The Canes Country “Take Ten” feature has been dormant for awhile due to some time constraints, but it is back and should be more interesting than ever as we try to round up more folk to be interviewed. Our next guest is Chris Huffine, the Carolina Hurricanes Video Coach.
Chris has been working for the Hurricanes almost since their arrival in North Carolina and his role with the team has expanded from being a part-time video coordinator for home games in Greensboro, to presently being the full time video coach. He is responsible for providing video scouting reports for all future opponents as well as administering team and individual player video sessions. To see his complete bio, check out this link.
I caught up with Chris recently, as he took a short break from preparing for Saturday’s game against Buffalo. One thing that has impressed me the most about these interviews, is the passion and love these specialists have for their careers. Chris is no exception, as my impression is that he lives and breathes his job. Obviously, he’s a very busy person, so on behalf of all the readers of Canes Country I would like to thank him for his participation in this interview and for his time.
1. According to your bio, you started out taking video for the Greensboro Monarchs during the early 90’s. How did you get your start and why did you get into that specific field?
Even though I was born and raised in the south, I have always loved hockey. While my brother was an excellent player, I knew that I would never be good enough to play professionally, but I still was hoping to do something related to hockey as far as a career goes. When I was a season-ticket holder of the Greensboro Monarchs, I noticed a make-shift, stationary video recorder that was used to record portions of their games. I started thinking to myself that I could do a better job than that. So I offered my services to the team and initially worked as a volunteer for them.
I got my big break when the Florida Panthers became affiliated with the Monarchs. Their assistant coach, John Christiano took me under his wing and basically taught me everything that I needed to know regarding the profession at that time. I really owe my start in the business to John. Videotape scouting was in its infancy back then, but we started out by reviewing the power play and penalty kill of our team as well as our opponents.
2. As video coach, what exactly are your duties? Do you make use of the in-house cameras or do you use your own?
We make use of the in-house cameras, for angles the same as you would see on television. We also utilize an extra endzone camera as well as a wide angle shot, so that we can focus on each individual player. I am responsible for providing video of each opponent so that the coaching staff can study a variety of tendencies. This allows the Hurricanes to prepare accordingly. Some of the things we look at include the opposition’s power play, penalty kill, the way they react to the forecheck and break the puck out of their zone, the way that they forecheck, so that we can determine the best way for our defense to react to it, and how they play in the neutral zone, (trap or not, 2-1-2, etc.).
I am also responsible for providing the video after each game so that all of our players can review their own performances, shift by shift.
3. How soon after the game are the other coaches wanting to look at video? How soon can you have it ready?
I can have the video ready for the coaches to look at on their laptops within about 15-20 minutes after the game. On road trips, many of the players and coaches review video of that night’s game on the plane, while on the way home. Cam Ward is especially attentive to video and studies every save, every goal, and every time he plays the puck. Dennis Seidenberg also loves to use video as a tool, but all of the players review shift by shift performances of themselves.
4. Does the NHL have any rules that you have to be careful about, so that you don’t get in trouble like the New England Patriots did with the NFL?
No, the NHL does not have any specific rules about what we videotape or how we do it. They do require that each home team provide a room or some place for the visiting team’s camera people and video people to work in. They also require that each team forward a copy of that game’s video to the league office.
5. You have worked with both Coach Peter Laviolette and Coach Paul Maurice. Can you share any philosophical differences between the coaches? How did the transition go when Coach Laviolette took over?
Let me start by saying that the personnel was much different when Paul Maurice coached here, than how it is right now. We did not have the overall skill level back them. But Coach Maurice was much more defensive orientated. We played the neutral zone trap, and scouted other teams about how they reacted to it and played against it.
Both coaches are young coaches, so I was fortunate that each of them was open to new ideas and new ways of looking at things using video.
When Coach Laviolette came aboard the focus was more on offense, the forecheck, and scoring. While I think that Coach Maurice has done a great job in Toronto, (he certainly has against us), Peter Laviolette is different in that he has his own, unique system. It is different than any other used in the NHL. Since it is his own system, he knows it inside and out. For instance, when a player asks him a question like what that player needs to do in a particular situation within the system, Peter can tell that player immediately, he does not need to analyze the scenario or think about it.
