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Jewish former hockey pros teach skills to the next generation

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Dusan Kralik, right, coaches the Israeli national hockey team.

For many young hockey players, the 2017-18 season is winding down, if not already done. Playoffs are in the books and cleanup from windup pizza “banquets” are complete.

But, of course, there really is no rest for the truly committed. Tryouts for next season are just around the corner, along with training sessions to get young players ready. And then there are spring hockey leagues to consider, summer camps to keep players sharp and then, lo and behold, the whole cycle starts again.

Getting budding Auston Matthewses or Patrik Laines prepared for the season is pretty much a year-round proposition and many former players turn to running hockey schools when their playing days are over. Two of the most popular in Toronto are associated with Jews who were once, in their primes, elite hockey players.

Daniel Erlich, left, and Dusan Kralik.

Henrich Hockey is the eponymously named school of hockey run by brothers Michael and Adam Henrich. Both were high NHL draftees who toiled in the minor leagues before enjoying lengthy careers in Europe.

Meanwhile, Creative Hockey Development was the brainchild of Czechoslovakian-born Dusan Kralik, a former Czech junior national team player and Czech league pro. A year ago, Kralik brought Daniel Erlich on board as a partner. Erlich played for four years with the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and another two years in pro leagues in Sweden, Austria and France.

Both hockey schools offer a variety of camps, skill sessions and coaching options. Both companies are busy, with dozens of kids on the ice for camps and skills training, recruiting youngsters largely through word of mouth.

READ: CZECH-BORN HOCKEY COACH DISCOVERS JEWISH ROOTS

Hockey instruction is big business these days and, for Adam Henrich, it shows no signs of slowing down.

Henrich, who was selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the 2002 NHL entry draft and spent several years in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, said kids continue to play hockey in big numbers, and the business is only primed to grow. Not only do Canadians continue to enjoy the sport, but he finds more and more families from China are moving to Toronto to get their children the best instruction and competition. Because of this overseas interest, Henrich also makes a yearly visit to China, where he holds camps for aspiring young Olympians.

The 34-year-old Henrich explained that exposure to coaching styles from both North American and European hockey universes sets the brothers’ school apart.

“They’re more disciplined and hard-nosed in Europe,” he said. “They’re more systematic. There’s more technical work. North America is more run-and-gun.”

Henrich spent six years in North American pro hockey and four more in Europe, while his big brother Michael, a first-round draft pick (13th overall) of the Edmonton Oilers in 1998, spent four years in the American Hockey League and 10 more playing for a variety of European teams.

When Adam returned from Europe after earning a master’s degree in sports management while playing in Coventry, England, a lot of people he had known while moving through the hockey system were calling him to help with their kids.

Michael Henrich (Toronto Roadrunners photo)

As a trial, he held a one-week summer camp and 25 kids showed up. They were attracted by the Henrich name, which is well-known in Toronto hockey circles.

From there, he began coaching the Toronto Red Wings AAA team at the minor atom level, and “it just kind of snowballed.”

He and Michael brought Dylan Smoskowitz on board, another talented player who competed in the OHL for four years and was Adam’s teammate with Team Canada at the 2013 Maccabiah Games in Israel.

Erlich also played on the team, while his future partner, Kralik, was one of the assistant coaches for Team Israel.

Kralik has been providing instruction in the finer points of hockey for many years and counts many current NHL players as his protégés. Of course, he can’t take all the credit for the success of pupils P.K. Subban or John Tavares, but he’s been working with them ever since they were kids.

Coincidentally, Erlich was coached by Kralik about 20 years ago when he was only seven.

Kralik followed Erlich’s career over the years. He recalls watching Erlich weave his magic playing for the gold medal-winning Canadians at the Maccabiah Games.

With his international hockey background, Kralik believes he brings a somewhat different approach to hockey instruction than North Americans.

When he got to Canada, he was surprised to find some elite youth teams playing more than 120 games a year. In Europe, teams practised three or four times for every game they played, he said.

In Erlich, Kralik sees someone who shares his hockey values, which put a premium on practice and handling the puck.

My dad said that, not being a big guy, I had to be like a water bug, so nobody could catch you.
– Daniel Erlich

In Creative’s camps and sessions, players practice skills in “game-like situations, higher tempo and intensity with lots of emphasis on scoring,” he said.

For Kralik, continually “moving your feet” is the key skill for young hockey players to adapt.

Erlich came to the same conclusion, but from a different source. His father, Arie, played professional soccer in Israel. “My dad said that, not being a big guy, I had to be like a water bug, so nobody could catch you,” Erlich said.

His speed, vision and play-making came to be his trademarks. When Erlich runs a class, he focuses on skating, edge work and explosiveness, while Kralik said he emphasizes stickhandling in tight spaces and scoring.

“Sport is visual,” Kralik continued. “If you see something visually, at a high speed, you push yourself to that high speed.”