The Jersey Hitmen will recognize their 15-year head coach Toby Harris when they take the ice Saturday, Sept. 26, for their 8:30 p.m. 2021-22 home opener against the Philadelphia Hockey Club.
After all, he is coaching his 750th game for the Hitmen, having compiled a 571-126-52 all-time record. This includes playoffs, and encapsulates eight Founders Cup (regular season) championships and six Dineen Cup (playoff) championships, the most recent being this past March to close out the 2020-21 season.
USPHL.com reached out to Harris for an interview about his thoughts on the Hitmen, coaching and the changes he’s seen in junior hockey.
What are your overall thoughts about the Jersey Hitmen Organization?
I can not put into words what the organization means to me. This organization gave me the opportunity to coach without any prior experience at this level. I am forever grateful for that. I enjoy going to the rink everyday. I love our staff. I love the players. I love to compete.
What are the most important lessons that you've learned about coaching?
Say what you mean. Mean what you say. Don’t be mean saying it. As a young coach, I was fiery and demanded perfection. As I matured and grew as a coach and a person, my expectations did not change but my delivery and level of compassion did. Building relationships with my players became paramount vs. being perfect. Getting to know them. Their background. Their family dynamic. This helped me to gain their trust and unlock their greatest potential.
What are the most remarkable changes you've seen in junior hockey since starting back in 2004?
The fitness of athletes has really taken off since our inception in 2004. A large share of our players would come to training camp in 2004 looking to get “into shape.” Today, these athletes are in tip-top shape. With sports/hockey-specific supplements, hockey-specific trainers, biometric sport watches, the junior hockey athlete at the highest levels are finely-tuned machines.
What's a typical week like for you, in terms of practice planning, recruiting, etc., basically everything that doesn't include coaching a game?
We put 24 hours a week into development. We tailor our week to our weekend weaknesses. What do we need to do better? We do this through on-ice team practices, skills sessions, power skating sessions and goalie sessions. Off-ice, we have team lifts, yoga, boxing, hip mobility exercises and team video/InStat sessions. Recruiting is a full season event. We have a director of player personnel who watches 100-plus games a year. He and I work in lockstep. We speak daily.
I would like to thank former Hitmen owner Peter Masters for hiring me in 2003. I would like to thank current Hitmen owner Bobby Reiss for trusting me with his franchise and his graciousness. I would like to thank my partner of 18 years, Jim Hunt, for his mentorship and friendship. I would like to thank my family for all their support - my wife Angela and sons Kellen and Kieren. Without them I would not be where I am today. It’s been quite a ride.