November 09, 2013

Fred Shero Embraced European Tactics

A lot of new fans nowadays make a common but incorrect assumption about the late Fred Shero when it comes to his coaching ability.

They incorrectly assumed he was a rough and tumble "goon coach" who relied on intimidation more than skill or strategy. After all, he coached the most physical - and many will say most dirty - hockey team in history. Yes, he coached the 1970s Philadelphia Flyers, infamously also known as the Broad Street Bullies. And he coached them well. They won the Stanley Cup in 1974 and 1975.

Many people lament those championships, chalking it up to the brawling tactics the Flyers employed. But, as the IIHF website reminds us, Shero was one of the few North Americans and the first NHL coach to study the Soviet school of hockey.

Shero borrowed several ideas on practice methods and game tactics from the Soviets and adapted them to the NHL setting. For example, Shero brought back from Moscow a three-man passing drill which simultaneously utilized three pucks, rather than one. Much of the system that Shero drilled into his Stanley Cup champion Flyers was a combination of hand-picked North American and Soviet tactics from which Shero created his own set of rules.

Flyer wingers were required to stay on their assigned wing between the blue lines, except if they had a chance to intercept a stray pass from the opposition. No forward was allowed to turn his back to the puck at any time and the only time a defenceman was allowed to do so was to quickly swing to a defensive corner. Blind-centering passes in the offensive zone were forbidden.

Shero organized the team’s defensive zone coverages to prevent the chance of being outnumbered, whether along the boards, in the slots, or up high. Diagonal passing in the defensive zone was forbidden as was skating the puck backward in the defensive end. It was acceptable for players to pass backwards in the defensive zone.

Where Shero disagreed the most strongly with the Soviets was his view on checking. Rather than relying on the sweep check, Shero encouraged his players to get a good angle on the opponent and take the body.

Here's the full story.

Shero, whose parents emigrated from Russia to Canada prior to his birth in 1925, is being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame this weekend as a builder for his coaching. Not everyone realizes that Shero also played in the NHL. Shero was a long time minor leaguer who did participate in 145 games with the New York Rangers.

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