I hated playing for coaches who determined how well the team played in a given game by the outcome. You win, practice is lighter, everyone can joke around, and things are on the right track. You lose, well, the effort wasn’t there, we need better conditioning, let’s practice for an extra 30 minutes.
That’s just not how hockey works. Sometimes you get a few bad bounces, sometimes you get a few bad calls, and sometimes….sometimes your goalies just play like shit.
For those reasons, I like this Ron Wilson press conference. Obviously his team didn’t score enough goals to win - he doesn’t imply that the team played well - but he liked the direction things were going in a loss, the same way he didn’t like where they were going in some previous wins.
But when he turns his focus to his tenders….woosh. These are some daggers he fires in the post-game press conference. Watch, then I’ll do my best to translate the message he’s sending his goalies using my undergrad degree in Complete Speculation.
(As a random aside: I think it’s bizarre that a coach will act like another team gives a damn which not-very-good goaltender they play. Like Ken Hitchcock would “game plan” differently for Ben Scrivens or Jonas Gustavsson? That’s just coaches trying to make people think their job is harder than it is.)
Let’s take a look at the three most important quotes:
“We need to support our goalies if they’re having a rough time, and play better defensively, but sometimes that’s hard to do if you don’t give up any chances and a puck’s in our net and it’s not a scoring chance.”
“Their goalie made a number of big saves and unfortunately we couldn’t get a save.”
And in response to a reporter’s question “How do you move ahead when both guys are kinda fighting it?”
“Well, they’ve gotta work hard in practice, that’s their responsibility, to, sit there with Frankie, go over the games. At least we go on the road….maybe they can relax a little bit, not worry about what’s gonna happen if they make a mistake.”
In my mind, that last one is the most important quote.
When teams are dealing with prospects, players they’re trying to work into legitimate NHLers, they treat them differently and give them every conceivable break. Those players get helped and coddled and defended until eventually (after a PROLONGED period of minimal-to-no results) the coach starts to give up and go ”they’ve gotta work hard in practice, that’s their responsibility.”
As a player trying to read between the lines of Wilson’s comments, I hear:
“This is the NHL. If you don’t get it done – and believe me, it’s on you - we’ll find someone who will. There’s nothing I can do to save you at this point. You simply have to play better, or you’ll be packing your bags. The moment we decide to give up on you isn’t far away.
Your responsibility. It’s the verbal version of a face slap and smelling salts. Now or never.
Before you’d see a bad thing happen to a teammate or yourself (scratched, traded or cut), you’d see the coach direct his attention at that person with a comment or two in the days leading up to it. The comments will be wrapped in coach-speak, but they’re always some version of this wake-up call. You’re on notice.
For the goalies in Toronto, it is now or never. If we see another couple off-nights from either of these two, changes will be made. They got off to too good a start to piss away points while waiting on Reimer’s return.