If ever preparing for a job interview, "do your homework and conduct thorough research," Syracuse Crunch assistant coach Rob Zettler advises.
It is an important prerequisite, and ultimately what led Zettler to accept a job with the Lightning's top minor-league affiliate in the American Hockey League this summer.
"I honestly didn't know too much about the organization," Zettler said. "Hockey is a small world, so you're aware of who certain people are and how much success they're having, but I spent a lot of time making phone calls and talking to people on the outside, and I put in the extra work, just for the sole purpose of obtaining as much information as I could."
It was a small price to pay.
Now approximately three months into the AHL season, Zettler said he is "real impressed" with the quality of players Syracuse had on its roster, and expressed that in just a short time, has already "learned a ton" from head coach Jon Cooper.
Add that the Crunch currently sit atop the AHL standings with 37 points, and it appears that the experience has already been worth all the while.
"It's been a lot of fun so far," Zettler added. "Obviously when I first arrived I didn't quite have the right feel for any of the guys or for the organization yet, but you get to know them over time and work with them on a daily basis, and some of those initial challenges tend to disappear. It certainly helps that the team is performing well, but the bottom line is from a personal perspective, I think it's been really smooth."
Last season, he served as an assistant under Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson in Toronto, but when Wilson was fired in favor of Randy Carlyle, who brought in his own staff, Zettler was rendered the odd man out. Fortunately, he was able to retain a position with the organization, being re-assigned to a scouting role for the remainder of the season, but chose to seek out other coaching options at the end of the year.
"We knew he had a lot of experience, so we brought him in to make our team even stronger and to challenge our current coaches, our players and even myself by bringing in some new thoughts and ideas," Crunch general manager Julien BriseBois said. "We felt as if Rob was a strong candidate to add to our coaching staff who brought a lot to the table."
Among his primary skills and responsibilities are working with the team's defensemen on positioning, but said he also contributes by putting in his two cents on how to improve both the Syracuse penalty kill and power play units.
As routine as the usual instruction at practice comes to Zettler, he also never hesitates to reveal a little creativity.
In fact, Zettler appears to have a craftsman's touch when it comes to building props for use at Crunch practices.
He recently hinged together a pair of wood planks at a right angle to mimic rebound boards, then assembled another device that he calls "the bridge," in which a short strip of wood is anchored to a set of blocks at both ends, so that players can refine their stickhandling skills, while improving their dexterity and quickness.
The question, then, is how does an assistant coach not only learn, but manage to ply his skills in both developing young hockey players and dabbling in basic carpentry?
Of course, by adhering to a philosophy Zettler adopted all by himself: do your homework, and conduct thorough research.
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