The title of this post should really be “How desperate coaches huck s*** at the wall and hope something sticks.” I’ll explain.
When it comes to managing your forwards during a game, here’s a rough look at how the ideal game goes:
* The top couple lines show they have legs early, create some chances, hopefully score.
* The third line is swarming, playing responsible, being hard to play and staying out of the d-zone.
* The fourth line is banging, forechecking hard and making life miserable for your opponents.
* The team gets a lead and is able to roll four lines so nobody gets overextended, everyone is rested when their center’s name is called (which is how a line knows they’re up).
* The game is out of hand early and the usage of skill players goes into decline, and the clock, she goes tick tick tick down to zero.
What you may know from your experience as a hockey fan is that things don’t always work out this way. Okay, they almost never do.
Instead, there were two penalties called early, your third line PK specialists are wiped off the bat, and your top lines are basically cold seven minutes into the period. Your fourth liners are disconnecting from the game. You’re behind two goals and one of your forwards is hurt, so now you’re running three centers through four wing pairs, only one of your other centers is in the box and you don’t trust your fourth line wingers to not give up another one, so…I dunno, you, you and you, you’re up.
Who’s playing left? We’re all left wingers.
Alright, I guess?
You get the idea – the best laid schemes of mice and men, and all that.
As much as you’d like to believe your favourite team is crazy deep, they probably rely on goal scoring from a relatively small number of forwards night in, night out. Maybe it’s seven guys a coach is hoping for contributions from, but the group they truly lean on is smaller than that. So when a few of those guys aren’t going (I love “going” as a hockey team. “Boy howdy Gord’s sure goin’ tonight, eh?“…you’re pretty boned.
Coaches often manage the bench based on who’s got jump in the early going, and when you don’t play a lot – I’m looking at you, bottom six guys – you’ve almost always got fresh legs, or at least the desire to show you do (top liners have to lose ice-time privileges, bottom liners have to earn them, and they use the first period as a game-by-game audition).
And so, inevitably come the nights where your team just seems hopelessly defeated. Lifeless, listless, dead. The team may only be down a couple goals, but when your big guns are dragging it can seem futile to chuck them over the boards to skate aimlessly for 40 seconds before returning for more Gatorade. In fact….in fact, y’know what, I’d be better off using the guys who seem to have it today. At least they *want* it.
When low minute forwards suddenly start getting rolled over the boards with regularity, they know why–it’s time to change the momentum. That doesn’t mean fight, that means seize this chance young stallion! Hustle! Light the pilot light for the boys so it can become a FI-YAH! (My junior coach used to say in these situations “F**k, fight or hold the light. At least do something.” I liked that. …He also used to say “Talk is cheap and whiskey costs money,” but I’m still not exactly sure what that one means.)
And away they go: hit, hit, dump, hit, bang, shoot, crash, dig and on and on and on. Coaches love to see that, even if we lose, we’re not going out with a whimper.
You need to understand: most, if not all of these guys want to be hockey players. They don’t want to be sideshows, they want to score goals. They’d love to see regular minutes – in reality, most of them probably fantasize about being Milan Lucic. Feared by opponents, revered by teammates, respected by all (maybe not all fans, but you get the point).
So when they start seeing more minutes, they’re going 100 miles an hour, they’re playing borderline out of control, they’re playing just how their coach was hoping they would. They’re Alaskan sled-dogs at the start of the Iditarod. You can’t rein them in.
These guys see more minutes when their teams are down two or three not necessarily because their coach has them out their to fight, but because the guys he was using in the game’s early going weren’t getting the job done, and damned if I’m paid to watch games slip away without trying something different. S***, meet wall.
When the ship is sinking coaches are willing to throw everything over(the)board(s) to try to bail the boat out.
So after that long walk, the point I’m getting at: I think John Scott’s hit on Loui Eriksson was brutal, dumb, injurious and all those other things. Inexcusable. But I don’t think his coach is at fault for using him in a game where they find themselves down two, as guys like Mike Milbury and Steve Simmons do. Suggesting Ron Rolston should be fired for using a guy his GM provided him is bonkers.
The Sabres are probably better off with a listless (insert any other Sabre here) than Scott when trailing, but desperate coaches do desperate coach things, including giving John Scott ice time in actual National Hockey League games. Tough guys get ice time when games start to slip from grasp. It happens. Ron Rolston isn’t the only coach who’d have played him in that scenario – decisions like that happen every night in the NHL.