Detroit — The hockey world — like much of the entire world — has come to a screeching halt. No games, practices, workouts or face-to-face meetings.
That makes life a little trickier for Shawn Horcoff, the Red Wings’ director of player development. In his role, Horcoff oversees and evaluates the Wings’ prospects playing at the junior or college level, as well as Europe.
Horcoff, and his assistant Dan Cleary, are regularly in contact with the young players in the organization — players who are the Wings’ future. Normally those discussions are centered on hockey. But now, Horcoff and his staff are making sure everyone is safe and healthy because of the coronavirus threat.
“At this point we’re reaching out to all of them, finding out where they are and where they’re going to be,” Horcoff said. “Stay safe, stay self quarantined, and let this thing die down. Do your part, sort of thing.”
Just like the players in the NHL, the Wings’ young prospects have scattered to all parts of the world, back home wherever home is, and waiting for whatever the next step is.
Health and well-being is at the forefront right now, and keeping social distance is crucial. But there will come a day when the hockey world awakes and gets going, and the Wings will need to be ready.
Or, more specifically, the prospects in the organization that so much of the future is banked on.
Horcoff and his staff are advising the young players how to stay in hockey shape the best they can right now.
“The NHL guys are more at an advantage because they’ll have equipment in their house, it’ll be a lot easier than for the guys who don’t have anything like that,” Horcoff said. “We have to be creative with (the younger prospects).
“If they don’t have home gyms (and most don’t) we’ll set them up with program to stay in shape, things they can do right at home and areas where they might be. Outside, or if there’s a track around them, maybe hills, anything, in any sort of safe environment, to stay in shape.”
No one, obviously, knows how long this situation will last and how long the hockey industry — or many others for that matter — will be in a paused state.
The NHL, suspended until at least mid-May, has suggested that players will be allowed to work in small groups eventually — but no one knows when it’ll be safe to do so.
Not knowing what the immediate future holds, Horcoff is working with Mike Barwis, the Wings’ director of sports science and human performance, to individually craft a workout regimen for each prospect.
“We’re going to become very creative and really work at this to find out ways to train these kids to do what they normally would do in a regular off season,” Horcoff said. “That’s going to be easier for some (players) than others given what they have to work with. But we’lll work tirelessly to give these guys every opportunity to do what they can in order to be ready for (training) camp next season.
“Realistically, at this point, the guys who are really driven are going to find a way to stay in shape and train under safe conditions. It’s an opportunity for those kids with an inner drive.”
Horcoff is in charge of the development camp the Wings’ — and each NHL organization — hold days after the NHL Draft in late June.
Whether that camp takes place this summer is entirely unknown. So crafting how to make each prospect bigger, better and stronger is going to be necessary.
Currently, what these prospects are missing more than any sort of physical activity, are the actual games.
Similar to the NHL, some 80 to 90 percent of the minor-league, junior or college schedules already have been completed.
But those remaining games were so hugely crucial.
Grand Rapids was in a nightly battle to make the American League playoffs. College post-season tournaments were beginning. The junior leagues were in the final stages of the regular season, in tight races.
“Our players in the AHL (Grand Rapids), it’s unfortunate, because they’re in a dogfight to make the playoffs,” Horcoff said. “Every game was a playoff game, which is just great for development. You come to the rink every night expecting a battle, and us expecting them to be at their best.
“Those are really good circumstances to grow your game.”
Coach Jeff Blashill said he feels even in this current pause in hockey, young players can learn and grow from what is going on around them.
“Certainly, there’s some potential for development to have been stalled,” Blashill said. “There was in (Grand Rapids) a potential playoff run, and there’s development involved in that. When you go through experiences in life, you have the opportunity to grow. You don’t always. It’s up to you a little bit, but you have the opportunity to grow, both from good and bad experiences.
“Right now there’s no day-to-day experience, period. So for kids in college, kids in pro, there isn’t that developmental opportunity.”
“(But) out of this situation you can gain huge perspective. You should cherish the day, because you never know what tomorrow brings. Anybody, when you’re young, you never believe that. When you’ve lived through something like this, you might be more apt to believe it. You might be more apt to have a greater perspective to enjoy the day, to maximize and win the day.”
The coronavirus outbreak has changed things, but not just for the Wings. Every team is navigating through a scenario that never could have been envisioned back in October when the season began.
“It’s the same for every team,” Horcoff said. “Everything is put on hold. It’s not like we’re in a disadvantage. Everyone is in the same boat, every league in the world (is shut down), it’s just not like Europe is going on and teams that have more European prospects are at an advantage. It’s just not the case.
“It’s very fluid and things are changing as they go. We’re just following protocols and keeping our prospects safe and at the same time, we’re doing everything we can.”