As the national anthem wraps up, video coach Kelly Forbes pops an earpiece into his right ear and grabs a seat in Dallas Stars mission control.
There are three monitors mounted on the wall, two on his desk and a tablet on his right-hand side that monitors stats. To Forbes’ left, assistant video coach Sean Andrake monitors his own station, while a white pad of paper sits at the ready to Forbes’ notes.
“I got you, Stu, you got me?” Forbes says into the headset, checking in with Stars assistant coach Stu Barnes, who is on the team’s bench.
Forbes then checks in with the Stars’ eye in the sky from the press box. During home games it’s Vernon Fiddler; on the road, goalie coach Jeff Reese.
“I got you Fidds, you got me?”
Fiddler responds. The line of communication is running smoothly.
For a franchise that has seen its share of coaching turnover, including three head coaches in the past three seasons, Forbes has been one of the Stars’ constants. He has served in his role since the start of the 2009-10 season.
Forbes is the seventh-most-tenured video coach in the NHL and has worked for five head coaches during his 10-year NHL career. He’s also considered one of the best at his profession. With as much staff turnover as the Stars have had, there is a reason Forbes has never been replaced.
Admittedly it’s hard to compare and properly quantify the value of different video coaches around the NHL, especially in a realm where few teams are going to grant inside access to their in-game war rooms. But thanks to data collected by Behind The Benches dating back to the start of the 2015-16 season, we can at least compare them in the realm where video coaches are most publicly scrutinized: the coach’s challenge.
Since the start of the 2015-16 season the Stars have made 24 challenges and won 14 of them. The total number of challenges won is tied for the second-most in the NHL, and their plus-four differential is by far the best in the NHL over that span.
Of the 31 NHL teams, only the Stars and the New York Islanders (plus-1) have a net positive in challenges over the past four seasons in data collected through Feb. 7. The New York Rangers have an even record at 11 wins and 11 losses, while the rest of the league is deep in the negatives. The Detroit Red Wings have a 14-41 record in challenges, while the Carolina Hurricanes are 6-30.
Winning challenges and knowing when not to waste them is a point of pride for Forbes. If done correctly it’s more of a science than a guessing game; the Stars are 4-1 in challenges this year, and it’s a path Forbes never thought he would end up following.
Forbes grew up two and half hours west of Vancouver in Nanaimo, British Columbia and was pretty accomplished in both hockey and golf. He always had a goal of earning a college scholarship and attending school in the United States, and after blowing out both shoulders as a 15-year-old he decided golf would be a better path.
Golf took Forbes to Ada, Oklahoma, where he played two years for East Central University.
“Two years in, I decided that hockey — I love golf and I still do — but hockey was what I wanted to do,” Forbes said.
Forbes finished his education at the University of Oklahoma and played three years for the Sooners’ club hockey team while working on a degree in broadcasting. He was one of the Sooners’ best players during his three-year stay in Norman and was accomplished enough that at the end of his final collegiate season he got a call from the Oklahoma City Blazers and played two games of professional hockey in the now-defunct Central Hockey League.
“That was really good, great experience,” Forbes said. “It was fun to be a pro for a little bit there and travel around the southwest and then I decided pretty quickly that if I wanted to make it to the NHL, I needed to use my degree, not my skating legs.”
Forbes made his way to Dallas, where he secured an internship with the Stars broadcast department on Fox Sports Southwest. He edited video, handled various in-game duties, and worked in the truck during broadcasts during the 2008-09 season.
The right people took notice of Forbes’ work. When the Stars were looking for someone who knew how to both quickly cut and edit video and understood the game, Forbes’ name came up and he had an interview with then-Stars coach Marc Crawford.
At the end of an hour-long interview, Crawford handed Forbes a laptop and five DVDs.
“(Crawford) said go break down these games, come back and present it tomorrow to me,” Forbes said. “So, I went home and stayed up until 3 or 4 in the morning, I broke them down, I had never touched the software before. I had obviously broken down video in games and knew the game well but it was kind of a quick learn, with the software. And then I went and presented.”
A few days after presenting his work to Crawford and assistant coach Stu Barnes, the Stars hired Forbes as the first full-time video coach in franchise history.
“The biggest thing I remember about Forbesy is how sharp he is,” Barnes said, who was an assistant from 2008 to 2011 and now with Dallas since 2017, said. “I remember him coming in with a sharp work ethic and having a good handle of what it was with the video. He had a good handle of the game because he had been around it his whole life. It’s interesting to see over the years what a huge part of the program he is.”
Nearly a decade later, Forbes focuses on the monitors as the game begins. His main viewing is of the Stars broadcast feed from Fox Sports Southwest, while he also has access to cameras at both blue lines, above the goal, and a sky cam that plays consistently on his far-right monitor.
The middle monitor is the one that Forbes controls the most, stopping and re-watching every single zone entry. Roughly two minutes into the game he stops and spends an extra second re-watching an entry by Jason Spezza to see if the Stars center had lifted his foot off the ice when attacking the zone.
A minute later Barnes buzzes in and asks about a high-sticking penalty that was called against Roope Hintz. Forbes reviews the replay and confirms it was a good call; Hintz got the Ranger up high with his stick.
In addition to pre-reviewing every zone entry for a potential challenge Forbes will chime in with updates that the bench may have missed. On a Rangers rush later in the period he checks in, telling Barnes that the Stars didn’t properly gap up. He later points out a play to Barnes where the Rangers were lacking in defensive coverage. When Brett Ritchie has a chance in tight that’s turned away by Alexandar Georgiev, Forbes and Barnes have a quick discussion about how the play developed.
