Brandt Clarke’s answer to a question posed in a player profile survey he and his teammates completed before last season has stayed glued in David Cicchini’s mind for nearly a year.
“When we ask, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ the typical answer is ‘I want to be in the NHL,’” says Cicchini, an associate coach with Don Mills Flyers for the past three seasons. “Brandt Clarke put [that] he wanted to be in the NHL, but then he crossed it off and put ‘I want to be in the Hall of Fame. I want to make an impact on the game.”’
Every player on the Under-16 Flyers shared Clarke’s voracious appetite for success. The high level of desire, coupled with exceptional skill, translated into a 41-game unbeaten streak to open the season and a mind-boggling final record of 77 wins, a single overtime loss and six ties, capped by a dramatic 6-5 overtime win over the Toronto Red Wings to capture the 2019 OHL Cup back in March.
Head coach Marc Slawson, Cicchini and the rest of the Flyers staff stoke the competitive fire in each of their players before the beginning of each offseason by urging them to take ownership of further developing their craft during the summer so the group can be even more formidable in the fall.
Cicchini practices what he preaches as he actively looks for ways to improve his skills behind the bench during the break. This week, he is in Calgary at the High Performance II seminar, looking to receive his HP2 certification.
Despite mentoring players for over two decades, the coach is gaining fresh insights about self-awareness on the bench, skills analysis, leading under pressure, team culture and tactical play.
A presentation centring on personality profiling has been a highlight of the experience thus far for Cicchini.
“Understanding the science behind players by how they learn and react to different situations opens your mind that you need to have different approaches as you talk to your players and teach your players,” he says. “I always knew that but seeing that there is a science behind it was a good takeaway.”
The ability to disseminate guidance to different players is one of Cicchini’s fortes. He has utilized his strong communication skills to impart knowledge about the importance keeping your emotions on an even keel to the likes of Flyers alumni Shane Wright (the first-overall pick in the 2019 OHL Priority Selection), Brennan Othmann (second overall) and Clarke (fourth overall), among others.
(Those three players, along with Liam Arnsby and Paul Christopolous, will follow their coach to Calgary to attend Canada’s national under-17 development camp later this month.)
Forging a strong relationship based on mutual respect has been one of Cicchini’s great pleasures of coaching athletes the calibre of the Flyers.
Being treated to continuous displays of prodigious skill is another.
“Sometimes, as coaches, when we’re doing a certain drill we sit back and watch and say to each other, ‘Did we just see this happen?’ It is amazing to see the things these kids are doing at 15 years old.”
Cicchini says he will endeavour to always stay in touch with each member of the Flyers, whether their path takes them to hall-of-fame-calibre career in the National Hockey League or along a different route in life.
For the coach, the OHL Cup championship was a perfect way to end a 15-year tenure with the Flyers organization. This fall, Cicchini is joining Slawson to coach the Under-13 AAA team with the Toronto Jr. Canadiens, beginning a minor hockey journey with a new group of players.
He says he hopes to help guide the Jr. Canadiens through the conclusion of their Under-16 season, and to replicate some of his Don Mills success along the way.