MiHockey writer goes behind the bench for MSU Green and White Game

MiHockey's Alyssa Girardi (right) listens to instructions from MSU assistant coach Tom Newton during the team's Green and White Game. (Photo by Michael Caples/MiHockey)


By Alyssa Girardi –

EAST LANSING — Some people believe those who can’t play coach.

Saturday, I learned those who can’t do either work in sports journalism.

I was part of an honorary coaching squad made up of media members for MSU hockey’s Green and White Game, and we were given responsibilities from taking stats to initiating line changes.

The Green Team’s coaching staff was Jason Colthorp (WILX TV-10), Steve Miller (WVFN 730 AM), Chris Solari (Lansing State Journal), Neil Koepke (MSUSpartans.com and myself, and was aided by actual assistant coach Tom Newton. The White Team had Fred Heumann (WLNS TV-6), Sheri Jones (WLNS TV-6), Audrey Dahlgren (WLNS TV-6), Zach Smith (The State News) and David “Mad Dog” DeMarco (WVFN 730 AM), and was led by assistant coach Kelly Miller.

The Green Team ended up winning 2-0 (whoop!) with third-period goals by senior forward Dean Chelios (Bloomfield Hills) and sophomore forward Ryan Keller (Farmington Hills).

MiHockey's Alyssa Girardi tracks shift lengths during the Green and White Game. (Photo by Michael Caples/MiHockey)

For the first period, I took over director of hockey operations Adam Nightingale’s duties and sat in the press box working on the computers. During the first half of the period, I recorded shift times for the Green Team by simply clicking on a player’s name on a list whenever he entered or exited the ice.

For the second half of the period, I took stats for the team by marking shots, chances, breakouts, turnovers and penalties…and a few other things I probably forgot to look for. The tallies I took made marks on the team video so coaches could go through the film in between periods and easily find certain plays by their team or the opponents.

It sounds basic, but it was probably the most difficult part of the evening for me. The duties themselves weren’t necessarily impossible, but I struggled with managing the computer tasks and actually watching the game.

By the end of the period, I felt like I’d barely paid any attention to the actual game because I was so focused on which players were on the ice and whether or not a play constituted a shot or a chance. Furthermore, I later found out the actual program used during games has about 50 keys instead of the about 15 I had to use.

I give props to Nightingale and any hockey operations directors who manage to effectively juggle that AND analyzing the game — I barely managed either.

For the next two periods, I worked behind the bench to time offensive shifts and communicate things from the actual coaching staff to the players whenever I wasn’t ducking behind them in fear of a puck hitting me in the face.

To get an idea of how I communicated with the players, imagine a bunch of college hockey players laughing at a girl behind the bench whenever she tried to tell them what they were doing wrong.

“Hey, uh, Coach Newton wanted me to tell you that you, uh, should have looked to the near side of the ice during that one play. His words, not mine, because I just feel mean criticizing you. So anyway, good job out there!”

I might not have been the best discipliner, but I was great with the stopwatch.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have never played a hockey game and, until yesterday, never spent any game time on a bench. The pace of the game at ice-level is something I never understood until I was right in front of the action.

Usually spending every game in the press box or watching at home through a TV camera, I’m used to seeing the whole ice and watching plays develop from one end to the other. Being at ice level, it was much more difficult to follow developments and track what was happening everywhere on the ice. That’s obviously something that’s easier to do for coaches and players who grew up watching that game from that perspective, but for me, I struggled to get a grasp on the game.

Overall, the experience was unforgettable and I developed a new form of respect for coaching staffs.

But I’ll stick to journalism.

The honorary coaches had a bit of trouble crossing the ice for the postgame handshake. (Photo by Michael Caples/MiHockey)