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My interview with Jonathan Cheechoo posted on The Score’s Backhand Shelf blog on November 28, 2013. Cheechoo was right in the middle of his first season abroad, playing in Croatia for the KHL’s Medvescak Zagreb. Cheechoo was named an assistant captain of the first year team, made the all-star game, and finished 16th in league scoring. Despite a solid season, Zagreb was swept in the first round by Lev Praha.
Cheechoo has signed with the KHL’s Belarus based Dinamo Minsk HC for the 2014-15 season.
Posted by Dave Cunning under Interviews on Nov 28, 2013
Jonathan Cheechoo hasn’t exactly been making headlines over the last few years, but that isn’t because he hasn’t been around. After his award winning 56 goal season in 2005-06 with the San Jose Sharks, Cheechoo’s point production steadily headed south, along with his health – to the point where he was bought out of his last NHL contract, and relegated to the minors. After spending the last four seasons with four different AHL clubs, Cheechoo has resurfaced with Medveščak Zagreb of Croatia in the KHL — the league that many consider to be the NHL’s top rival. At the moment, he looks like the Jonathan Cheechoo of old on the scoresheet — leading his team in points, and even wearing the captain’s “C” on his jersey.
Cheechoo graciously spoke with me recently about his KHL experience, the league’s reputation, his battle with injuries, playing with Joe Thornton, his thoughts on returning to the NHL, and a whole lot more.
First off, Barry Brust was nice enough to put this interview together, how has Barry been as a goalie for you guys so far? He broke Johnny Bower’s 55 year old AHL shutout streak last season with the Abbotsford Heat, and has nine wins and three shutouts for you guys as of now this season.
Cheechoo: “He’s been great. He’s stepped in and made some big saves, and kept us on our longest winning streak of the season. He’s definitely a bit of an unorthodox goalie as far as the way goalies go today, but he gets the job done. He’s pretty solid. He competes hard. That’s one thing you don’t see in some goalies – some goalies are technically sound but you don’t really see a compete level in them. They’ll say ‘I was in the right spot, and if you beat me, you beat me’, whereas he’s passionate about making saves. You don’t see that a lot.”
Why did you choose Medveščak Zagreb in Croatia over others, say HV71 in Sweden who you played for in 04-05 during the NHL lockout, or any of the other teams and countries you could have had your pick of with your background?
Cheechoo: “For me it was just opportunity. We’d been on holidays in Croatia about four or five years ago and really enjoyed it. For me, the last three years or so I was trying to get back into the NHL and in those spots I really didn’t have my family around all that much. So, for me it was important to pick a spot where I could have them with me, we could enjoy it together, and I was still able to play at a top level against top competition.”
How is the KHL? Obviously it’s a good place if people like Ilya Kovalchuk are willing to leave huge NHL contracts to play there, but there are also some stories of teams not paying players, and obviously the facilities and materials can at times be questionable looking at the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl airplane incident – how has your experience been with your team? What have you seen or heard as far as horror stories from other guys in the league? Is any of it true, or is it all just made up?
Cheechoo: “I think obviously some of the things in the stories must have happened in the past. But since I’ve been here, the word I’ve got is that the KHL hires an insurance firm so that if you’re not paid after a certain amount of time by your team, they pay the salary out of the KHL insurance that they have on the contracts. Nowadays I’m not sure how true not being paid is, but I can only speak for this team. I’ve only been on this team and guys I’ve talked to, for the most part, everyone’s been paid. I think there are a few stories like that though. For us here playing in Zagreb, we fly on Croatian Airlines, so we rent the actual planes that fly everyone around out of Croatia anyway, so that’s pretty much as safe as you’re going to get. Things maybe will happen that are out of your control. I can’t really speak for the Russian teams; some things may be different over their way. But I’ve heard of guys that have their own private jets and stuff like that to fly them around, so kind of on par with an NHL team in that regard.”
So when the opportunity arose for you to sign with Zagreb, were any of those stories in the back of your mind, or did you think that as a new team that was probably set up pretty well financially, it was a low-risk situation to join them?
Cheechoo: “For me, I’d heard rumblings about the past, but I talked to a few guys. I talked to Aaron Fox, the GM here, and was pretty much assured that was all in the past. The KHL’s looking to make a good name for themselves here with the team as well, so to get players, you can’t fall behind in payments or anything like that and I think they knew that and that was a pretty big reassurance to hear that, coming from them. Anytime you go somewhere new it’s a leap of faith too. For us, we felt it was time to move on and try something new, and I still wanted to play at the highest level I could. For me, I saw the KHL as being where you’ve got a lot of guys that could be playing in the NHL playing in this league. I figured this was the next best league, outside of that.”
Is the KHL an even level to the NHL these days, or is it still a step back? Obviously there is a lot of talent there, but where do you see the league right now, comparatively?
