Q&A: Steven Brown, Connecticut RoughRiders coach

Steven Brown, the associate head coach of the EHL’s Connecticut RoughRiders, grew up playing hockey in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. At the time, there was only one indoor hockey rink. When the weather was cold enough, they would wait for the ponds to freeze and play outside. Brown began considering coaching after he was hurt playing junior hockey. He took his first job with Columbia’s ACHA team as an assistant, and at age 24 left for Sweden and a head coaching position with AIK Stockholm’s junior team. From there, he took the head coaching job at pro Timrå IK in Sweden. He has spent 14 years coaching in Sweden and Finland thru his career, and also worked with the national team in Russia.”

Neutral Zone chatted with Brown about his coaching experience, advice for players and more.

Neutral Zone: When you first when to Sweden, were you only speaking English?

Steven Brown: I speak seven languages. When I was at university, I was dating a girl that was from Munich, so I took German. Prior to that, in school, I had also already taken Spanish and French for a zillion year, so that really helped. I’m also Jewish, and so I also speak Hebrew. I’m just really good at languages. I can listen and understand and I don’t particularly look like a certain nationality, so I could totally be a great spy. In Finland, I picked up Finnish. That was harder, but I picked it up and by speaking Swedish, and that allows me to speak Norwegian pretty well. And that allows me to speak Dutch and Danish and some other Scandinavian languages mixed together, like Icelandic, Russian. I can’t speak Russian, but I can coach in Russian!.I know every hockey term in Russian. It’s definitely helped me along the way.

NZ: How much have you had to deal with players billeting, and what advice would you give to players and parents?

SB: If you have a choice to pick a family that has billeted before, that’s the best option. … We have lost three players over the last six years just due to being homesick. It’s going to happen, and that is okay. It’s harder for the younger players, especially at the junior level during that first year. We do see it with the older players too. I think that by having players billeting, it gives players the best opportunity to grow. … Another thing too now, and this is them just staying out of trouble, is that we obviously know alcohol is out there and is definitely part of the university lifestyle. But the boys that are coming to us are 18, 19, 20 years old, and they’re not of drinking age. By putting them alone allows for more things to happen. [Billeting] keeps them in a safer environment.”

NZ: What are the most important hockey skills for a young player to develop?

SB: There is only one skill, and that is skating. Straight up. Yes, there are players that can get better with their technical hand skills and their hockey sense. If that is something that you don’t have, you have to do a lot of work and you can improve, but skating is the ultimate weapon.

NZ: How much time do you spend with individual players going over their thought process, your thought process and how they are or are not working together?

SB: Guys will be in here once a week or multiple times a week, depending on what they need to work on or how long they been with us. We’ll sit down and go through their game and look at offensive plays and defensive plays and things they’re doing technically wrong and breaking it down for them on an individual level. From there, we’ll look to see if the team tactic is working or not working. In most cases if it’s not working, it’s because that player is doing something wrong, and it will affect that whole group of five, and we’re able to see that together.”

NZ: Do you ever talk to players about slowing down their game in order to accomplish what the team is trying to accomplish overall?

SB: We work on the power play a lot with the team. We are number two right now and we’ve been in the top three yearly. We have some set rules, but we allow our players to be creative. That goes to game play as well. We are more worried that the player is using the correct technique, whether that’s a skating technique or shooting technique. We will allow them to take more tactical liberties to be more creative.

NZ: If someone tells you they have a player for you to look at, what’s your response?

SB: For me, nothing. I don’t want to hear anything else at that point about that player. … I would rather see a player clean and then compare my observations to their scouting reports.

NZ: How do academics come into play during your scouting?

SB: We have had student-athletes who have had tons of various academic grades come to us. Some are through the roof and some are not up there. If a player wants to go to a university, that’s a plus for us. They’re not saying I want to play junior hockey and I don’t want to go to university. There are some players that follow that path. Once you sign with us, you are saying that you want to go to a university. Even if you have lower SAT or ACT or your GPA is not the greatest, if you’re a good hockey player, there’s room for players at different universities.

NZ: If you could change one rule in the game of hockey, what would it be?

SB: Fighting. Zero tolerance. There’s no reason for it anymore.

NZ: At all levels?

SB: At all levels including the NHL. Now, in sports, because of the injuries, they’re trying to knock things down. Like in soccer, there is no more heading allowed at the youth levels because of the concussions. It was part of the game back then, but the game is more skilled now. There are less and less goon-type players in the NHL. Teams are not going to allow that salary to be swallowed up just to have that.

NZ: What are the top three skills younger players need to develop?

SB: Skating as a skill set, and that can be done whether you are working with a hockey instructor, someone like Eric Lind or a figure skating instructor as well. Just to get a true feel for your edges. That’s the most important. … Second is hockey sense. That means learning the game of hockey. It also means watching it a lot. Not just watching it when dad or mom is taking you to a game or it’s on TV. You need to also play a lot of other sports, like we did growing up. … Third item would be stick handling. That is something that can be practiced at home more than any other skill. You don’t need anybody else for it.

NZ: What would be your general life advice to the hockey community?

SB: Be a good person. Make sure that you get up every day and want to help people out. Be respectful to players, coaches, friends and your family. If you do that, things will work out.