Archive for the ‘Insight’ Category

Scotty Bowman

My junior hockey career started out a little rough. I signed a card with the Vernon Vipers, and I immediately struggled to adapt. Our coach Mike Vandekamp, to me anyway, seemed like a crazy person. In retrospect I’m eternally grateful for the player he made out of me, but at the time, I thought there was a pretty real chance he might tomahawk me in practice.

I’ve still never asked him about the night he called me into his office to send me down to junior B, listened to my counterarguments, let me call my parents to make plans (quit and college? More Jungle B hockey?), then grabbed me before I walked out the door to say the staff had changed their mind. I’m pretty sure I was being emotionally manipulated.

This sort of thing went on over the course of two years, albeit at less preposterous levels, until Vandekamp, the Vipers and I had been to two BCHL finals (winning one), I had a college scholarship, and we were more or less buddies.

Some people need a pat on the back, others a kick in the ass. If you don’t think coaches intentionally keep players on “Holy hell I need to be at my best tonight” eggshells with their words and actions daily, you’re naivé. It’s why I’ve mentioned comments in the past from Mike Babcock to the media about certain Red Wings players – these are usually calculated comments, as he’s speaking to his players indirectly. 95% of players who say they don’t read what the media is writing about them are full of it. They watch SportsCentre every night, just like everyone else.

Here’s what Ken Dryden wrote in The Game about how Scotty Bowman handled his Montreal Canadiens roster. This followed a blurb on Guy Lafleur and his unwavering ability to self-motivate… Read the rest of this entry »

Toews Versteeg

Blackhawks fans watched Brooks Orpik steamroll their captain on Sunday night, likely the hardest hit he’s taken in his NHL career save for the Willie Mitchell massacre, and come up wounded. They had to have panicked with playoffs on the horizon. I know I immediately tweeted something to the affect of “Welp, bet losing Toews throws a wrench into the Blackhawks playoff hopes” (or something with a similar message). It didn’t look promising.

Well, the good news is Orpik apparently didn’t turn Toews’ shoulder into ground chuck, and he’s going to be back for playoffs “at 100%.”

What that confident statement from coach Joel Quenneville says to me is that the Blackhawks are in a unique situation for a hockey team: they know exactly who they’re going to play in the first round despite there still being a half-dozen games and two weeks to go in their season, so there’s no need to rush anyone back. I’m willing to bet they aren’t that passionate about beating themselves up down the stretch to earn home ice. A healthy team on the road is better than a damaged one at home.

So the Hawks wisely want to maximize his rest time before heading into the same field of battle they’ve conquered twice in the last four years, and rightfully so. They know the physical sacrifice it takes. But for Toews, and quite possibly his also-wounded partner-in-crime Patrick Kane, that first game might not be easy, especially since they’ll likely be opening up in a fired-up building in Denver, Colorado. Those fans haven’t seen a playoff game since 2009-10, and that young Avs team is going to come out like gangbusters. Read the rest of this entry »

Ducks win

“Score effects” has become the blanket term for a concept we’re all familiar with in sports: when one team jumps out to a big lead, they often “sit back” while the other team takes it to them, and the momentum appears to shift.

It’s not uncommon to see teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs push back late after a rough start, get close to making a comeback, than say things after the game like “We just need to play like we did at the end of the game for 60 minutes,” because they’re somehow oblivious to the fact that they didn’t get better, the game got easier for them. (You’ll hear the same from teams that run out to a great start then falter – gotta play the full 60.)

Take last night’s Winnipeg Jets/Anaheim Ducks game last night. Here are the shots from a game in which the Jets led 4-0 and managed to lose 5-4 in overtime:



What we think we see is hockey’s version of the “prevent” defense, where you let a team bite off huge chunks of yardage to avoid the one big play. But it’s different than that.
Read the rest of this entry »

Players only

There was an interesting article from Pittsburgh Penguins’ beat writer Rob Rossi yesterday, in which he alluded to the Penguins having a “players-only” meeting after the team’s most recent loss to the Phoenix Coyotes. The Pens can apparently feel things sliding in the wrong direction.

