafs Tuesday, a result that slumped the Wild to 1-5 ahead of its road-trip finale Thursday against the Canadiens at Bell Centre.
“There were probably three shifts or three plays where I didn’t get the puck out of the zone,” Zucker recalled. “… I don’t know if it was because the puck was bouncing off the wall, I just mishandled it or [Toronto defenseman] Morgan Rielly played it really well.”
After he watched the play, Zucker told defensemen Matt Dumba and Jared Spurgeon that they needed to clear the puck off the glass next time. And when that happened, Rielly held Zucker and the Wild earned a power play.
“Those are the plays that I personally try to look at,” Zucker said.
Hendrickson is cautious not to overload players with information.
While he has no problem being proactive when it comes to systems talk, especially with young players, he also reads body language to determine when it’s the right time to approach a player. Sometimes waiting until the intermission when emotion and intensity have been dialed back is a better opening.
“It’s a read,” Hendrickson said. “I know from [being] a player I didn’t want someone in my face every shift when I came off.”
Still, the option is appreciated and just another resource the Wild can tap into as it tries to remedy a slow start to the season.
“The more hockey you watch, the more experience you get, the better player you’ll be,” Donato said. “So for me, I just want to watch as much as I can.”