Though Devan McConnell was the New Jersey Devils’ director of performance science and reconditioning, his new job with the Arizona Coyotes is a step up from that title.
McConnell, announced Thursday as the Coyotes’ high performance director, will have a critical role within the club’s hockey operations department. It involves maximizing performance, minimizing injury risk, optimizing fitness and nutrition levels and putting together training regimens for the Coyotes and AHL Tucson Roadrunners players and prospects.
He’ll get to implement his vision and philosophy in a position of leadership, overseeing such team departments as strength and conditioning. The job is a new position to the club, created by Armstrong, who said the Coyotes will be more focused on improving the team through sports science.
“The position, high performance director, from a career trajectory is where I’ve wanted to go and have been working towards. So when the opportunity arose, (it was) the position I was interested in and a young organization with a lot of talent, a really exciting new GM and ownership that is eager to push the envelope and think outside the box,” McConnell said. “It was a really good fit.”
McConnell said high performance and sports science, while not new to other sports, is relatively new to hockey in North America. He will arrive in the Phoenix area next week, which is when some Coyotes players are expected to start training in groups with staff in attendance.
McConnell will be brought up to speed on the injury history of players, including the lower-body injuries that forced star goaltender Darcy Kuemper to miss two months of last season and have plagued goaltender Antti Raanta.
“My niche in the group is better understanding things like workloads, what are the things that are leading up to these types of injuries and understanding what we can do off the ice as well as on the ice to try to reduce the incidence of those things,” McConnell said.
Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong said with the way hockey is changing and how fast the game is becoming, he sought someone highly recommended for the position.
“The game is getting to a new science of trying to be in shape to play the game at the highest level,” Armstrong said. “That’s one thing that we loved, was (McConnell’s) knowledge on how he can take us that next step.”
Armstrong made note of recovery time, preventing soft tissue injury and taking care of players’ bodies. He said McConnell and his staff will track players’ fitness levels and how they improve season by season.
“There’s a lot of strain on the athletes to play at a higher pace and recover quickly, and there’s a little bit more science that is going into that process,” Armstrong said, adding that McConnell’s background as a junior and college hockey player makes him better able to apply performance principles to the Coyotes and Roadrunners.
The NHL has placed COVID-19 mandates on the number of players that can be in one space at one time. McConnell doesn’t expect that to have a major impact on what he does day to day.
“The fact that the Coyotes were creating this position in the first place told me a lot about the direction that they’re trying to head,” McConnell said. “It’s really just about understanding the values of the organization and the team, understanding how our team is constructed, how our coaches want to play, and then using the right tools and technologies to be able to maximize those things. And then understanding our players from a physiological perspective.”