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Timmins native carves out hockey coaching career in Europe

Pierre Beaulieu has been overseas since 2010

I sure hope you enjoy reading today's column as much as I did putting it together. It features an interview with Timmins native Pierre Beaulieu, who has enjoyed a long career coaching in Europe. Presently he is coaching in the DEL (Germany).

Pierre is the son of Richard and Jo-Anne Beaulieu and is brother of Dominique Shumilak. Pierre is married to Ines Juvan-Beaulieu, whom he met while coaching overseas.

Pierre is a great guy surrounded by great people.

I have known Pierre since he was a teen. He is an articulate, good-humoured, thoughtful, bright and concerned person. Those traits have served him well not only in life, but in his coaching career.

So here we go, onto the interview.

When did you first start playing hockey? What level, position, and team?

Now that is going back. I started like most I guess, stick and ball in the house with tolerant parents. Then it was the outdoor rink around the age of four. After that, it was organized hockey at the peewee level with Timmins minor hockey. First as a player, but that did not last long. I was fascinated by goalie equipment and Patrick Roy. So, I began playing goal. I have fond memories of playing in the Dome Puck Tournament at the Barn (great building) and playing for Loeb’s IGA at the House League level.  

As a young boy, what drew you to hockey?

As a young boy, I was drawn to hockey because it was a way of life. Many family members and friends played the game. It was a great way to come together and have fun! Of course, watching the NHL, its superstars, as well as the World Junior Hockey Championship on TV every year, made the sport attractive on an entirely different level. It created a sense of community and brought energy to my life. 

Did playing hockey as a kid provide you with the tools to assist you in your personal development? 

Absolutely! There is no doubt that playing hockey provided me with the opportunity to learn and grow as an individual. Still does!

Hockey has been a great vehicle to teach me many life skills such as work ethic, teamwork, respect, networking and the ability to foster relationships, discipline, communication, ego management, humility, courage, attention to detail, attitude, independence and maturity as well as perseverance and the ability to get outside my comfort zone. 

When did you decide you wanted to get into coaching and where did you start?

Coaching became interesting to me while I played junior and university hockey. I began coaching hockey schools in Canada and the US as a summer job. Not only was this a great way to spend my summers. It afforded me the chance to be around some great people, make great memories and a couple of bucks while training and travelling around North America. This opportunity sparked my passion for coaching and was ultimately the springboard to my professional coaching career several years later. 

What are some of the skills and intangibles you look for in players during the scouting/roster composition process?

When scouting and recruiting players my/our process begins with three specific categories: 

  1. Fundamental skills and non-teachable assets: skating - passing - shooting - size - reach 
  2. Individual tactical: fundamental skills transferable to contested situations - players' ability to process game information 
  3. Intangibles: professional conduct - character/reputation - coachability – ability to be a self-starter

Can you tell us a little about where you have coached in Europe?

Since coming over in 2010, I have been fortunate to live and work in some amazing places. The first eight years where spent in the Austrian BET at Home ICEHL. Of which, the first four years in Klagenfurt, followed by four years in Innsbruck. Two wonderful cities in the south and west of Austria respectively. In 2018, I had the opportunity to make the move to Germany and work in the DEL. I spent the next two seasons coaching in Krefeld, which is a city situated in the northwest. In 2022 I returned to Austria to work in Linz, which is a city in the north central part of the country. Following my season in Linz I had the chance to return to Germany and once again coach in the DEL. I spent one year in Augsburg before joining Iserlohn which is where I currently work.

What is it like coaching with your current team, and whereabouts is the team located in Germany?

Coaching in Iserlohn has presented many opportunities and healthy challenges since I joined at the beginning of last season. We have a very accomplished coaching staff who are a pleasure to be around daily. The town of Iserlohn is in the German province of North Rhein Westfallen about one hour northeast of Düsseldorf. Iserlohn is a small market by DEL standards, but the organization works hard to maximize its resources, player development model as well as our recruiting/scouting to ensure a competitive on-ice product. We have a very loyal and passionate fan base who bring the house down with their chants and European soccer-type atmosphere. 

