Posted: March 31, 2009 in NHL, Oilers

hockey-accidentAs a busy guy, I watch what I can, when I can.  I watched the first two periods of the Minnesota game.  You can give individual player grades, where you have some guys going and some guys not.  You can count chances here and there.

There is something that you can’t measure.  Passion.  This team has no passion.

There are a lot of people that suggest that these are millionaire hockey players that are getting paid to do their jobs, and they should be self motivated and committed to doing their job.  MacTavish also seems like a coach that doesn’t use his powers of persuasion to invoke a sense of urgency on a team with more than enough talent to make the playoffs.  So, maybe the coach shouldn’t have to motivate his players, but if he has to, then he has to.

Well, here are some examples of guys that might help get the job done.  (Well, you might need a time machine.)

1.  Scotty Bowman.

“I was in St. Louis and had given the guys a curfew,” Bowman said recently, going back to the beginning of his NHL coaching career, in the late ’60s. “I didn’t do a bed check or anything, and I had guys that tramped a lot. So once I gave the bellman at the hotel we were at $10 and a hockey stick. He stood in the lobby, and when the players rolled in at one, two in the morning, he had the guys sign the stick. Every guy who cut curfew, his name was on that stick in his own handwriting. I just walked into the room the next day and held it out. ‘Look what I’ve got.”

2. Herb Brooks.

“When it came to hockey, he was ahead of his time,” Ken Morrow said. “All of his teams overachieved because Herbie understood how to get the best out of each player and make him part of a team. And like everyone who played for him, I became a better person because I played for Herb Brooks.”

3. Badger Bob Johnson.

I remember it like it was yesterday. It was the second game of an important two-game series against Herb Brooks’ Minnesota Golden Gophers at the old Williams Arena on the UM campus during the 1978-79 season. The game was tied going into the third period and both teams were still in their respective locker rooms in the bowels of Williams Arena – each refusing to take the ice first before the start of the third period. The bitter rivalry between Brooks and Johnson was legend and often manifested itself in ways beyond simple gamesmanship in order to establish even the slightest of edges.

Suddenly, there was a loud pounding on our locker room door, and I when I opened it, there stood referee Medo Martinello, hands on hips, and barking this command to the visiting coach: “Let’s go Bob – take the ice.” Johnson grunted and nervously ran his hand over his face from top to bottom as he often would when out on the spot.

“Just one minute, Medo,” said Johnson as he closed the door.

Frustrated, Johnson moved to address his players one more time before acquiescing to the demands of the WCHA officiating staff to take the ice before Minnesota. But just before he did, I reminded him of a conversation we had earlier in the week over breakfast at Mickey’s in Madison.

“Clockwise,” I said. “Let’s take the ice first, but let’s skate clockwise around the rink instead of counter-clockwise.”

Earlier in the week at Mickey’s we had talked about the phenomenon of all skaters’ insistence of skating counter-clockwise and never clockwise around the rink – even at public skating. Johnson dismissed all of the conventional theories and just intuitively knew there was something more to it than simply being right-handed or left-handed. So my assignment for the week was to find out why 100 percent of all skaters prefer to skate in a counter-clockwise direction.

This was a prime example of Johnson’s deep need to know about every aspect of his passion. And sure enough after speaking with several physics professors at the UW as well as a good friend and former U.S. Pairs coach Pieter Kollen in Colorado Springs it became clear that Johnson was right. It was the gravitational pull of the earth that caused skaters to skate, hurricanes to swirl, and toilets to flush in a counter-clockwise direction north of the equator and the opposite direction south of the equator.

Without even responding to me, Johnson moved to the middle of the locker room and said: “Each of you knows what you have to do to win this game. Now let’s go out there and do it.”

With that, the team collectively jumped to its feet and headed for the door. But before starting goalie Roy Schultz could lead the Badger team out, Johnson quickly pulled him aside and told him to lead the Badgers around the rink “clockwise.” Schultz was a simple farm boy from Regina, Saskatchewan who followed Johnson’s instructions without question and lead the Badgers out onto the Williams Arena ice in a clockwise direction without really understanding why.

A few moments later, the Gophers started to make their way to the ice all puffed up for the third period, then suddenly as a group, slowed to a stand-still and stared out onto the ice confused at what they saw. It was amazing to watch as the Gophers reluctantly and uncomfortably took the ice to start the third period.

The Badgers ultimately won the game but who is to say for certain whether or not taking the ice clockwise had anything to do with it or not. Afterall, Brooks ultimately led that Gopher team to the NCAA Championship later that year.

4. Al Arbour.

One day the Islanders showed up at a practice facility to find that an egg had been placed in each of their lockers.”What Al told the players was, ‘If you carried that egg with you last night when you played, you wouldn’t have broken it because not one of you touched a soul,” Torrey recalled.

Torrey recalls that Arbour was always “fussing and fuming” about losses, but the next day he would come in smiling because he would have a plan.

He remembers the Islanders had played poorly on the road in Los Angeles and Arbour had essentially said that his team had “gone to the dogs.” He said they had played like dogs.

The next day they flew to Vancouver and Arbour asked Torrey to go for a walk as he sorted out what was going wrong. On their journey, they stopped at a general store, and Arbour spied a bag of dog biscuits sitting on the counter. He bought them.

“I said Al if you’re hungry we can go have lunch with the players,” Torrey said, laughing at the memory. “But he had a plan.”

Arbour went to the dining area where players were having lunch and he told the waiters to put a plate of biscuits on each table instead of dessert. Arbour and Torrey waited around the corner to monitor the reaction.

“And I remember Al peeked around the corner, and he turned back laughing, ‘can you believe that Stefan Persson just ate one,’” Torrey recalls.  Then Arbour and Torrey heard all of the players barking like dogs, and Arbour knew that he had made his point and had a good laugh at the same time.

5. Toe Blake.

The mastermind behind the on-ice exploits of the likes of “The Rocket”, Jean Beliveau, Doug Harvey, Bernard Geoffrion and Jacques Plante, Blake always knew which buttons to push. Wearing his trademark fedora wherever he went, he had a knack for keeping his talented group of superstars and future Hall of Famers focused and hungry year in, year out. While they could easily have become complacent, Blake’s Canadiens were instead the most driven and determined team in the NHL.

Now ask yourself if you feel the same way about our coach.  Is he a good NHL coach?  Well he isn’t Mario Tremblay.  But he isn’t good enough to get this team into the playoffs (Well, as of this moment.)  and that will be five misses, two first round losses, and one fortuitous finals appearance in eight seasons.  Wouldn’t a good coach do more with less?

He seems like a decent fellow, and a player’s coach (Unless you have lots of skill.) overall.  But if game 82 shows up and people aren’t shelling out sheckles for playoff ducats, then the Silver Fox has to bow out.  Period.

  1. Traktor says:

    Awesome post.

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