Cheechoo: “It’s a pretty solid, competitive league. Everyone has a chance to win every night. Over here, you see a lot of games where top teams are getting upset by the weaker teams. That’s the key to a good league, whereas some of the lesser leagues you know that there’s this team coming in that you can beat no problem. It’s almost like a point night. Even in the AHL you’ll be playing a young team and it’s pretty much like you should beat them. Whereas over here, there’s maybe one team every year that doesn’t do so well. But for the most part, every team’s in every game, they’re tight games, occasionally you’ll get the blowouts, but for the most part there’s two good teams playing each other.”
What about just life in Croatia and Russia, is it a challenge with culture shock or the language barrier for you and your family? Have you picked up the language?
Cheechoo: “I picked up a bit of Croatian, not a lot. I’ve got the key words down, but other than that I think my son’s picking it up faster than I am. But it’s been great. I’ve enjoyed it. We’re pretty adventurous as a family, and this is a thing where we looked at it and said, ‘we can have fun over there, there’s a lot of stuff to see and do’. My wife’s taking advantage while we’re on road trips, going around travelling a little bit and we’ve travelled a little when we’ve had breaks. It’s not too far off. For me, the hardest part about moving here was probably learning to drive stick. I hadn’t done that in about ten years, so re-learning to drive stick was probably the hardest part. Pretty much everybody speaks English or can somehow communicate with you, through sign language and stuff, because they get enough tourists here I guess.”
Do a lot of people in that country know who you are from your NHL career and what you did there, or do you have some anonymity in that part of the world?
Cheechoo: “A lot of people know who I am. I got a lot of press when I signed and before I came over here. They’re pretty knowledgeable fans too and they’re pretty hard supporters. Coming over here, the one thing they told me was to be prepared, everyone is going to know who you are and everything you do. It’s not that big of a deal, everyone’s pretty respectful, and they let you go about your business. You may get a few kids asking for autographs but that’s something you should enjoy.”
You’re currently first in team goals, third in team scoring, top 40 in league scoring…have you had to make any adjustments to your game to be successful over there? Do you feel pressure to put up big numbers as an import with an NHL and award winning background?
Cheechoo: “I’ve felt great. I put in a good summer of work before I came over here, and then we had quite a long training camp to get ready, so coming into the season I felt strong, felt ready, and I was healthy, which has been half the battle for the last six or seven years of just trying to stay healthy. So far, so good. In terms of pressure, I probably put more pressure on myself to score – because I love to score – than anyone could possibly put on me. It’s one of those things that I take pride in, being able to score. Coming over here, the main adjustment was just the big ice, getting used to it, and its different angles. You go to take a shot from what would be the slot, and it’s a little farther out than what it would normally be. It’s just compiling those things, and getting used to them. I figure I have. I feel a lot better playing on the big ice now. At home, we have small ice anyway, so that’s the challenge – adjusting back and forth.
Speaking of scoring, and to turn back the clock a little, in 05-06 you won the Maurice Richard Trophy as the NHL’s leading goal scorer with 56 goals, lead the NHL in game winning goals with 11, and set franchise records for the San Jose Sharks – most goals in a season (56), power play goals in a season (24), and hat tricks in a season (5). Most reports assume that you were simply the benefactor of Joe Thornton that year. Do you agree with that notion, or do you feel like that is a slight to you and what your talent allowed you to accomplish that year?
Cheechoo: “It’s alright, I don’t mind. Joe is a talented player. He was great to play with. I think the thing that made us play so well together was that I love to score and shoot, and he’s a think first pass player. He always comes in and he’s thinking pass before he thinks shoot. Then if his passing options aren’t open, he’ll shoot and he’s still a threat, so it keeps the goalie honest. That helps open up a little more time and space, and the goalie has to respect him a little more. He got like 20 goals a year as well, he wasn’t just a passer. Playing with him was pretty amazing, but he’s played with a lot of great scorers. I think I got the most goals out of anyone that’s played with him, so I did do a little bit of the work myself.”
Have you found anyone since then that you’ve clicked with on the level that you did with Joe? Your numbers did start to decline after the 05-06 season; by 09-10, your production was cut to 14 points with Ottawa and you were bought out of your contract. In your opinion, how did that happen? Do you mostly attribute it to injuries?
Cheechoo: “I think injuries played a big part in it. That was the only year I played in all the games. The injuries took their toll on me and my body. I hurt my knees – my MCL’s three times each – and after a while, it takes a toll on you. All the injuries add up and slow you down a little bit, but I felt I regrouped well in the minors and started to feel strong again. Down there, I don’t think I really played with anybody that had quite the passing ability of guys that I played with in the past. Playing a little bit with Patrick O’Sullivan, we clicked well together when we were in Peoria, but other than that I never really played with a pure passer since then. But now over here, it seems like I’m playing on a good line — me and Matt Murley have clicked quite a bit, and Billy Thomas. Those two guys are pretty good players that look to pass the puck, so it’s been fun being the shooter-type guy on the line again.”
