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- Bringing Smart Play to Hockey
December 18, 2008
Hank knows hockey, and even though he’s a continent away right now, who better to shed some light on the Under 17 World Hockey Challenge coming to a rink near you.
By JAMES CLARKE
Well known for the Parksville-based hockey school that bears his name, Henry “Hank” Acres is also in his fifth season playing pro hockey in Europe.
Acres, from Qualicum Beach, started the season in Helsinki (Kiekko-Vantta, Mestis League) coaching with Tuuski Hockey Club (consultant with all teams 00s born to 91s) and has made some very good contacts within Finnish Ice Hockey Federation.
Acres, 33, suffered a season-ending knee injury in October, “Therefore I have a lot of time to devote to coaching and scouting.”
Vancouver Island will be on the hockey radar soon as Port Alberni plays host to the high-octane Hockey Challenge, with other games being played in Campbell River, Courtenay, Nanaimo, and Parksville.
“This tourney is a huge deal for the area and scouts as it gives a great look at the best 2010 draft eligible players head-to-head,” said Acres, adding one player in particular to watch is Finnish left winger Teemu Pulkkinen. According to Acres, Pulkkinen has been compared to Pittsburgh Pens star, Evgeni Malkin; “not as big, but (he) possesses a hard shot, exceptional lateral quickness and makes those around him better.”
The flashy young Finn lit up his country’s U-18 league, scoring five goals and adding two assists in only two games before moving on to the U-20 league, where he posted 10 goals and 7 assists in 15 games before being called up to the SM-League (Finnish NHL) last week.
Pulkkinen is a projected Top 10 NHL draft pick in 2010. Finland plays games in Courtenay, Port Alberni, and Nanaimo.
Beyond that, there are no Island players on Canada’s Team Pacific, but former players in this tournament include Jarome Iginla, Joe Thornton, Scott Gomez, Alexander Ovechkin and Canucks’ captain, Roberto Luongo.
“Indeed the best in the world is a fair assessment,” Acres said when asked if the tourney lives up to the billing it has been getting.
“This is a huge deal in the hockey world,” he said, and made the point it will serve as a great showcase for the Island’s arenas and a chance to possibly attract a teams to train here in preparation for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
A regular fixture in the PQ News sports pages, Acres is posted in Helsinki, Finland this season on a playing/coaching contract with Kiekko-Vantaa, and a coach with Tuuski Hockey Club, in Tuusula — both suburbs of Helsinki. His playing contract runs until April and is coaching until June.
Hank’s knee injury happened Oct. 22 against Jukurit in a home game they won 2-1. Acres had ACL/MCL surgery Nov. 3 “so there is much work to go there before I am back.”
Since he can’t play the rest of this season, Hank has signed on as an assistant coach with Kiekko-Vantaa after the New Year — on the bench with the defence during practice and games. “My playing contract situation will be re-assessed in the spring when I am allowed to skate again, but I should be able to continue to play here as long as I desire.”
Acres spent the four previous seasons playing pro hockey in Sweden where he donated a lot of time to helping player development, “so when the chance to get paid to coach and still play at a high level came, I jumped at that opportunity.”
The coaches in Finland, he said, are like sponges and very interested in his insight, “being a Canadian, the home of hockey and how we create so many good players.” Finns are very individually skilled, said Acres “but they want win more gold medals, so I am really trying to teach how to play as a team in a system but also leaving room for individual creativity, and positionally where to be on the ice, along with little tricks on how to play I have learned along the way, concerning body position and thinking/seeing the game. It really is a simple team game, it’s the players that complicate things, by trying to do too much by themselves.”
Goal scoring is another thing the Finns are interested in, Acres said when asked about coaching/playing in a foreign land. He added one of the first things he stresses is “to shoot when you are in a good shooting area (like the slot) but also you must position yourself for the rebound (something like 80 per cent of goals are scored on the rebound) and then work harder then the other guy to win the puck and put it home. Confidence in yourself and skills are key to scoring.”
In the meantime, Acres and his wife will be spending Christmas in Sweden, where she’s from, which includes plenty of ham, meatballs, “and raw, salty salmon.”
HANK'S TEAM BREAKDOWNS
- Asked how he sees the field stack up, Acres says he’s sure all five Canadian teams — one from each region — will be good with most of the players already playing full time in major junior (WHL, OHL, QMJHL). As always, Ontario will ice one of the strongest teams in the country, but we will see if home ice pride brings team Pacific the gold.”
- The Russians will be highly individually skilled, and it will be interesting to see how they work together as a team, which is a typical problem with Russian hockey
- Germany is a rising hockey nation as Brian Burke recently commented, they have a large population and money so their development of youth players should continue to move forward.
- The U.S. has a good developmental model, as they have a national training centre in Ann Arbor, Michigan where all the players live and train together year-round, “but I believe this team is made up of players from the USHL, which is on par with BCHL in talent and developmental level.”