Just before this season’s holiday break, the Victoria Royals announced a multi-year extension for head coach Dan Price. The well-spoken 45-year-old coach has proven himself capable of producing a quality team on the ice while building the confidence of the fanbase.
“Dan may be the best coach I’ve ever run across in terms of his understanding of how to approach today’s game, and how to get through to today’s player,” said Victoria Royals President & General Manager Cameron Hope. “The landscape for what a coach has to do to create a winning culture and a technically prepared team has changed dramatically in the last decade or so. I think he’s really an innovator.”
Since taking over the reins in 2017-18, the Royals have made the postseason in each year under Price. The streak is a continuation that has yet to see the club miss the playoffs since Victoria entered the WHL in 2011 after moving from Chilliwack.
A lawyer by trade, the graduate of the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Law benefits from that training in his ability to communicate clearly and effectively.
“It’s an emotional game and competitive environment. Sometimes when you challenge a team or you challenge a player, it can sound critical. That’s where it must come back to that aspect of trust.” -Dan Price
The DUBNetwork sat down with Price to gain more insight into his coaching philosophy, motivation, and approach to the game.
In speaking with Price, his ideologies come from studying some of the best leaders in sports. The topic of motivation for his players shows his belief that trust is key.
“I’ll give you an analogy that’s always really interested me — if you were to speak to a coach or anyone in a leadership position, and they had to boil everything down to one thing that they think is most important above all else, what would that one thing be?”
“So, I’ve thought a lot about the question of what makes a good motivator. For me, it comes down to the relationship with the players. The first thing, I and the rest of the staff always try to establish trust and an open line of communication. And that’s a two-way street. The players must trust us, and we must trust them. They need to know that the coaches are going to be prepared, have their best interests in mind and give them every advantage to win. The coaches need to know that the players are going to do everything they can to be their best individually, including taking care of themselves off the ice. And if you have that as a starting point, I think that really helps align everyone’s goals.”
“With that, you know that even if there have to be difficult conversations, which believe me we’ve had every year including this year, you have to be very honest with someone. To tell them a hard truth, or if you must bark at someone and try to get a little bit of adrenaline out of them, it always comes from a place of trust. The players know deep down that everyone has each other’s best interests in mind. You can get through those difficult moments because you trust each other.”
“We play with a really high level of aggression. That’s certainly the intention and something that we speak with the players about every day. Always put pressure on our opponents, offensively with our puck possession, how we move it around the ice and move around while we protect the puck.”
With the recent spotlight in the sports world on aggressive and line-crossing motivation tactics, Price feels it is that level of trust that is fundamental.
“There’s no coach that would tell you that he or she has been perfect all the time. It’s an emotional game and competitive environment. Sometimes when you challenge a team or you challenge a player, it can sound critical. That’s where it must come back to that aspect of trust. If there’s a conversation that is harsh, those people need to be able to come together after and say, ‘This is what I meant, or this is what I was trying to accomplish. I apologize if I offended you or if you took it the wrong way. But this is why I thought it was important at the moment.’ The player or the coach might say, ‘You know what, I overreacted. I was emotional. I shouldn’t have done that. I’m sorry.’”
“It all comes back to that place of trust.”
In speaking with Price over the years, certain keywords seem to regularly come up — leadership, tenacity, character, physicality and consistency. Those traits are evident in the teams that have played under the Royals coach. “The best teams are those that are the most competitive, disciplined, have the best leadership and show the most tenacity. As a coach, if you believe in that philosophy and that’s what wins, along with a GM that gets you those types of players — it gives you an ability to impart that type of philosophy on the group.”
“I want to do a very good job developing these people as players and as people. And in 20 years, if they’re all good people, successful people, contributing members of society, then I’ll feel like I’ve done a good job.”
Price’s system involves a lot of pressure on the opposition, while on offense and defense. It is something that new players to the club sometimes need time to adjust to.
“I think it can sometimes be an adjustment. We play with a really high level of aggression. That’s certainly the intention and something that we speak with the players about every day. Always put pressure on our opponents, offensively with our puck possession, how we move it around the ice and move around while we protect the puck. Defensively, we try to take away time and space, limiting the other team’s ability to make plays. There’s always room in hockey for very precise tactical positional play, and we make room for that too, but it’s always with a view to how much pressure can we apply.”