When you were playing in the minors, did you think about making it back to the NHL someday? Do you aim for or envision an NHL return in the future, or are you content with where you are in the KHL?
Cheechoo: “To get back to the NHL would be the ultimate thing. That’s the top league in the world. But for me, I work hard when I’m down. I love playing hockey. I’m not going to cheat the game. I always play hard, wherever I am. I play to win. If I can get another shot at it, then I can get another shot at it. If not, I’m going to work my hardest for whatever team I’m playing on, and try to win. I love winning, and it sucks to lose. Being able to be part of a team and playing is a big thing for me, but I want to be able to produce at the same time. I want to bring my best game out. I think the only way I can really help the team is if I’m out there giving my all.”
Do any of those old injuries affect you today, or are you totally healthy nowadays?
Cheechoo: “Everything’s good. I felt good when I went down to Oklahoma City last year. I hurt my back two years ago and I missed some games, but last year I sat out half the year and I think it helped heal pretty much everything. When I came back the second half of the season in Oklahoma City, I felt healthy and put up some good numbers. Over here I’ve been healthy and playing well. On a four game road trip I felt best on the fourth game, so I think I’m feeling healthy right now.”
What are the big differences in the culture and atmosphere of the KHL in the dressing room, arena, in the stands, amongst the team? What makes that experience special and so much different than North America?
Cheechoo: “They have a real passion for the game, is one thing. You don’t get a lot of people that just happen upon the game. They’re real supporters of the team. There aren’t a lot of huge arenas, there are smaller arenas, and there are people that really come out to support the team that have done it for years. It’s pretty amazing. You’re a lot closer to the fan base. You walk in with them, you walk out with them, there’s less separation between the players and fans, so it’s kind of cool in that way. You’re playing for them, and they’re out there rooting for you, so it’s quite a thing to be a part of.”
What has been your favorite moment of the experience so far? You scored the first KHL goal in Zagreb history – does that or something else stand out as a big moment for you?
Cheechoo: “I think we were viewed as pretty big underdogs coming in here, no one really thought we’d do anything, so to come out with a big statement win right away, and to get that first goal was pretty special, and something a lot of these fans will remember, and something that made them excited to be part of the KHL. Getting that first goal was probably the biggest moment so far.”
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This interview with Wade Redden posted to The Score’s Backhand Shelf blog on January 23, 2013. Redden was just about to return to the NHL after being bought out by the New York Rangers and signed by the St. Louis Blues. The move essentially rescued him from AHL purgatory, where he seemed to have been banished to. Redden went on to play 23 games (including tallying his 1,000th NHL game) for the Blues and recorded 5 points, before being dealt to the Boston Bruins the same season for a conditional 7th round draft pick in 2014. The Beantown stop reunited Redden with his old Ottawa (and some say best) defense partner, Zdeno Chara. It was almost a storybook ending for Redden, as the Bruins advanced to the Stanley Cup final, but were bested by the Chicago Blackhawks, who spoiled his chance to have his name engraved on hockey’s richest prize.
Redden did not sign an NHL contract with any club the following season, and announced his retirement in January of 2014.
Posted by Dave Cunning under Interviews on Jan 23, 2013
Many NHL pundits and fans assumed they had seen the last of Wade Redden in the NHL, after the New York Rangers swept his $6.5 million cap hit under the rug by reassigning him to their AHL affiliate Connecticut Whale from 2010 to 2012.
But those critics were proved wrong after the Rangers cashed in one of their freshly CBA-approved accelerated compliance buyouts earlier this month, and used it to sever ties with Redden and the remaining two seasons of his six year deal with them. It posted him as an available, unrestricted free agent – something that the St. Louis Blues were quick to capitalize on the day after Redden hit the market.
The 35 year old veteran of 13 NHL seasons signed a one year deal with the Blues on January 20th for $800,000 plus another $200K in performance bonuses. That’s $4 million less than what he would have made with New York this year; though he will still earn a pro-rated $3.341 million for 2012-13, and just a little less than that for 2013-14 from the Rangers.
Redden passed a physical, dealt with immigration, and suddenly found himself to be an NHL player once again faster than you can say John Tortorella.
Redden has been skating with St. Louis in the interim, and accompanied them on their recent road trip through Nashville and Chicago. He is slated to resume NHL blue line patrol as early as Thursday, when the Blues take on the Predators at home.
In the meantime, Redden took a few minutes out to chat with me. Here’s what he had to say on his new contract, his time with the Rangers, and everything in between.
So you’ve passed your physical and signed your contract, how does it feel to officially be a member of the St. Louis Blues?
Redden: “It’s great. It’s a very exciting time. Last week was a whirlwind. It all happened pretty quick. But I’ve been here for a few days now, and have got to be around everyone and get on the ice with the whole team. I haven’t been on the ice with a group like this for a while. It’s great. I felt good out there. I’ve was on with the [Kelowna] Rockets before, and obviously they’re a great team and all that, but it’s great to get on the ice with this group of guys. We’ve got a great team here with a lot of great young guys. I’m excited to get rolling, and about the chance I have here.”