Hockey is hockey, but do you find a big difference coaching in Europe vs. North America?

The challenges are twofold. First off, cultural subtleties play a big role. Things that are as simple as food, politics, social history, language and schooling, just to name a few, impact daily life and need navigating. Also, apart from our Germans, most of our staff and players and their families, live very far from home and the support mechanisms they rely on.

Secondly, on the hockey side, there is the aspect of the larger ice surface and the balancing act between developing German talent and the result-oriented aspect of the business. Player management becomes more of a partnership/marriage so to speak, because the players have guaranteed contracts and there is no farm system like the NHL and AHL/ECHL where players can be sent down. Therefore, we must be very detailed in our scouting and recruiting process to ensure we are signing the right type of athlete. Otherwise, it can prove to be very costly during buyout situations and can greatly impact the depth and shape of our roster.

Can you tell us what type of coach you are and what your strengths are?

I am demanding but fair as well as very competitive, passionate, and prepared. I believe in setting clear expectations and pushing those around me to get outside their comfort zones to achieve individual and team goals. 

My greatest strengths are my ability to communicate, foster relationships with my players, work ethic, player development, hockey IQ and teaching ability.

How important is it to you to attend clinics, coaching development camps, etc?

Attending clinics and development camps is one of my favourite things to do in the off-season. I place a lot of value in the certification and education aspect of my career. Hockey is a very small world and the landscape changes quickly. 

Clinics and certifications are a great way to develop, network and it is imperative to stay current while evolving your coaching skills year over year. Someone close to me once told me that if you are going to have a long professional coaching career, "You better have a large Rolodex and never miss the opportunity to learn something new." 

Other than your family, is there any one person who has had a positive effect on you and your coaching?

This is a great question and there are a few people who come to mind. The first would be Christer Olsson. A great friend, mentor, and former colleague. He is currently the AC with SC Bern in the top Swiss league. The second would be Bernd Bruckler. A great friend, former professional goaltender and now agent. The third would be Paul Courville. Paul curated my early coaching opportunities and I will forever be grateful for this. 

Best piece of advice someone has given you about coaching?

Be direct. Be yourself and make sure the players know you are in it with them. 

How many games a year does your team play in the DEL?

Each team in the league varies their pre-season schedule to suit their needs but it typically ranges between six and eight. This is followed by a 52-game regular season schedule and four playoff rounds. The first playoff round sees rank 7 vs. 10 and 8 vs. 9 in a best-of-three while the top six teams have a bye week. The winners of the first round make up the 7th and 8th rank for round two. Rounds two, three and four are all bes-of-seven match-ups.  

Can you explain how your team's roster is set up? (Certain number of U/22/23, imports etc.) 

In the DEL we have 11 import licenses per year. Once those licenses have been issued, they are no longer transferable or reusable. A club can carry all 11 imports at one time during the season but can only dress nine for any game. 

A game-day roster is made up of 19 skaters and two goalies if the team meets the German Hockey Federation (DEB) and the DEL U23 agreement. This agreement states that for a club to dress a full roster it must dress three U23 skaters. 

Every year it seems that German hockey seems stronger and stronger. What do you attribute that fact to?

Factors associated with German hockey's recent success would be the DEB's coaching and youth development programs. Primarily, the implementation of the five-star program. This program rewards clubs financially for investing wisely into grassroots hockey and providing key facilities and specific development criteria to its players. Furthermore, most DEL clubs in association with their respective youth programs, have started academy-style opportunities for kids who want to study and develop at an elite level. Lastly, I would say, the fact that there have been some very high-profile draft picks from the DEL in recent years, as well as the overall quality of the league and the number of guys already playing in the NHL have contributed greatly to German hockey gaining the respect it deserves on the international stage.

Do you find the fans in the DEL as intense as NHL fans?

