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Kelly's Ducks influence Winterhawks' Johnston

Oregon Ducks football coach Chip Kelly has often visited other college football programs, and he welcomes coaches to the team's practices and offices.

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra paid a visit this summer.

So did Mike Johnston, general manager and coach of the junior hockey Portland Winterhawks, who open defense of their Western Hockey League Western Conference title with a home game tonight against the Everett Silvertips (7 p.m., Rose Garden).

Kelly and Johnston met at the annual Oregon Sports Awards earlier this year and found out they had a mutual friend in New Hampshire (Kelly's home state).

Later, Johnston contacted Kelly about attending a practice this summer.

Johnston went through a training camp day with the Ducks, which included a 2 hour, 40-minute practice, after which Johnston left completely impressed with Kelly's and his coaches' administering of the practice, along with the pace and detail.

"It was incredible," says Johnston, a coaching guru himself in hockey who has reshaped the Winterhawks' fortunes in recent seasons. "Two hours, 40 minutes, all to music. Really lively."

Johnston admired how the Ducks practice with such pace.

"We're very organized for our practice, but the speed and pace in your game, you have to practice that way," he says. "We practice fast, but sometimes there are breaks between. They had no breaks. There were two five-minute practice segments, a walk-through, a time to catch their breath. That's all they had."

Johnston says he and assistant Travis Green ran a couple of their own training camp practices like the Ducks do theirs.

"Between drills we did sprints," Johnston says. "We practice at a good pace, but (players) weren't used to it."

Johnston says he plans to have more uptempo practices, and also incorporate music as a means to inject fun into the workouts and noise to help players cope with distractions.

"You can always learn and get better," Johnston says. "Sometimes what happens is you stick to your own environment and don't go outside to see what you can learn from football, basketball or soccer.

"Football is a sport that I can understand, I grew up around football, I know the game."