You hadn’t been playing for anyone else this year until now, but as you mentioned, you were skating with the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets just prior to coming to St. Louis; what else did you do to keep in shape during the lockout? Do you think what you did was enough to keep you playing at the NHL pace, especially since you’ve been removed from NHL action for two seasons?
Redden: “Yeah, definitely it was. There was a group of NHL guys through the whole lockout inKelowna that I skated with. We pushed ourselves pretty good. We kept busy, kept on the ice, and kept training. Obviously it’s a bit of an adjustment anytime you are away for that long, but I’ll get worked back into it pretty quick here, and I should be good to go.”
You’ll be playing under Ken Hitchcock, a Jack Adams Trophy and Stanley Cup winning coach, on a team that many feel is poised to win their first ever Stanley Cup – what are your thoughts on being a part of such a strongly positioned team upon your NHL return?
Redden: “It’s very exciting. The organization here has built a great team. The young guys here have been around a while, and they’re just starting to come into their own and find out what kind of team they are – and they’re a good team. I’m going to try to mix in and add what I can bring, and help the team to do as good as it can.”
You’re one of the oldest guys on this roster – what kind of role do you feel you have as a veteran on this team?
Redden: “I’ve got experience, and I’ve played a lot of games, but I think they just want me to come and play the way I usually play – try to be steady and make good plays. We’ve got a lot of talent up front, and to just try to get the puck to them and let them create things like they can. Just try to be solid, play a good all-around game, and help the team win that way. That’s what they’re expecting from me.”
A lot of people may have thought or assumed that they wouldn’t see Wade Redden in the NHL again after you were reassigned to Connecticut from 2010-12; did you think you would get another chance in the NHL while you were down there?
Redden: “I always felt that I went down there with a purpose. I obviously wasn’t happy about the demotion or getting sent there. And I played in this league for a long time, so I knew I could play. Obviously there were different circumstances that affected my reason for being there. I went down there, worked hard, played hard, tried to be a good teammate, and did all the things I usually do. I always felt like if I did those things, it’d be my best chance to get back. I’m happy and fortunate to have found another chance.”
Did you ever consider retiring while you were playing in the AHL? You’ve played in 994 games in 13 NHL seasons, tallied 450 points thus far, played for Canada 7 times – a very respectable career, and very respectable statistics to leave on. If you didn’t, why did you decide to keep at it?
Redden: “Yeah, I’ve played in a lot of games, but I didn’t feel good about finishing that way, that’s for sure. My time inNew York wasn’t great. I knew I could do better, and I wanted to prove that, not only to myself, but to other people too. I don’t want to rest on what I’ve done thus far. I think there are still good things to happen. I want to keep having fun, keep playing, and you never know – a lot of good things are available if you keep going. You never know what’s going to happen.”
In your opinion, what went wrong in New York? You were so successful in your early years with Ottawa, but you just didn’t seem to gel with the Rangers.
Redden: “I went in there on a big contract. I think maybe making that money there and being the player I am… I felt like the first little while, things were going pretty good, and then they kind of fell off. I felt like I wasn’t doing enough, and like I should have been doing more. Once I started feeling that way, I think I just got away from the things that made me successful. Things just kind of snowballed from there. It wasn’t a good fit from early on, and they made a decision to make changes. I lived with that. It wasn’t a good fit, things didn’t work out, and I’ve moved on. I’m done there now, and am happy to have moved on.”
Sean Avery was in a comparable situation playing in Connecticut after being sent down from the Rangers while you were there; did you ever have any discussions with him about the similar scenarios you found yourselves in?
Redden: “Not really, no. We were both there – kind of buried down there – but our situations were a little different. We never really got into it too much. We were both just trying to make the most of it.”
Do you feel like you have something to prove this year in the NHL? Perhaps to prove the New York Rangers wrong for what they did with you, or something else – or do you just look at this season like business as usual?
Redden: “Yeah, I’m excited. Life goes on. Everyone’s focused on what they’ve got to do. I’ve just got to do what I do best. Yeah, I’ve got pride and I want to do well. But at the same time I’ve got to stay within myself and play the way I can play, do what I can do, and everything will work out just fine.”
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This interview with Logan Couture posted on The Score’s Backhand Shelf blog on December 19th, 2012, amidst the NHL’s most recent work stoppage. He was clearly ready to get back to work.
Couture went on to lead the Sharks in goals (21), game winning goals (5), power play goals (7), and a couple other categories in 2012-13, as well as sign a 5 year/$30 million contract extension with the Sharks. 2013-14 was not as good to Couture though. He suffered a wrist injury that required surgery, and took him out of the Sharks’ lineup for 17 regular season games. The playoffs were not nice to San Jose either, as they lost in the first round to the eventual Stanley Cup champion LA Kings, despite holding a 3-0 series lead at one point.
