Tyler Alos joined Steve Konowalchuk's coaching staff this summer for the T-Birds (photo Seattle Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
Last spring the Seattle Thunderbirds found themselves in one of the most exciting playoff series in recent memory. They had the heavily favored Kelowna Rockets on the ropes as they took a commanding lead in the series. As a pivotal Game 6 went into overtime the excitement in the ShoWare Center was higher than it ever had been.
For Tyler Alos, he could not sit still.
Relegated to a suit and tie in the press box the former Thunderbirds forward cold not stay in his seat. He paced back and forth nervously as his teammates, and friends, tried to finish off the Rockets - unable to help.
"That was a pretty hopeless feeling last year, that wasn't a good time for me," Alos says of the experience. "I think a lot of people know how much I wanted to be out there, how much I could give to the team."
Alos played in 201 games for the T-Birds over the past four years so you can imagine how hard it was not to be on the ice for one of the biggest moments the team had over that period. He was only able to play in ten games last season as he was forced to retire from the sport he loved due to the risk of future concussions.
That is a tough decision for any player but especially for one who worked as hard and played the game as hard as Alos did. The club kept him on last year, helping out with game film and working in the front office. This season they brought him back down to the ice to join Steve Konowalchuk's coaching staff as an assistant.
Many people have experienced going from co-worker to boss and know how challenging that can be but for Alos going from player to assistant coach as been a pretty good transition.
"It's been relatively smooth actually," the Spokane native says. "I was expecting a little more turbulence from the guys since I did play with a handful of them. I thought they'd be goofing around and not taking me seriously, but boy they've been more receptive than even the younger guys, asking me to watch game film, what they're doing wrong, going out early to practice, working on what they need to work on skill-wise."
Alos says he still gets the occasional 'stink eye' during conditioning drills since he is not doing them with the players but for the most part there has been nothing but respect. Known for being a tough, hard-nosed player one has to wonder if Alos is that way as a coach. He says that for now he isn't, but sees that in his future.
"That's Konowalchuk," he says. "He's the hard nosed one, he's the head coach, he makes the rules and makes sure guys are following them. I'm here to be supportive and guys can come to be for that bridge. If my role does expand though that's what I see myself doing, being hard-nosed, intense."
Being a coach this season, a year that would have been his 20-year-old season, is not what he envisioned when he laced up his skates last year. A month into being a coach, Alos now sees coaching in his future and is enjoying the experience.
"At the end of last year I was there helping (hockey operations assistant) Jeff Caso on the computer and it wasn't the same as being ice level," he says. "This year, from the start of training camp to now being on the bench, you're right in there. I enjoy it more than I ever thought I would. It's really taken off for me, I'm learning so much every day from Steve and Matt (O'Dette)."
Being a coach means looking at the game of hockey in a different way than a player does. There's a lot more video to watch and break down and Alos says that this experienced has changed the game for him.
"I don't watch a hockey game any more, I critique a hockey game," Alos says. "Which is an odd thing to say. I can't just sit in the stands and enjoy the game, I look to see what forecheck they're using, what's their PK doing. I'm so meticulous about the game now and that's just from being around Russ, Matt and Steve. I've learned so much. I wish I knew what I know now four years ago when I was a rookie."
Alos has a great mentor in Steve Konowalchuk. The two former players have had a somewhat similar experience as both had to give up the game before they wanted to and made an immediate transition into coaching.
"We had a few talks," Alos says of his boss. "He sat down with me and he said that if worse came to worse he would see what he could do about getting me into management. When he retired from Colorado they did the same thing, but he was much older. I thought it was a different situation being 19 but it's almost the same situation, they brought him on to help at first and that evolved into a coaching role, its strikingly similar. Kono's taken such good care of me, Russ too, I'm grateful."
Alos' role with the coaching staff is primarily to work with the younger players. He says that it is a good fit since none of them know him as anything other than a coach. He can also relate having been in their shoes just four years ago. That kind of mentorship can go along way to showing them how much harder you have to work in the WHL in order to be a successful player.
As do most of the people with the organization Alos is excited for the upcoming season and has high expectations for the team.
"I think this is the closest we've been as a team in the locker room and this is the best talent pool we've had in my past five years being with the organization and those are two exciting things to have," he says of the upcoming season. "They all have to buy into the system that Kono is laying out for them, if one guy deviates from the plan it affects the whole team and they have to work hard. You can have all the skill in the world but if you're not busting your butt on the forecheck and finishing,it doesn't matter. If you do those two things wins will be a by product, the team will come together, we'll mesh together and we'll win."
Hockey is a sport that is played with a high level of emotion and intensity. Players feel it and if things are not going right there is always something you can do to change the fortunes. Standing in that press box last spring Alos could not do much about what was happening on the ice as Seattle lost a grip on the series.
While he says he still paces behind the bench, Alos feels now, as a coach he doesn't feel that hopeless feeling he had last season.
"Coaching wise it does relieve some of the tension, you're in the action, you can talk to guys," he says. "Obviously I can't go out there and do it but occasionally one of our guys will get hit from behind and it's hard not lose my temper. I keep it pretty casual and bottled up, but inside I'm going mad because I want to protect my players. Coaching is similar, it's not the same rush you get playing but it's pretty darn close."
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