Former Sioux Falls Stampede and St. Cloud State forward Andreas Nödl is currently in his 11th season of pro hockey. Let’s Play Hockey photo by Mike Thill
Like any coach, I have had kids I couldn’t get to, some who for sure didn’t like me. Some I failed to get the best out of. I have been far from perfect. That said, for a large portion of my players, I believe I did get to them. I had a good relationship with many. Good in that we connected. With bumps in the road here and there. That is life for all of us.
There is no doubt that my boys knew I was honest with them. Honesty is a value, and in my world, there is no getting better without first honest assessment. So here is a story of success, for both me and my student, Andreas Nödl.
Andy was from Austria. He was the second wave of Austrians coming to the United States in search of hockey success by way of Sioux Falls, S.D. The first was Thomas Vanek, a player who went on to become an NHL All-Star. He played in Sioux Falls which catapulted him to the University of Minnesota and then to NHL fame. And at one point, Vanek was the highest paid player in the NHL. Andy was following in his footsteps. Sioux Falls was on the Austrian hockey map, and like Vanek, Nödl found himself with the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede.
My first year of coaching in Sioux Falls was to be Andy’s second year. His first year he had 16 points and was a minus-18. In talking with NHL scouts and others who were familiar with the team, the basic scouting report I received was, “you won’t want him.” I heard little that was positive.
My first tryout camp with the Stampede was at Ridder Arena. At the halfway point of the camp, I was in total agreement with the scouting reports I had received on Andy. That said, I felt the same about the returning Stampede players as a group. They should have been the better players when compared to the high school and midget players who had no junior experience.
Anyway, I decided to call the whole group of returning veteran players into the locker room and told them all that, in my opinion, they were unfortunately going through the motions. They looked and played as if entitled to something. “Maybe,” I told them, “this is why the team has been so mediocre.” We had others like Nate Prosser, who were also going to end up in the NHL. We had a good number of good players, but as a group, they had not performed. Anyway, I said what I wanted to say and guess what happened. Andy Nödl may have been the best player in the camp the remainder of the tryout.
In the exit interview with Andy, I shared the negative scouting reports I had received, but I highlighted his response to my “wake-up call to the team.” I shared with him that if he would continue to respond like that to honest assessments, he had a chance and would be welcomed back to give it another try.
In our year together, he was our leading scorer. He never complained. On the occasion where I had to jump-start him, he mostly responded well. That said, he would miss shifts at the end of the game when we had one-goal leads. Not so much because he was inadequate defensively, but because we had some world-class defensive wingers. In a year where we were going to win the regular season championship with a lot of one-goal wins, Andy somewhat often was sitting shift-less the last five minutes of the game. But he understood.
Interestingly, some years later, Andy was playing a defensive role and killing penalties in the NHL for the Philadelphia Flyers. When I saw him one summer, I was like, “What the heck, Andy? In the NHL, you are on the PK and playing the defensive winger role. I couldn’t even play you in those roles!” He shared his evolution to such roles, with a smile. He understood how he got there. He had been observant and smart. He was and is a great kid.
More than anything, Andy was not afraid of honest feedback. He had excellent offensive skill sets that just got better and better as he gained confidence. And, as is evidenced by his “evolution,” he kept learning each step along the way. He listened to feedback and kept learning. In the end, he was coachable.
I will be running a camp in May for kids moving to juniors and beyond. The very first thing we are going to cover is, “Are you coachable?” Some are. Some think they are. Being coachable is doable, but one has to want to be coachable. Believe it or not, not everybody is. Not being coachable holds many back from advancing. The Andy Nödl’s of the world are blessed with ability, but they are also coachable!
A St. Paul native and forward for the University of Minnesota from 1978-82, Kevin Hartzell coached in the USHL from 1983-89 with the St. Paul Vulcans and from 2005-12 with the Sioux Falls Stampede. He was the head coach of Lillehammer in Norway’s GET-Ligaen from 2012-14. His columns have appeared in Let’s Play Hockey since the late 1980s. His book “Leading From the Ice” is available at amazon.com.