The fan bases in the DEL are amazing and the atmosphere in all buildings is outstanding. The fan clubs organize amazing choreography and chant back and forth all game long. This leads to a dynamic like none other. It is a more frequent version of NHL playoff atmosphere, which is also an amazing experience. 

How much are you involved in actively recruiting players for your club?

Our entire hockey operations and coaching staff are actively involved in the scouting, recruiting and player inquiries aspect of our roster composition. We have a very in-depth player selection process and we believe it is important to collaborate, pool our networking abilities and resources as well as, share thoughts and opinions in order to make informed decisions. 

Is it important for you and the team to be involved in the grassroots levels in your area?

Without a doubt! We have many programs in which we as coaches support grassroots hockey both within our own club as well as other programs in the area. Our players are also engaged and give their time generously to the youth program in Iserlohn. Our organization has the "Rooster Kids Club", which provides local youth with amazing in-game, post-game and practice day experiences. 

Which team is your biggest rivalry with?

Our biggest rivalry or derby, as we call it in Germany, is Düsseldorf. Our buildings are only 45 minutes apart and there is always a little extra fanfare for those games. 

Can you take us through your game-day preparation as a coach?

My preparation begins a few days before the actual game day with some detailed video prep and opponent tactical breakdown. This is all in preparation for the meetings and details we will provide to our players on game day. We meet in the morning for special teams breakdown, where I present on the opponent’s power play tendencies. We then head out for morning skate, where I work with all our defensemen, followed by the players who will not be in the lineup that night. After this, I finalize our 5v5 scouting presentation which, I present to the team two hours before puck drop. After this, I post our hard copy reminders, support players with any questions they may have, prepare my game card and head out to the bench to watch warm-up. Post game we immediately begin our debrief process for next day feedback and practice prep.  

On average, how many Canadian-born players would be on your roster?

Our team this year in Iserlohn has five Canadian-born players on its roster. This is about 18 per cent but I have coached teams with as many as seven or eight.

As a kid growing up, did you have a favourite player(s)?

I most certainly did. Growing up a Montreal Canadiens fan my favourite player was Patrick Roy.

I know you're involved in hosting a youth hockey event. What is it called and can you talk a little about it?

The tournament is called WHC Innsbruck. It is an elite AAA tournament with teams from 15 countries. The upcoming tournament will host age groups from 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009 in a weekly tournament format from Wednesday to Saturday of the applicable week. This past tournament, we hosted a total of 52 teams over four weeks. It is our goal to host a total of 64 teams over four weeks for the upcoming tournament. All teams are guaranteed to play six games in two amazing facilities, while taking in a fantastic cultural experience in Austria. 

How cool was it to have a Timmins boy attend?

It was a thrill for me to have the Mainville family attend this year’s tournament. Alex and his parents Melanie and Al are wonderful people, and I wish them all the best and thank them again for attending. 

Where can people find more info related to the tourney?

More details can be found here and here.

The tourney accepts individual as well as partial and full team registrations. If anyone has any further questions, please feel free to e-mail me anytime at [email protected].

When do you and the team hit the ice for training camp?

We have been hard at it since Aug. 1. Our first week was reserved for medical and off-ice testing, combined with position-specific skills development sessions. Once that was done, we began phase two and our team-specific program in preparation for our first regular season game Sept. 15 in Frankfurt. 

Any advice for people thinking about getting into coaching?

If you make it all about supporting and developing the players, you are in it for the right reasons. It will not always be easy, but please make sure you bring positive energy to your approach. It is not about showing the players how much you know but rather showing them how much you care! 

Even at the pro level that is what makes the greatest impact. 

Anything you would like to add in closing?

Thanks to you Mike. For allowing me to share some of my experiences, thoughts, and impressions with your readers. Your column is great! 

I wish everyone back home a safe and successful hockey season. 

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Pierre. I'm sure our readers will find the interview insightful and interesting.

Later skater.

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