Price’s system has similarity to his predecessor Dave Lowry. However, the native of St. Albert, AB, has his own identity.
“I learned so much from Dave and didn’t want to try to reinvent the wheel or upset the applecart in any way. There’s no need to mess with a good thing. But Dave gave me some advice I thought was really important. That was you have to be you. You’ve got to have your own personality, your own style. So that gave me a lot of comfort. I really trusted Dave on that.”
“If I tried to be Dave, it was not going to work. So, it came down to having these guys have to trust me how they trusted Dave. They have to learn about who I am and the fact that I’m going to work really hard. I will support them and challenge them, but ultimately I’m going to be there for the players.”
“I had to basically go player-by-player and try to establish that individual relationship. What was interesting was Dave did the same thing. I witnessed that. But Dave also has the ability to control a room through his presence. I really felt coming in like that wasn’t going to work for me. I needed to just try and reach each guy and, hopefully, put enough of those building blocks in place that would lead to trust and credibility with the whole group. So that’s really what I tried to do.”
“There’s this real feeling here among the players and the staff of never arriving. We’ve had a lot of success, but there’s still a lot more that we want to do.”
Being a mentor
Often when a relationship is built between player and coach, that relationship can last for a lifetime. When asked if he thought his coaching could lead to him being a mentor for his young players, he said, “I really hope so. It’s the intention of the whole staff here is to create that relationship with the players, where down the road if they need advice or support, they can call us. I’ve tried to maintain a relationship with the players I’ve coached and those are very rewarding. I want to do a very good job developing these people as players and as people. And in 20 years, if they’re all good people, successful people, contributing members of society, then I’ll feel like I’ve done a good job.”
In an ever-changing game, Price agrees with the theory that a coach is never done learning. And for him, it’s what drives him.
“I think that’s why people gravitate towards coaching.”
“For me anyways, I feel most invigorated when I’m learning and when I’m teaching. Every day that’s static, where I felt like I haven’t really taught the players anything or learned anything from the players or the other coaches or from just studying the game, I always go home feeling kind of flat and low on energy. But on the days where I feel like I’ve really learned something important and or taught something, well, those are the days where I go home just really full of energy and excitement. So, I try to kind of shape each day with those goals in mind.”
When asked for three words to describe his experience so far with the Royals, Price did not hesitate to offer a response.
“Gratitude, learning and pursuit.”
“Gratitude. I really mean that. There’s this constant feeling of I can’t believe that I’m coaching the Victoria Royals. To live in Victoria, work for Cam [Hope] and Graham [Lee], work with the coaches and the staff that I do, and the players too. Literally, if I could have scripted it, this would be the storyline. So, just tremendous gratitude every day.”
“I would say learning as well, as we discussed. This is a job where I feel most days, I’ve learned something really important either in hockey or in life.”
“And the third word would be pursuit. There’s this real feeling here among the players and the staff of never arriving. We’ve had a lot of success, but there’s still a lot more that we want to do. Not just with the development of the players, athletically and personally, but we really want to win long term. We want to bring a championship to the city. I think it’d be great if the city could host the Memorial Cup. All these things are what we want to accomplish along the way. I think everyone has the mindset that there’s more that we want to do.”
Finally, beyond being a head coach and a lawyer, rumour had it that Price was a surfer. When asked if he was a surfer, he said, “Yeah, I love surfing. I wouldn’t say I’m a surfer because I think you must be really good at surfing to call yourself a surfer. I mean, I love to golf but I wouldn’t say I’m a golfer. But I love it. Surfing is something that I found later in life and really started getting into it about seven years ago.”
“I learned how to surf in Hawaii and surfed there a few times but also in Australia and here on the Island. It’s something that I find challenging, always pursuing that perfect wave. It’s relaxing and you get to connect with the outdoors and the environment. And it’s a great workout too. Surfing is a good way to just get away from the pressures of the job and of life generally.”