Interview with Logan Couture: “They’re hard-line guys, they don’t give you the time of day, and they barely even look at you”
Posted by Dave Cunning under Interviews on Dec 19, 2012
Logan Couture is ready to play NHL hockey again.
So ready in fact, that he left the European club he had been playing with early to return home to North American preparation and anticipation of once again donning a San Jose Sharks jersey and taking NHL ice.
The only problem is that the NHL still isn’t ready for him, nor anyone else.
In the meantime, Couture will settle for suiting up along side Steven Stamkos, PK Subban, Dion Phaneuf, Phil Kessel, and 34 other locked out NHL players on December 19th at Maple Leaf Garde—err, the Mattamy Athletic Centre at the Gardens in Toronto, for the 2012 RBC Play Hockey Charity Challenge, in support of the NHLPA’s Goals and Dreams Fund.
I caught up with Logan via telephone for an interview just prior to the event, and he graciously chatted with me about everything from his experience in Europe, to his thoughts on the lockout, the owners, and where he’ll be skating until the NHL finally calls.
You just returned home to Ontario after a three month stint with Genève-Servette in Switzerland’s National League A. How was your experience over there, and how does it feel to be home?
Couture: “It’s good to be back. I’d rather be playing in San Jose, but it does mean I get to spend some time with my family. This will be my first Christmas at home in four or five years since my junior days, so I’m looking forward to that. It was my first time in Europe, and the distance from my family and time change were both really tough.
Switzerland’s a beautiful country, so it was a good experience in that sense. The food was really good. Driving though the Alps on road trips was pretty cool. The hockey was pretty good and the organization was great. They treated me and my teammates very, very well. Being so far away was the toughest thing. I missed my family. Not being able to watch sporting events at regular times and stuff like that was hard too. I was watching football games at 1 am, and I missed the baseball playoffs. I’m a big fan, so that was tough for me. I tried to keep up with it as best as I could though.”
Why did you leave the team? Statistically you were doing great – your 23 points in 22 games still lead the team in points today, despite being in Canada. Did you part on good terms?
Couture: “Yeah I left on good terms. I just told them that I was thankful for the opportunity that they gave me, but that I wanted to come back home because I felt I was ready to play back over here. I had hoped the season would have started by now, but in the meantime I’m enjoying spending time with my family while I can. I went over there to get in shape and get ready for the NHL season. After the three months I was there, I felt like I was ready to come back and play over here, with the hope that the season was going to start. I’m sure a lot of the other guys who have also come back felt the same way. You get to a point where you feel good about your game, you feel like you’re ready to play, and where you don’t want to risk injury anymore. I figured it was time for me to come back home.”
You were one of 19 locked out NHL players competing in Switzerland. Why did you choose Switzerland out of all countries you could have chosen; and in particular, why Genève-Servette?
Couture: “I chose Switzerland because Joe [Thornton] told me about how good of an experience he had there during the last lockout. The general consensus from guys on our team was that they’d heard great things about Switzerland. I talked with my agent, and we worked out a deal with the team there. Genève-Servette gave me a chance and said I could come over and play for them as quickly as I wanted, so I agreed to come.”
How did you interact with Joe Thornton on the ice when your team played his team, Davos? As NHL teammates, do you guys go easy on each other in a league that doesn’t matter as much as the NHL, or if you had him lined up in the corner did you hit him like anyone else? What about the other NHLers in the league when you played against them?
Couture: “If it’s Joe, I’m not going to hit him over there, that’s for sure. He’s a teammate. Obviously I don’t want to get hurt either. I’m not the most physical player in the world, and over there I was even less of a physical player just because I didn’t want to take that chance of getting hurt. I try not to put myself in dangerous spots. You have to be careful though, hockey’s a dangerous sport.”
As you will be going into your fourth NHL season eventually, do you feel playing against a lower level of competition in Europe may have been a detriment to your development as an NHL player? For example, did the unfamiliar size of the ice, or the pace of that league and its players throw off your timing while playing with/against less skilled players than you’re used to? Or maybe you didn’t get passes when and where your used to, or the speed and physicality was harmfully different? Do you think the same is bad for other young NHLers that are now scattered around other European countries, the AHL, and other places to be playing down a level? Will any of this hurt you or them as players when you eventually come back to the NHL?
Couture: “I think it’s the best case scenario for the guys right now. You’d rather be playing than not playing. Even when you’re playing there, it takes some time to get your timing down and into a rhythm. Guys that haven’t played yet this year aren’t going to have that right now; they’re going to be behind in that aspect when it’s time to play again. You are playing with lesser skilled guys over there, but I still think that being on the ice every day in practice and games will make you a better player, no matter who you’re playing with, as long as you’re working on your game. I spent as much time as I could after practice working on puck skills and different things, trying to improve.”
