Anyone who listens during a Komets game can hear player/assistant coach Colin Chaulk bellowing tips from behind the bench. He'll yell for everyone to "Stay up!" when defending the blue line, yell "Three!" when the team has a chance for a 3-on-2 rush or call out a number of other instructions.
As the team's captain, Chaulk has always been a vocal leader, but what's the hardest part of coaching?
"You have to find a balance and learn when to shut up,"' Chaulk said. "Sometimes I tell myself to just shut up for three minutes. You can't always try to push buttons all the time because it's easy for guys to tune you out, too."
Chaulk is recovering from a shoulder injury and a foot infection, and he'll return this week to help coach Al Sims behind the bench during games. Usually, his role as player/assistant coach means he concentrates first on his play and pitches in a little during practices and on the team's video scouting reports. Over the last month, Chaulk has been able to concentrate more on his coaching duties, including directing the defense during games.
"I don't want to come to the 'D' after every shift and say, 'Hey, man, you gotta try this...' You have to let them play on their own," the veteran center said. "That's hard sometimes, because when you are standing there not saying anything, sometimes you feel like you are not doing anything. Sometimes they just want to come off and give their ears or head a rest. It's hard to pick those spots."
Chaulk will resume skating in practice this week and might be able to return to the lineup within a couple of weeks. Until then, he's doing whatever he can to help the team and Sims. During the games, that means yelling his reminders and sometimes helping hold players accountable.
"It's good to have Chaulker back there," Sims said. "It's nice to have a helping hand back there, and he's been good with the defense and getting guys to buy into our system."
Someday, after he retires, Chaulk, 35, knows he wants to become a head coach. He's played on five championship teams, either as captain or one of the leaders, so he'll have a strong resume. Serving as an assistant coach only adds to that.
As a natural leader, he's always had the ability to express his opinion to any player, in the locker room or with any coach. Most players need about five minutes to understand Chaulk knows what he's talking about and that they can learn if they listen.
When he's playing, Chaulk spends the intermissions in the locker room, but as the assistant coach he spends them with Sims in his office across the Memorial Coliseum concourse.
"If there's something to be said, I'll definitely walk in there and say something, but they have to figure it out on their own, too," Chaulk said. "They have the gear on. Al has been great at allowing me if I have something to say to say it. It doesn't matter who says it or gets it done as long as we do it together. We help each other, and if we're successful, both of us are going to have opportunities to stay here or go somewhere or whatever. All we can control is our work ethic and try to make sure that our team is ready."
Chaulk said the hardest part, and the most satisfying, is finding the little things that can make the biggest difference. He's gotten better at using video clips to instruct and prepare for upcoming opponents. All this has convinced Chaulk he's meant to be a coach, but it's something he has to learn about every day and demonstrate his ability to do every day.
"Maybe next year, the year after or whenever, maybe I'm a full-time assistant under Al or whatever, there will be new guys coming in," he said. "They'll be thinking, 'Who is this guy?' He played 11 years for the Komets, but they don't care about that. They want to know, can you help me get better? After you help them get better and show you know what you are talking about, then you earn their respect. No one is going to give that to you these days; you have to always earn your respect. Once you earn it, you have to do it all over again."
Which usually means yelling something they can use, even during the games.