The first time I heard about Ray, I was working at Hockey Academy in Edmonton and the principal of the School where the Academy was located said “Hey Eric there’s a guy that plays over in Austria and his daughter Sarah come back every year and she goes to School here, you should see if he wants to be involved in the Academy.”
I never looked into it, I had just remembered the conversation and about a year later was contacted by my friend Bobby Olynyk. Bobby and I had known each other for years in the hockey community and I trusted his opinion. So when he called and said I have someone you should talk to, I listened. That person was Ray Podloski, who turned out to be the same guy our principal was talking about a year earlier.
The moment I met Ray I knew, I wanted to get him involved as a Coach. There was something special about him, and it became clear we had a connection that would lead to a long working relationship. I felt that very deeply…
Ray at that point was not coming back to Canada to be a Hockey Coach, his goal was to be a bus driver for the City of Edmonton. Ray had completed his class 1 driver’s license for Heavy Truck hauling, and that is what he had his heart set on, coming back to Edmonton. Drive semi and then pursue a career as a bus driver for the City of Edmonton.
As we began to talk, I could tell how passionate he was about the game of hockey and I asked if he would like to get involved in our Hockey Academy in the afternoons. He gave his big laugh and said “do you really think I would be good at working with kids?” I said “ yes I do, let’s get you out there on the ice”. Moving forward, Ray made arrangements and worked his trucking job in the mornings, then worked with us in the afternoons at the Hockey Academy.
“DO YOU REALLY THINK I WOULD BE GOOD AT WORKING WITH KIDS?”
At first even though Ray was a big man in every way, he was shy on the ice. He was quiet when he talked to kids, he couldn’t keep eye contact when he talked, knew what he wanted to say but didn’t always know how to say it. But that was ok…because that’s when the master coach started to come out… Ray showed what he couldn’t articulate with words, he could in his demo’s. He was silky slick with every movement and he could demonstrate like no other …That grabbed everyone’s attention. Every kid in the academy locked in on him with absolute awe. We all knew this guy was special.
As the years went by, Ray’s confidence in his delivery continually improved. He was becoming a lead coach on all levels of development. Ray and I were running Project Pro (P2 Hockey) camps for our NHL players, our Junior and NCAA players; as well as all levels of Minor Hockey. Ray was now comfortable & confident working with all age groups. It’s rare to see a coach confidently work with a proven NHL player and have that same confidence with a U8 player.
Rays gifts to the game and to the development of players was incredible. Ray’s mind for hockey was sharp. He was a student of the game, always listening to other coaches advice and techniques, constantly looking to improve. This led to two very key areas of coaching that Ray’s natural gifts as a coach will always be remembered.
I went on a trip to Minnesota, specifically Minneapolis to meet a gentleman by the name of Bernie McBain. Bernie’s story in the game is unique, and will be a story for another time but I learnt so much on that trip. From watching sessions, to touring Bernie’s facilities, as well as listening to the wealth of knowledge he possessed as a hockey development expert and businessman. Bernie invited me to get up very early one day to attend his “Breakfast Club”. This program was so important to Bernie that he even trademarked the name “Breakfast Club”. I got up at a frosty 4:00am to attend the first session at 5:00am.
At this session Bernie and his alternate coach were running stickhandling drills, using a series of pylons. These drills were being run in a north – south pattern down the ice. I made some notes from the session’s and the rest of the trip. Of course the first person I wanted to share these ideas with when I got back was Ray. I remember we got some ice at CAC arena in Edmonton. When we were getting ready to go on the ice, I started throwing out pylons for the drills I was working on and wanted to show Ray what I had learned.
Ray’s input was so important to me, but I wanted his personal touch for working through this sequence of drills. Well Ray was lighting up inside I could see it. His infectious laugh filled the rink as he started demonstrating these drills. I’m sure it was like watching Picasso paint, watching Ray was pure art. His ability and skill with a puck was undeniably magical…Then all of the sudden, he leaves the ice and I watch him rummage through broken sticks that were in a barrel by the boards. I’m thinking what the…yelling at him “what are you doing?”. He comes back and throws the collection of broken sticks on the ice. One by one he starts placing the sticks in front of each of the pylons. They were placed strategically in a way that created more width (diagonally), or what I learned that day “more Range” to the move.
All of this evolved into hundreds even thousands of hours spent working on the ice together, on what I would now call Ray’s Stick-handling Sequence. Those broken sticks advanced into different lengths of 2×2 boards that were left at the rink for the Academy’s. The stick-handling sequence was broken down into a series of about 20 different moves. All of these moves were given names such as “ Malkin – Forehand Push Pull“. If Ray was on the ice, he was the one to demo every move of the day. I will always cherish watching Ray in the zone in these sessions, watching every level of player from the NHL to lower levels look at him in awe, as they watch him work his art.
“I watched Gretzky and Lemieux and I just did whatever they did.”
Our coaching relationship went to another level in the 2nd area where Ray was on another level of thinking, relating, and teaching. That area was the art and science of Goal-Scoring. Until I met Ray, I, like many other coaches always thought, either you have the gift of scoring or you don’t. Like it was something the hockey gods blessed you with, or they didn’t. Ray proved that it was an art, but in fact an art that could be taught and learned. I remember countless meetings discussing the topic and hours watching him demo techniques that every player and parents would appreciate watching and learning. We got to the point where our camps were specifically broken into position specific goal-scoring techniques. These camps became very popular and soon many clients wanted one on one sessions with Ray to work on Goal-Scoring specifics. I asked Ray once “how did you learn all this stuff?”…with a quick chuckle he said “I watched Gretzky and Lemieux and I just did whatever they did.” That answer led to us referencing the term “Modeling” being able to watch a technique and then practicing it.
This is why Ray’s expert demoing technique played a huge role in teaching players the techniques to score. Ray truly loved to score goals. It didn’t matter if he was demonstrating on a NHL goalie or a U10 goalie. After Ray scored he always gave a big belly laugh and his hair would always be a bit messed up, didn’t matter…he scored. Ray was always diligent and passionate about tracking players he worked with. He tracked assists & goals where they were in team scoring as well as in the league. I’m writing this article in January of 2023 and four players from the Canadian World Junior roster would have participated in camps with either Ray or myself. Dylan Guenther spent hundreds of hours with Ray working on these techniques. Ray’s prodigy list is impressive and he is greatly missed.
Ray, before his passing worked in two Hockey Academy’s in Edmonton along with the TEAM Alberta Brick program, numerous camps including ours and in all hundreds of other players.
It’s now important to remember Ray’s legacy and that our RP43 Advanced Goal-Scoring course was designed in memory of Ray.
Thanks for everything my friend…
In memory of Coach Ray Podloski