What do you think about the notion of your arrival on that team meaning you squeezed someone else out of their lineup – maybe a domestic player, or someone who won’t ever make it to the NHL – while you were only a temporary member of that team? In your opinion, is it fair for locked out NHL players to come to Europe and take those jobs?
Couture: “It’s hockey. It’s a competitive sport. Would people be saying the same thing if an 18 year old came into an NHL camp and knocked a veteran out of his job? It’s the same thing – people play to take someone’s job. You go into a training camp to take someone’s job so that you can play. I don’t really understand why people say that. When I made San Jose, I ultimately put someone out of a job. That’s just the way hockey is, and all pro sports are.”
Is there any chance that your return home is a cryptic indication that a resolution to the lockout is on the horizon? What are your current thoughts on the lockout?
Couture: “I read a rumor on Twitter that said I was coming back because I knew a deal was coming, but no, there’s nothing like that happening. We’re at a stage now trying to figure out the best way to move forward with these negotiations. We’re hoping something can get done in the near future, but there’s nothing being said right now that’s going lead to a deal in the next couple of days or anything like that. It’s not true.”
Are you optimistic that a deal is indeed forthcoming, and there will still be an NHL season?
Couture: “Yeah, you have to think it’s going to get done. It would just hurt so badly to see a season wasted. It hurt the players last time – I wasn’t in the league yet then, I was just a hockey fan – and it hurt as a fan to watch a full season go by without any hockey. For it to happen two times in an eight year span – I mean it really plays with the fans. It’s tough for a sport to recover, especially in some of the markets down in the States. Even where I play in California, it’s going to be tough for teams to recoup their fan base. In these next couple of weeks, somehow we need to find some way to get a deal done. We’re at a stage right now where we’re trying to do whatever it takes to get the season started. We’re still willing to negotiate. We’re doing what we can to get it going.”
Do you think those California based teams will suffer in particular, despite LA and Anaheim each winning a Stanley Cup in the last five years, plus San Jose’s recent rise to prominence?
Couture: “I can speak for San Jose – in the last couple of years, and even when the team got Joe Thornton, hockey in the area really, really took off. There was an increase in kids starting to play at an earlier age, and stuff like that. I think it’s within reason to think that’s because the Sharks have been good the last six or seven years. They’re selling out every game and people are interested in hockey. You take another year away from those fans and some of the ones you just won over in the last few years are going to leave for something else. Look at Florida – they made the playoffs last year, had a good run, probably won some new fans over – now there’s no hockey, and those fans are fine with something else [note: there are seven other pro sports teams in that state]. It’s tough to watch.”
Has this lockout left you feeling any ill-will or animosity towards the owners, or San Jose’s owner in particular? Or do you look at this situation objectively as a business deal?
Couture: “I don’t know, it’s all up in the air. The owners aren’t allowed to speak publicly, nor to us. We have no idea what each owner is thinking. I’ve been in meetings before, but you’re in there with [Craig] Leopold, [Jay] Jacobs, [Murray] Edwards – they’re hard line guys, they don’t give you the time of day, and they barely even look at you. They’re there for one reason, and that’s to help their teams make money. I wish we could hear from all 30 teams’ owners, but obviously they’re not letting them speak out and have their opinions known. I’m sure if they were able to, there would be a bunch of them with different opinions right now. All the players are allowed to speak their minds. It’s tough. I don’t know where the San Jose owners stand on this. You hear things, but you never know until you hear it from them, so you can’t really hold judgment against them until you know the truth.”
As far as Players Association meetings and negotiations with the league, how did you stay in the loop while you were overseas, and even now while you’re in Ontario?
Couture: “It’s all through the phone in scheduled conference calls. There’s an app we check for updates. They supply us with numbers for the players who are in the meetings, and if you have a question you want a player to answer instead of Don, you can call the player and ask him, and he tells you word for word what he heard in the meeting. You get 10 to 20 different opinions, usually all saying the same thing. They’re in all those meetings, so we hear the truth from those guys.”
Any chance you would return to Europe over Christmas to compete in the Spengler Cup tournament for Canada? Where are you going to skate until the NHL resumes?
Couture: “No, not this year. I think I’m going to stay in North America for the rest of the season. I’m going to skate with the London Knights in the OHL when they start up again after Christmas break. I want to go down and skate with some of the guys in San Jose in a few weeks too, hopeful that the season will start. I don’t know exactly what the timeline is, but there isn’t much time left to get this deal done.”
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This interview with Mike Danton posted on The Score’s Backhand Shelf blog on October 4th, 2012. Danton had just been denied a visa to enter the UK to play, but fortunately was able to catch on in Sweden a short time later, before moving on to Slovakia in the same season. While a return to North American pro hockey doesn’t seem likely, European leagues are glad to retain the former NHLer — Danton has also suited up for teams in Kazakhstan, Hungary, and Poland since this interview.