When Peter took over, there was a feeling-out process of course. It took awhile for him to get to know us, and vice-versa. One person that I would like to give a lot of credit to is Jeff Daniels. Jeff had recently retired and was expecting to go into player development. Instead he was asked to be an assistant coach and stepped into a very difficult position for any ex-teammate to jump into. I think the whole coaching staff is tremendous, but it has really been a pleasure for me to watch Jeff grow and do so well in his position.
Coach Laviolette is in complete control of the team and the system, but he is excellent at delegation and does rely on his assistants to do their jobs. While Coach McCarthy is in charge of the power play and Coach Daniels directs the penalty kill, Coach Laviolette still makes the final decisions. Coach Lavvy also knows his players inside and out and tries to put them in situations to succeed. Not only has Sergei Samsonov thrived in this system, but several other players have done very well here and had some of the best stats of their careers. Even Rod Brind’Amour has had one of his best years ever here.
I think that Peter Laviolette is one of the best, if not the very best coach in the entire league. He has coached at every level and has been successful at every level. We are fortunate to have him here at Carolina.
6. During a game in Florida earlier this year, you were given credit for notifying the team that Tomas Vokoun was leaving the net early, or was cheating on dump-ins. Sure enough, later in the game Cory Stillman burned Vokoun and scored a goal while Vokoun was on his way behind his net. What other things do you look for during the game and how do you get that information to the bench in the middle of a game?
I look for a variety of things during the game, such as goaltender tendencies like that one, or perhaps any variances from our earlier scouting reports. I meet with the team in the dressingroom between periods and share information at that point. I remember that particular game very well because when “Stiller” scored that goal, I let out a yell and was jumping up and down like I had just scored the goal myself!
7. Have team enforcers ever asked you for fight footage so that they can prepare for future opponents?
That’s an excellent question, yes they have! As a matter of fact, that’s a common thing among enforcers, they really do study up on other enforcers in the league. For instance, Wade Brookbank asked to review some footage of Donald Brashear before the most recent game against Washington.
While obviously I have never been in an NHL fight, I would imagine that it’s especially important to know whether your opponent is left-handed or right-handed, so that if you get in tight, you know which arm to try to tie up, or what to look out for. I used to review fight footage with Jesse Boulerice quite often, but now with “You Tube” so popular, players can get a lot of information about fights by themselves right online.
8. What do you attribute the recent success of the team to, compared to how they were playing about a month ago?
I think that it’s a combination of things. First of all, the acquisition of Sergei Samsonov was huge. I think that Coach Laviolette was helpful in getting Samsonov here. I remember one specific conversation between the coaches before Sergei was even available on waivers when Peter said, “do you think he somehow forgot how to play?”. Peter knew that Samsonov was still a very good player, if put in the right system.
I also think that after Rod Brind’Amour was injured, several players picked up their games knowing that they had to step up in order to fill in for his loss. Eric Staal and Erik Cole have both been filling in on the penalty kill and eating up extra minutes and that has been a big plus.
The guys from Albany have been a big part of the success. They have infused an instant energy that has been infectious to the rest of the team.
Even though it was very difficult to see “Stiller” and “Commie” go, the team really needed someone like Joe Corvo to help run the power play, and his acquisition has paid off instantly. I think that each of these factors contributed.
9. Have you ever recorded or put together what could be considered blooper material?
Oh yes. For instance, there was a time when Joe Vasicek scored a game winning goal in a shoot out, and during his celebration he slipped and fell. That was pretty humorous. There was another time when Nic Wallin was on the bench and the puck came near him, and he reached his stick out to play the puck from the bench. We showed that as something not to do! During team video sessions, if the mood is down and we are in a losing streak, sometimes I’ll try to lighten the mood and insert something funny in the session as a surprise.
10. You had a bit of an unusual day with the Cup. It’s been noted that you were the first person in the United States to take the Cup fishing. What can you tell us about the day? Was the Cup handler worried that the Cup might fall off the boat?
That was a lot of fun. I should start off by saying that fishing is my number-two passion, right behind hockey. If I am not working, I’m fishing. So it was a thrill for me to combine both fishing and something hockey related, in the same event. We made arrangements to take the Cup out on Falls Lake fishing.
And yes, the Keeper of the Cup was worried about the Cup sinking. Believe it or not, they know exactly how long it takes the Cup to sink. It doesn’t sink immediately like a rock, it takes a while to fill with water, and then sinks after a few minutes. Regardless, the Cup was fitted with a make-shift life preserver while it was out on the water. My only regret was that I didn’t catch a huge fish to put in the Cup. I was able to catch one, but it wasn’t a keeper.