During Andy Saucier’s first year as video coordinator at his alma mater, Boston University, legendary former coach Jack Parker gave him an assignment to compile clips of the University of Vermont.
The year was 2004. DVDs were available. But Parker was old school and preferred VHS. So Saucier went to work.
“I put it in my tape deck,” Saucier explained, “and it ate the tape. My first day on the job, there I was with Scotch tape trying to fix it. Eventually I did get it to work.”
Saucier, 30, has come a long way since then, but he’s no less valuable to the coaching staff with which he works.
Or no less capable of wrangling technology.
Since June 2012, Saucier has served as video coordinator for the Penguins. It’s a role that puts Saucier behind the scenes — he watches games from his office, not the bench — but also one that’s invaluable in this era, especially since the NHL gave its coaches the ability to challenge goal calls last season.
“He’s one of the unsung heroes,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s behind the curtain, but he certainly is a big part of this coaching staff. He helps us prepare this team the right way.”
How that came to be is a fascinating story.
‘I jumped at the chance’
Saucier winding up at Boston University — the same place Sullivan went — was not by accident. Jack Kelley, a former Penguins president, is Saucier’s grandfather, and he predated Parker as coach at BU.
When Saucier, who’s from Waterville, Maine, decided he was going to BU, Kelley called in a favor with Parker and arranged for his grandson to have a role with the team.
“I love hockey,” Saucier said. “So I jumped at the chance. I didn’t really know what I was going to be doing. I kind of assumed I was going to be doing laundry, folding towels, that sort of thing.”
But the Terriers had just gotten a new video system, and former video coordinator J.P. Buckley had left for the NHL’s Boston Bruins. Parker needed a replacement and tasked that out to Saucier, who wound up spending a lot of time with Buckley because of the 2004-05 NHL lockout.
Saucier kept that role all through school and spent an extra season on Parker’s staff before giving the real world a shot. Going to law school, though, only made Saucier miss hockey more.
“I kind of realized that life wasn’t for me,” Saucier said.
So a few coaches at BU reached out to some contacts around the NHL and AHL, and Saucier wound up in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for two seasons (2010-12) before coming to Pittsburgh.
“It wasn’t on purpose until after I graduated college,” Saucier said. “Then I kind of realized it could be a career path and something I wanted to do.”
One of Saucier’s biggest responsibilities are prescouts. The man watches an ungodly amount of hockey, often three or four games a day, and condenses them into specific talking points for team meetings.
Maybe an upcoming Penguins opponent runs certain plays off faceoffs. Saucier will find those and other characteristics of a team’s system.
To do that, Saucier uses a video editing program that allows him to run various searches for video he has logged, for all shots or saves or whatever is necessary. Available video includes pretty much any team and any game that you would want.
The challenge, Saucier said, is distilling this massive amount of information into something that can actually be beneficial for the players.
“I take a lot of pride in our preparation as a coaching staff and making sure our coaches have what they need and our players are prepared for what they’re going to see,” Saucier said. “It’s kind of a fine line in preparing the players. You don’t want to give them too much, but we want to do our due diligence and make sure we know everything a team’s going to throw at us.”
‘A great eye for the game’
The games provide the most enjoyable part of the job for Saucier. They also are the most complex, technically advanced and beneficial to the Penguins.
A year ago, the NHL instituted the coach’s challenge and, in the playoffs, cameras on the blue lines to review potential offside calls that influence calls.
A handful of teams also installed video monitors in the floor behind the bench. These turned out to be so helpful that Saucier and his fellow video coaches approached the NHL over the summer. Now, they’re mandatory in buildings. It’s why you often see Sullivan looking down after goals against.
“It helps a lot,” Saucier said. “We’ve had a few different solutions with an iPad on the bench. The wireless things, they’re not as reliable. The built-in bench monitor, there’s a cable going into it, we know it’s going to work every time.”
The monitors don’t just review goals. Assistant coach Rick Tocchet wears a microphone on the bench — you can see him talking into his wrist like a Secret Service agent — that communicates with Saucier and goaltending coach Mike Bales, who is upstairs.
If anybody wants to see a particular play, they ask Saucier. He cuts the necessary video and plays it for some in-game coaching.
“I can’t say enough how much he does for our coaching staff behind the scenes and how he helps us to prepare this team the right way,” Sullivan said. “He’s as good as it gets with his knowledge of technology and the software programs that we think give us a competitive advantage. I think he’s got a great eye for the game.”
About the only thing Saucier doesn’t have are regular sleep cycles, but don’t think for a second that he’s going to complain. It’s part of the lifestyle he has chosen.
“It’s the life of most of the people who work in hockey, players included,” Saucier said. “It’s a tough grind. You’re not always the most well-rested, but you learn to live with it. That’s what makes the offseason so relaxing.”
Jason Mackey: [email protected] and Twitter @JMackeyPG.