The audio of this interview can be heard here:
Posted by Dave Cunning under Interviews on Oct 04, 2012
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that no one in the game of hockey has a stigma around them the way that Mike Danton does. Now trying to resume his professional hockey career in Europe, the ex-NHLer and ex-con deals with all sorts of prejudice and ignorance directed towards him on a daily basis – not to mention all the life roadblocks that a convicted felon could expect on the outside, because of his nearly decade-old crime – despite serving his sentence.
In our interview, Mike talked very candidly and at length about everything from hockey, his time in jail, how he’s turned his life around for the better, his thoughts on other ex-con pro athletes, his feelings on being denied entry to the UK to play, his family, and what the future holds for him. Without a doubt, the responses that he gives will at least make you reconsider the opinion you’ve come to form about him. Enjoy.
So you’ve now been denied a visa to play hockey in the UK twice, and consequently, you won’t be playing for the Coventry Blaze in the EIHL this year. What’s going through your mind right now?
“I was pretty bummed out about being turned down a second time. When they denied me the first time, the reason for they gave was that I wasn’t rehabilitated from my crime. They have an immigration law that states if you’ve done over twelve months in prison, you’re excluded from rehabilitation, and in order for you to enter their country, your sentence has to be spent or expired as an ex-convict. Because I spent longer than twelve months in jail, I’m excluded from rehabilitation, and because of that, my sentence can’t be spent or expired. So that’s why they denied me.
The second time we applied, I got fifteen reference letters from RCMP officers, local Halifax police officers, detectives, an assistant coach in the NHL, the president of the university I attended that coincidentally was born in London, England who has double-majors and doctorate degrees. My parole officer even wrote a reference letter on my behalf, and also submitted her criminal findings regarding my case – which said I was in the lowest percentile likely to re-offend, that I was in the lowest percentile to be a danger to society; spoke about my community involvement, and how greatly I’ve turned my life around.
Because they rejected me on the basis of believing I wasn’t rehabilitated, the second time around we attempted to illustrate to them that I am rehabilitated from my crimes, and that I wasn’t just coming over there to play hockey. There were a lot more plans than just hockey for me coming toCoventry.Coventry is renowned for their community based programs, and I was going to be a big part of that while there. I work closely with Joe Drexler of “Be The Game” and his “Ignite Change” program, and I was going to be an ambassador in theUK for that – that was a huge thing we had worked out.
For the second application, we brought all these reference letters, and the plans that were other than hockey – sure, I was going there to play hockey and make a living for my family – but I was also going to spread my knowledge, the words that I have to share about the mistakes I’ve made and what it takes to get past them and be productive in life, and about making the best of second chances. We put all that on paper, the lawyers and members from the team looked at the package, as well as people in Canada, and they all said it’d be a disgrace if I got denied again, because there was no way someone could look at that package and think I wasn’t rehabilitated. I put together a three-page letter myself, detailing my life, admitting to my crimes and accepting responsibility for them, but saying those things happened nine years ago, and I was 23 years old at the time. I’ve got a family of my own now, I’m an honor student, working towards a double major degree and at the top of the grade in all my classes, and I’ve changed my life around. I missed six years of hockey, but I still want to play professionally.
When I got my second denial, it was for the same reasons. They said they looked over all my information and reference letters, noted that I have a family of my own now, but however, I did spend more than twelve months in jail, and they don’t think I’m rehabilitated from my crime. To read something like that is not only heartbreaking and gut-wrenching, at the same time it says that not only am I excluded from rehabilitation, but that all these police officers, my parole officer, the National Parole Board of Canada, my school’s president, an assistant coach in the NHL, and everyone else that wrote reference letters have no idea what they’re talking about. They basically said that the Parole Board let you out, and agreed that you’re in the lowest percentile to reoffend or to be a menace to society, but they have no idea what they’re talking about, and we think we know better because we looked at your file. It’s really tough to swallow.
This is a team I’ve been talking about for the last four months, and I’ve been getting updates through the summer on signings, practices, team emails, and it’s been gut-wrenching. I’ve been talking to the guys on the team since the beginning of the season, and they’ve been texting me when they go out, and it gave me a really good feeling about how close knit that team is. It was hard to tell them I won’t be coming. They all ask what they can do to help. We’re trying to figure out if there’s anything we can do legally, or if we can appeal, but if not, I’ve got to figure out something else to do.”
You’ve already played abroad in Sweden and Austria without any of these immigration hassles – why not just go play in a country that doesn’t put up these roadblocks in front of you?
