Travis Crickard says one of the biggest things he learned while earning masters degree in sports psychology is that, “life and sport is a process.”
“And if you don’t take care of what is right in front of you in the present, then what occurs in the future will not go the way you want it to,” says the St. John’s native and University of Ottawa graduate, now an assistant coach with the Ontario Hockey League’s Ottawa 67s.
That was precisely that line of thinking which the 26-year-old Crickard adopted when he decided to pursue coaching as a career following his goaltending days with the State University of New York at Potsdam. Crickard played for the NCAA Division III school following three years of junior A split between the Maritime and Saskatchewan circuits.
In his final season with the Potsdam Bears, Crickard began volunteering his time with nearby State University of New York at Canton — which does not play in the NCAA — working with that team’s goaltenders. When Potsdam’s season concluded, Crickard remained with Canton as the team made a run all the way to the American Collegiate Hockey Association national tournament.
“That inspired my interest to not just be a goalie coach, but to be a head coach,” Crickard recounts.
“I liked being involved in all aspects of coaching, not just one specific position.”
In the summer of 2011, consumed with the prospect of making a career out of coaching, Crickard enrolled in the Ottawa U’s sports psychology program, feeling it would help him be a better bench boss.
After failed bids for assistant coaching jobs three tier II junior A clubs in the Ottawa region— in each case, for having too little experience — rickard hooked on with the Ottawa Junior 67s AAA program as the team’s assistant coach for the 2011-12 campaign. A year later, Crickard was the team’s head coach, guiding the club all the way to the Telus Cup national midget hockey championship game where it finished as runner-up. losing 5-0 to Red Deer Chiefs in the championship game.
He was hired by the OHL’s 67s not long after the season ended.
“Things have happened pretty quickly,” admits Crickard.
“I was speaking to one of my assistant coaches from last year and venting about some recent frustrations and he said ‘If I had told you two years ago that you would be coaching in the OHL, I’m sure you’d be pretty happy about that.’ And I am.”
The 67’s coaching staff includes head coach Chris Byrne and assistant Misha Donskov, who handles the team’s defence corps and penalty killing unit. Crickard, given his background, works with the goaltenders, but takes care of video analysis and during games, works with the forwards.
“I reinforce our systems, give feedback when necessary and be a little harder on guys when they’re not going or executing,” he says
With Donskov, Crickard is also playing a major role in the team’s new player development program.
“Every seven-game segment, we give the players some forms on goal setting and how they played and how they developed as a player over those games.
“When I first started here I told Chris I wanted to get involved in a little bit of everything, try to learn as much as possible. He’s been really good with giving me the opportunities.”
Crickard says that while his coaching style is mostly his own, based on what he learned in his sports psychology program and in working alongside younger players the last two years, he’s adopted elements from others. including former Potsdam coach Aaron Saul, who now works for Elmira College, another NCAA Division III school.
“He was so prepared to be a head coach,” Crickard says of Saul, who was an assistant coach in Potsdam for five years before being given the reins. “Everything within our program was so organized and he knew exactly what he was doing. I took the preparation side from him.”
The other was Jason Tatarnic, former coach of the Maritime Junior A Hockey League’s Woodstock Slammers. Crickard says Tatarnic, now coaching Saskatchewan’s Notre Dame College Hounds, was an excellent communicator, one who had no trouble being honest with the young players.
“He was very honest, but very fair.”
That ability, combined with an existing comfort as a vocal leader, is serving Crickard well given his proximity in age to players he is mentoring on a daily basis. He is just 26, while both Byrne and Donskov are both approaching 40.
“Sometimes I think they think of me as their friend because I am so young, but I try to do as good a job as i can to build a good rapport but make sure it’s a professional relationship, not one where I know what they’re doing on a Sunday night when they have curfew.”
Obviously, Crickard wants to lead his own team some day down the road, but for now it comes back to what he’s learned in school, focusing on the “here and now” as opposed to the future.
“It’s more of a process over outcome and results in sports psychology and I’ve really tied to use that in my coaching.”