Few people see more hockey than Mike Doneghey. As a scout with the NHL’s defending champion Chicago Blackhawks, the Massachusetts native will see more than 200 games by season’s end – and that doesn’t include the games his three kids played, one of whom is fresh off a Rhode Island prep school title. But when the season is over, for the most part, so is hockey.
For Doneghey, summer is a time to reconnect with family, to travel and enjoy a well-earned vacation from the sport he’s loved since his youth hockey days in Hyde Park. For his kids, now 17, 15 and 12, summer is also time for a break from hockey.
Doneghey would offer the same advice for any kid’s offseason: Consider putting away your gear.
Mass Hockey: As someone who scouts and interviews players with a legitimate shot at playing in the NHL, and also as a parent of three players, what is your advice on how a young player should spend his or her offseason?
Mike Doneghey: The long and the short of it is, my kids don’t even play hockey in the summer. My son, if I go watch a couple games, might come with me. They don’t really do camps. My older daughter, she’ll shoot pucks in the driveway and that kind of thing, but she plays softball, my son plays baseball, and my younger daughter plays softball. I think the more athletic you can be, it’s better in the long run, and it’s better for the burnout factor.
Mass Hockey: That may sound counterintuitive for parent or players with their own high expectations. What would be your message to them?
Doneghey: At some age, it becomes a necessary evil to do it 11 months out of the year. You do have that small window of 15-, 16-, 17-years-old where your body’s growing a bit and you want do be doing physical training and start doing some festivals to be noticed or recruited by colleges. At some point, it becomes something where you have to become sport-specific. But, for the 8-, 9-, 10-, 11-, 12-, 13-year-old … play golf, play tag, throw the football around, go to the beach, hang out with friends. Be a kid.
Mass Hockey: Are there ways to build up work ethic in the offseason?
Doneghey: The more you’re around athletes, the more you can tell the kids who are working hard, and you can tell the kids who think they’re work hard.
Look at Marian Hossa. He’s 37-years-old and you watch him on NHL Network or NBCSN, and you hear the guys talking about how he’s a 200-foot player. Watch him. He backchecks and strips guys from pucks, and he hates losing battles. Everyone sees what Patrick Kane does, that’s on ESPN’s Top 10, but look at Patrice Bergeron. You don’t necessarily see those guys backchecking through the neutral zone or winning one-on-one battles or sacrificing their bodies and blocking shots or stuff like that.
Mass Hockey: At some point, of course, your kids probably do pick up a stick, though, don’t they?
Doneghey: My kids still rollerblade and play different games in the yard – Wiffle ball, Frisbee. They’re kids being kids. They’re not going to be pro athletes or maybe even Division I athletes. If they go out to the driveway and shoot pucks or play one-on-one with each other, that’s great. Or, if they go swimming, that’s great.
Mass Hockey: What is your take on hockey camps?
Doneghey: I’m not against them. My daughter has done some things with USA Hockey camps, and she loved it and that was good for her. It was social and, as you get older, you have to get more sport-specific with more qualified people who have a track record, so I’m not at all opposed to hockey camps. But some camps have a high school kid on the ice with 9- and 10-year-olds. What kind of camp is that?
Mass Hockey: From a scout’s perspective, what kinds of things do you like to hear that a player has worked on during the offseason?
Doneghey: In today’s game, if you don’t have a base of skating, the game is going to be too fast. You always have to do something involving footwork or agility. You want to see strength on their skates, their ability to stop and start, and their speed is obviously a big factor at any level. Those are the three things.
Mass Hockey: As a young player enters the following season, should they be looking back at having achieved any hockey goals during the summer?
Doneghey: No. At the younger ages, be a kid. Run around. Play tag. Throw a ball around. If you throw a ball around, you’re going to have quicker hands. If you’re running around, you’re going to have quicker feet. You may not think you’re doing anything, but being active is working everything. Be active and be a kid. And don’t be in a hurry.
Kids develop at different ages and different levels. Some kids are 6-feet and some kids are 5-foot-2, but the 5-foot-2 kid, when he’s 6-feet, maybe he’s a better player. Let maturity take its course.