Pierre Pellaton, hockey coach for more than 30 years, died last night. He will be sorely missed.
Pierre was the one coach that everybody loved. I really do mean everybody – players, parents, other coaches, the NJ Devils Youth Hockey board, refs, the Zamboni guy. It was impossible not to like him, with his outsized love of hockey and his innate ability to share that love. The players he coached in their single-digit years invited him back to their club as adults, so they could coach with him. There is no better statement about the quality of a coach’s character on and off the ice.
Pierre was fair, he was right, he instructed solidly and he had standards. He showed up and expected his players to do the same, whether they were 8 or 18 years old. He was “old school” in the sense that he valued hard work and simple drills that reinforced that work ethic. During one practice with my son’s bantam team (Pierre wasn’t our regular coach, he was merely helping out when needed) he was working on a breakout drill that involved skating outside of the faceoff dots. Kids were cheating through the middle so he stopped the drill, conveyed some wisdom in that Swiss-infused English that gave him enormous gravitas, got a few laughs, and then had the drill run correctly. No screaming, no throwing sticks, no tests of mettle or attitude on either side. When he blew the whistle, I think most players were secretly happy – anticipating – to see what he would share.
I think about Pierre nearly every week that I play with my adult league team. Moving slowly, I have a few extra seconds to think about my positioning on the ice, and I hear him instructing (not shouting) “Triangle!! Triangle!! Tri-ang-u-lation!!” It was his most valuable lesson, taught to PeeWees learning puck control and cycling: keep your forwards in a triangle around the net, move the puck, and move the players to maintain the triangle. The first rule of hockey – create space without the puck, create time by moving with it – conveyed using the simplest geometric shape, in a voice and style that 12 year olds visualized and committed to memory (most of them, at least). Six years later, I still hear echos of that coaching session; following sing-songy words that keep me from over-skating and passing out from exhaustion. Good advice transcends space and a lot of time.
With all of the negative press and horrifying stories about amateur athletics and youth sports, it’s critical to have role models and men like Pierre Pellaton. We all wish we could skate with him another season.