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Play It Again

Digital video is helping the Ducks review footage while plays are fresh in mind

January 11, 2003|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

The Mighty Ducks had just given up a late goal to end the first period and defenseman Keith Carney wanted to know what went wrong.

Instead of waiting until after the game to analyze the play, Carney just walked into Greg Carvel's video suite, located deep inside the Arrowhead Pond in a windowless room next to the Duck dressing room, and watched television.

"I can immediately see how a breakdown occurred on a scoring chance we gave up," Carney said. "I can just click to it and the play would be right there.

"Last year, we would be able to see video but it would be after the game. They didn't have the technology where I could come in between periods and watch a play. We would have to wait until the next morning to see a breakdown of the game. If we wanted to watch a game right away, we would have to go through the whole game and rewind or fast-forward the tape to the position that you wanted to see."

The biggest problem with the video system the Mighty Ducks used last season was that it was archaic. It certainly did not match up to the state-of-the-art digital video-editing systems used by professional sports franchises today, which range from $200,000 to $1 million in cost.

So one of the first things Bryan Murray did once he was named senior vice president and general manager last spring was commit to a system that moved the Ducks into the information age and hire Carvel as a full-time video coach.

"We needed someone to handle this area to take a lot of pressure off the other coaches to help us teach and use video with the players," said Murray, who spent one season as the Duck coach before replacing Pierre Gauthier as general manager May 2, 2002. "Video is something that coaches use a lot and if you're going to compete in today's NHL, you better know what's going on with every team that you play against.

"But I think the biggest advantage of having a system like this is that every player on your team can get reinforcement in the teaching area. We can tell players what to do, which is what I've done for most of my coaching career, but it's different when you're able to show them."

Added Carney: "It's better to see [plays] right after they happen while they are fresh in your mind. Watching games the next day during a long season does have its drawbacks, especially after a win when it's human nature to think that down the road we'll look at it. But having the ability to watch something that you're thinking about immediately is much better. You always want to know how you can do something."

When it came time for the Ducks to select a system, they had a choice between a high-tech system used by most of the teams in the league or a newer system that cost half as much.

For help, Murray turned to Carvel, who had worked the previous two seasons as a North American scout and former college standout at St. Lawrence University. Carvel opted for the newer Xos Technology's system because of its versatility and instant access, and one-third into the season the Ducks could not be any happier with their decision.

"I see a big difference in our team," Murray said. "What I saw at the start of the season was a group of guys scrambling too much. We were not good positionally. I saw some things that were happening on the ice and talked to [Coach] Mike [Babcock] a lot about it early on. But things began to evolve very nicely. Six, seven games in and you could see people start to take shape. I would go down and hang around the [locker] room a little bit and I would see how many meetings they had and the teaching that they were doing.

"It doesn't surprise me to see how the team has played the way it has."

Roger Neilson, a recent inductee into the Hockey Hall of Fame, is the man who made the use of video popular around the NHL. As an assistant coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the late 1970s, Neilson became known as "Captain Video," pioneering the use of videotape as a coaching and teaching tool.

Now, every team in the league has a video coach or video coordinator who is a member of the coaching staff.

During games, Carvel sits in front of a group of televisions with a laptop logging every play of the game. Coaches from the bench call Carvel whenever they want a specific shift or play flagged. The system instantly breaks down various plays that are ready to watch at a moment's notice.

The system has helped the Ducks' special teams. After having the league's worst power-play unit last season, Anaheim now has one of the most feared power plays and its penalty-killing unit isn't too shabby, either.

"As they come off the ice, [power-play coach Paul MacLean] Mac or [penalty-kill coach] Lorne [Henning] will call and tell me the things they want ready," Carvel said. "Because it's an instant access program, I can automatically go to any point in the period and have it ready for them as soon as they come into the dressing room."

The Ducks' special teams have been getting the job done this season. They have the seventh-best penalty-killing unit in the league and the eighth-ranked power play. In ending a seven-game winless streak with a 5-3 come-from-behind victory at Colorado on Thursday, the Ducks scored two power-play goals in four man-advantage situations, and their penalty-killing unit came up with two key stops in the third period.

However, not all of the Duck players have embraced Carvel and the team's new system as Carney has. Veterans Paul Kariya and Steve Rucchin still follow their routines.

But if they follow Carney's lead, they'll be video addicts before they know it.

"I've always thought that video is a great teaching tool," Carney said. "Hockey is a game of instinct and nothing is always the same out there but you can definitely pick up tendencies from other teams.... I figure if there's new technology out there, why not use it?"

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