Indy Fuel’s Coach John Bierchen Ready To Preach Relentless Execution
By Aaron Goldschmidt
Q&A With New Indy Fuel Assistant Coach John Bierchen
1. For Blackhawks fans who aren’t familiar with your career, talk about your history with the game of hockey, the Alabama Crimson Tide program, and how you ended up in the ‘Hawks organization as an assistant coach for the Indy Fuel.
JB: Being from Florida (although my parents and entire family are from Chicago) many people ask how I came to love hockey. The Tampa Bay Lightning were still fairly new, and my dad took me to a game one night. I immediately fell in love and asked if I could try hockey after that. He said, “I’ll sign you up for 6 weeks of skating lessons, if you still like it after that, I’ll sign you up.” 22 to 23 years later, here I am in Indianapolis.
As for my coaching career, I started in SUNY-Canton (DIII NCAA) my first season of coaching. I really enjoyed the experience and learned a ton about recruiting and running a program. From there, I spent three seasons as an assistant coach with the Columbus Cottonmouths of the Southern Professional Hockey League. Working under Jerome Bechard really taught me the process of being a pro and how to lead a group of pro players. Jerome is one of the nicest guys you’ll meet in pro hockey. From there, I was really looking to get some head coaching experience. When the Alabama coaching position became available, it was a perfect opportunity to get that experience at a place I love and has meant so much to me.
How I really ended up in Indy is still a mystery to me, however, for the last three years, I have gone and shadowed the Rockford IceHogs coaching staff. Former Head Coach Ted Dent has been and big mentor of mine and he and the rest of the Rockford staff have been phenomenal in how much they have helped me grow as a coach. I can’t say enough good things about the Rockford organization and how they develop players and staff. At Alabama, we replicated a lot of things the IceHogs and Blackhawks are known for; both on the ice and off. I’m assuming that familiarity helped.
2. What would you say your coaching style is, and are there any coaches that you model your style after?
JB: I would say my on-ice coaching style mirrors that of the entire Chicago organization and what they do in Chicago, Rockford, and Indy. Chicago plays a very offensive and creative style and in Rockford and Indy, skill and player development is very important. At Alabama, that was what we wanted our identity to be too.
In terms of coaches I model myself after, I try to be the best possible version of myself everyday. However, there are a lot of coaches and leaders in many sports and industries I try to study to improve my own coaching and leadership. One (probably obvious one) is Nick Saban, Head Coach of Alabama football. His constancy the last 10 years at Alabama has been unbelievable. Another notable coach, Joe Maddon (Manager of the Chicago Cubs), has now turned 2 franchises into champions (Tampa and Chicago). Joe is himself 100% of the time. When you’re a coach, I think sometimes people feel they have to put on this persona of what a coach is “supposed to be”. Joe has shown that just being yourself 100% is important in connecting with the people you are leading.
3. Being only 29 years old, what made you make the decision to get into coaching and not pursue a career as a player?
JB: Haha. For one; being 5’8 160 lbs isn’t conducive to a long playing career as a goalie. However, the story goes, when I was 17/18 years old I was on the ice with my girlfriend’s little brother, who was also a goalie. He had asked me to coach him and I had never done it or thought of doing it before. While I was on the ice for that practice and observing the other coaching, I thought I could do it better. From then on, I told myself once i was done playing, I’d get into coaching.
4. A lot of people who have played goalie before talk about perspective and “how they see the game.” As a former goalie, do you still see the game from the net out and does that influence your coaching style?
JB: Honestly, I’ve learned so much about the game since I’ve got into coaching, my perspective has changed a lot over the last 6 years. And it adapts everyday as I continue to learn.
5. We got to meet a couple weeks ago at Blackhawks prospect camp. What was your experience like in Chicago and what did you think of the players that you saw?
JB: That was my first week on the job so I made the short trip from Indy just to get a feel for all of the prospects in the organization. We have a lot of talent in Indy, Rockford, and Chicago and it’s great to see it will continue to be replenished in the future.
6. Working with a team with NHL and AHL affiliation means you will play a big part in player development. Talk about how you plan on helping the Indy Fuel players get to the next level.
JB: Being a part of an affiliation makes it really rewarding as a coach to see the players grow on and off the ice and continue to further their careers as they get the call-up to the next level. Bernie John (Indy Head Coach) did an elite job of developing the players in Indy last year and has another elite plan to do so this year. I’m really looking forward to helping him execute his plans! We also have the best strength coach (Bob Buckland), athletic trainer (George Bullock), and equipment manger (Darrin Flinchem) in the ECHL. They don’t get enough credit for how much they help the players grow and develop off the ice. That’s just as important, if not more important, than on the ice.
7. The Rockford Ice Hogs just hired 32-year old Jeremy Colliton as their head coach. As a young coach yourself, what are some advantages and challenges working with young players?
JB: I think the advantages and disadvantages are all of how you perceive them. There have been coaches of all ages succeed at all levels of junior, college, and pro hockey. Jeremy and I had a really good talk at development camp and he’s going to do an elite job in Rockford. He had a lot of success over in Sweden developing players and I’m confident that will carry over to Rockford. Again, it’s a team effort and they have a lot of great people in Rockford to help him. Additionally, I think Satchel Paige said it best when people bring up age, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?”
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8. The Fuel has a much longer season than the Crimson Tide does. As a die-hard college football fan, how do you plan on watching and keeping tabs on your favorite team?
JB: With Alabama football games being “big-games” every week, its easy to find them on tv. That generally means they have them on some kind of online platform. So I’ll definitely be watching on the iPad or iPhone a few times this season. Roll Tide!
You can follow John and the Indy Fuel on Twitter at @JohnBierchen and @IndyFuel
For tickets, schedule, news, and updates for the Indy Fuel, visit www.indyfuelhockey.com