“We typically let Forbesy talk the most, him having the raw video in front of him,” Barnes said. “There is great, quick talk back and forth. Sometimes less is more and with so much going on, as you saw going on for them in the office, and us on the bench. ”
When Jim Montgomery was hired he did his research on Forbes, who he knew nothing about at the time. He talked to outgoing Stars coach Ken Hitchcock, who said Forbes was the best video coach he’d ever worked with. He asked other video coaches around the league about Forbes and said he didn’t hear a negative thing about him.
“I’ve been thoroughly impressed with him since Day 1 and I only get more and more impressed,” Montgomery said. “Very bright, very dedicated. Has great initiative. The one area I’d like him to improve on, and we actually talked about it today, I’d like him to never be afraid to come to me with an idea. I trust him like I trust our assistant coaches, that’s how much I value his opinion and his vision of the game.”
The one thing Montgomery wanted to change about Forbes’ role was getting him some help. For years Forbes was a one-man operation in the video room, Montgomery wanted to double the team’s video staff and he and Forbes interviewed candidates this summer.
Through that process, it became clear that Andrake was the ideal fit to join the staff.
Andrake and Forbes had worked together loosely during the 2017-18 season when Andrake was the video coach for the AHL-affiliated Texas Stars. Forbes was impressed with Andrake’s work in the AHL and said it really was an ideal fit to promote from within the organization when a new NHL job was created.
Andrake may be new to Dallas, but he has a decade of experience in video departments dating back to his freshman year at the University of New Hampshire. He’s worked for five different minor-league teams and also had a stint as the second assistant on the New Jersey Devils video staff, a role where he didn’t travel and was responsible for maintaining servers and was essentially doing what felt like video data entry.
“He’s been around the block,” Forbes chimes in during a TV timeout.
“I did it in college and I liked it and I said, ‘You know what? I’ll try and make this and see if I can make it my thing,’” Andrake said. “When I came out of college it was still pretty new, every NHL team had a guy, but not every AHL team. So I came in at a good time when there were lots of opportunities opening up.”
Andrake’s role during the game is tagging video as the game happens, which makes it easier for the coaching staff to find certain plays and situations. During the intermission, each of the Stars coaches like to view different elements of the game. Rick Bowness, for example, will review all of the penalty-killing shifts, which he can easily access in the tagged system.
The tagged plays from Andrake also go straight to iPads on the Stars bench. If Barnes wants to break down a forecheck on the fly with a player, he can easily do so by using the tagged video.
“It depends on the game, but (the iPads) certainly get used every game,” Barnes said. “Sometimes a lot, sometimes a little. A lot of the guys like to see things (during the game).”
Before Andrake was hired Forbes would handle all of these duties by himself.
“I think that gives you a pretty good idea of how much Kelly had to do before,” Barnes said. “When you see both of them working together, that’s a lot to handle and process for one guy.”
Andrake handled all of this solo for a couple of weeks in January, as Forbes was back home in Nanaimo before his mother, Arlene, passed away following a battle with cancer.
Arlene has been an influential figure for the Stars this season. Back in December when the team played in Vancouver, a comeback victory was dedicated to her. Jamie Benn presented a ceremonial cowboy hat to Arlene, a prize which goes to the team-chosen player of the game. When the Stars had their Moms’ Trip in February, it was dedicated to Arlene. A button with her initials adorns Forbes’ backpack, which hangs on the office door.
Forbes has said that Andrake helped ease his mind during a difficult time for his family. While he would often check in with Andrake via text, he had full confidence that the assistant video coach was capable of handling things while he was gone.
He also won his only challenge.
“He’s undefeated, the best in the league right here,” Forbes says while scanning a zone entry on the monitor in front of him.
While they have their own tasks, Forbes and Andrake work well in tandem during games. Andrake often acts as a second pair of eyes and occasionally points something out to Forbes while he’s focused on reviewing a zone entry.
The game has progressed rather quickly. There haven’t been many whistles or stoppages and Forbes actually half-apologized about this fact the next day. We didn’t come across any challenges or major events that would have made nice nuggets for this story.
In the second period John Klingberg picks the corner for the only goal of the game, giving Dallas a 1-0 lead.
Like every goal, Forbes reviews multiple angles and checks in with Barnes.
“That’s a good goal Stu, good goal, good job,” Forbes says. “Good start. That’s a good screen.”
Later in the second period, Forbes takes a couple of extra looks at a zone entry that could have been challenged if a goal were scored on the play. It’s one of those situations where a player’s toe is just hovering over the ice and likely would have caused quite a bit of discussion.
Early in the third period the Stars broadcast zooms in on Rangers coach David Quinn, who is drawing up a play on a whiteboard. Forbes ends up communicating that to Barnes and puts a screenshot of the image on his main monitor, which mirrors the picture on the screen that is embedded in the floor of the bench next to Montgomery.
At this point it’s rather silent in the video room, which reflects the nature of the 1-0 game on the ice. There’s the occasional communication between Barnes and Forbes; at one point they discuss how rebounds have been kicking back to the middle. Later there is is a discussion about short-side shots coming from New York.
With less than five minutes remaining, we finally get a taste of what it would be like if there was a challenge. The Rangers enter the zone and Forbes reviews the play twice from the blue-line camera. He confidently tells Barnes and Fiddler, “this one is offsides.”
It quickly turns into a non-issue. Less than 10 seconds later the Stars exit the zone and Forbes is tracking a zone entry at the Rangers defensive blue line.
(Photos by Sean Shapiro)