From TribLive:

Rob Scuderi said the Penguins lack “passion.”

Matt Niskanen said they are short on “pride.”

Brooks Orpik said some words will remain part of his private address to teammates after the Penguins lost 3-2 to the Phoenix Coyotes on Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center.

The Penguins are troubled, and with only 10 games remaining before the Stanley Cup playoffs, there is a sense that a once-inspiring season is headed for another early postseason exit.

And so, the players meeting. That’s where words like passion and pride are bandied about.

In my experience there are two types of “players only” meetings. You have them because when the head coach is talking, everybody is just listening. It’s not a two-way conversation. You’re being told things by the general, and you are the subordinate, whether you’re older than him or not.

That leads to a lot of discontent, particularly if the players don’t care for the coach, so sometimes it’s good to air out the issues. Only…there’s a right time, and a relatively pointless time. Read the rest of this entry »

Jonathan Toews

For whatever reason, it’s basically sacrilege to imply that a professional hockey player didn’t try as hard as he possibly could’ve on a play. There’s this weird perception of nobility around players of the game, like every guy made The Show on the heels of hard work and good ‘ol fashioned “want.”

Well, no, some athletes are just more talented than others, and they make the NHL without killing themselves at every opportunity.

If you can believe that (and you should, because you’re a reasonable person), then you can believe that teams, as a whole, are not going as hard as they possibly can every single night.

It’s not that they aren’t “trying” per se, but instead it’s mentally tough to make yourself work your hardest at every moment at anything. So when there’s mental lapses – say, a Tuesday night in Florida where you can’t stop staring at shiny things in the stands – teams aren’t always pressing as hard as they possibly could.

The best part about being on a great team is that you don’t have to have your best stuff every night to win. If you heavily out-talent your opponents it’s possible to have the majority of your guys in neutral, then have Evgeni Malkin (or some other offensive star) do something otherworldly, and still leave with your two points. This is what separates the teams that contend for the President’s Trophy from the pack below – they often win when they’re comparably bad and even when they’re occasionally lazy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Buffalo Sabres

Yesterday Bob McKenzie tweeted out some news about the Buffalo Sabres – it looks like they’re going to give interim coach Ted Nolan three more seasons.

While I can’t claim to have a vast reservoir of experience under Ted Nolan, I think I can offer a little more insight into the type of coach he is than most, thanks to 10 FULL DAYS (wowee!) at Islanders camp before I got the boot. I don’t have hands-on experience with what sort of in-game systematic adjustments he makes, but I did know a good amount of Islanders players well enough to get some second hand information.

Armed with that knowledge, and with all due respect, I think they better surround him with some good assistant coaching. Read the rest of this entry »

goalie run

On Saturday night Minnesota Wild rookie Erik Haula took the puck wide past backchecking forward Cody Eakin, stuck his leg out and drove hard to the net. If you’re Haula’s coach, you consider that an encouraging, aggressive move that you like to see from a young player. The problem was, at some point his feet got tangled with Eakin’s, he got stuck in the train tracks, and smashed Kari Lehtonen back into his own net. Lehtonen’s head hit the crossbar after his helmet popped off, and it sounds like he sustained a concussion. There was no supplemental discipline for Haula on the play.

So, could he have avoided the play? Do guys actually try to run goalies? Are they instructed to?

Stars coach Lindy Ruff certainly thought it was a bad play:

“He hit the crossbar hard and all likelihood is, it’s a concussion on just a dirt play.  He should be suspended.  A fourth-liner kicks out our goaltender.”

And, the players on the Stars reacted like Haula meant to, jumping immediately on his back.

My thinking on that particular play is that he probably found himself on a collision course with the opposing goalie, and while he could’ve bailed entirely, figured he’d keep pushing for the goal knowing it might come at the “cost” of hitting the man in the crease. His certainly wasn’t the most egregious “uh-oh I might have put myself in a situation that involves hitting the goalie oopsie” play we’ve seen in recent years (he does seem legitimately tied up), but I still think he knows the play he’s in the midst of making may end poorly for Lehtonen, he’s just doesn’t care because his priority is trying to score. Read the rest of this entry »