“I was in nine countries last year – Slovenia, Norway, Switzerland, Hungary, Croatia, Austria, Czech Republic, Sweden, and Austria – the reason why I chose the UK, and Coventry in particular, was when our baby came into our lives, a lot of things changed. We really liked Sweden when we were over there last year and a lot of people speak English there – the Czech Republic was the complete opposite though. We’d go grocery shopping and it’d take two or three hours because we had to translate everything. It was really difficult to get a normal life going in that environment. The fans and the organization were great, but it was difficult for us to live there. Having a newborn and going to a country like that – if something were to happen to the baby and we had to go to the doctor, you have to hope they spoke English. We made a decision in the summer that wherever we end up going, we’d like it to be an English speaking country that has similar customs, culture, and food that we’re used to, just because it’s the first year that either of us have had a kid. We just wanted it to go as smoothly as possible. I chose Coventry because of the relationship and rapport I’d built with the members of the team. They sold me on what they wanted from their team. They play a hard-nosed style, don’t give up, work hard, and that description has me written all over it. They said I am the exact type of player they wanted on their team. I said ok. I gave up on a lot of other opportunities to make significantly more money than in the UK. The UK really isn’t known for paying outrageous salaries, but rather offering university packages and well as their familiar customs and culture. A lot of North American guys head over there because of the familiarity to their own food, customs and culture. The other factor involved was the community programs that I’d be able to be a part of, and to help out the youth, minor hockey, and that sort of stuff, like I did in Sweden. That’s always been a big part of my career after I came out of prison and wanted to play pro hockey again.”
So what’s the next step for you? Is there time to find a different European team to sign with? Can you play another year of University hockey?
“I’m not eligible for University hockey anymore. For every year of pro you play, you lose a year of eligibility, and you only get five total. By me playing pro last year, I lost my last year of eligibility. I could play senior hockey in Canada in either Newfoundland or Quebec. My agent and I have been contacted by some countries that are willing to bring me in to play though. I’ve been in talks with teams in three different countries.Coventry’s had to sign another guy to fill my spot since I got denied again. I’m going to be playing somewhere, it’s just a question of where. The countries I’m considering right now are Sweden,Germany, and Poland.”
Who’s your agent these days?
“Mike Bernier. He used to be part of “The Hockey Group”, and now he’s branched off on his own. He’s a hard worker. He’s never lied to me. He’s always been straight-up and honest. He told me last year that if I came with him, he’d find me a team, and he did. At that time, I hadn’t played pro in a while, so the things I was looking for were difficult to get. Statistically speaking, I played really well last year – it’s late in teams’ recruiting process now, but he’s still come up with a handful of teams that are looking for players like me.”
Coventry named you an assistant captain without you even being there. With your NHL background, OHL championship, CIS championship, and everything else to your name, you’ve built up a rather high billing for yourself. Is the pressure from teams and yourself to perform up to expectations difficult to live up to, or is it something that you thrive on?
“I’ve been asked that question a lot. How I answer it is – and I’m going to try an answer as humbly as possible, I’m the furthest thing from being cocky; I could use a boost in confidence once in a while actually – I think players like me are extremely hard to come by. Obviously I’m not the most skilled player in the world. In my last year of junior hockey, I had over 80 points and more than 200 penalty minutes. I led the playoffs in scoring, and still had over 100 PIM’s. I’m a guy that brings everything to the table. I’m not a guy that’s going to come down on a 2 on 1, or 1 on 1 and toe-drag, flip it through someone’s stick and skates and then roof it top shelf, but I’m going to find a way to get around that guy and put the puck in the net. I may have to flick it up in the air and run the goalie through the net, but it’s going to count regardless. It’s happened before, where the puck’s gone in, the goalie got run, it counts, and I got a penalty. Coaches have always told to me to put the puck in my [expletive] teeth, run through the net; and i’ll find a way to score. That’s just the way I’ve always been.
I have an extremely large amount of heart and determination. I don’t agree with what Dany Heatley and Michael Vick did, but you have to look at what they did afterwards. The fact that those guys come back, and get back into professional sports again says something about their character. For me to miss six years of hockey and still manage to come back and win a national championship, and then return to professional hockey a year later – that’s something I’m proud of. With a lot of inexperienced, local guys as well as guys who have played pro hockey at some level but don’t have the NHL experience that I have, Coventry knew I that I was a guy that all the guys on their team were going to look up to. I’m not afraid to break sticks in the room, call guys out, tell them they’re [expletive] [expletive], and to get their head out of their [expletive]. You need guys like that on a team. Those are the types of guys that other players look up to and say, ‘hey, this guy can lead our team.’”
You got denied entry into the UK again seemingly based only on objective reasoning. You’re constantly dealing with people with prejudice against you – whether it be in legal situations, on Twitter, or elsewhere – yet, you’re extremely active in defending yourself on all those platforms against those who only see you as a criminal and don’t know anything else about you or about anything you’ve done since your release three years ago. It seems to be never-ending and it’s got to be exhausting – how do you handle it, and why do you bother?
“It’s humorous. It’s entertaining to me. Some people go to hockey games to be entertained; I go on Twitter and read the ignorant things people say. I sit there and I laugh. I’ll retweet things that are funny, but when they say things like, ‘He went to prison, bend over…’ and other stuff like that, I block those people. There’s a difference between humor and being disgusting. I don’t need my kid to be reading that in a few years. People like that are useless. They’re scum. A lot of the negative comments are from people in Cardiff, Coventry’s biggest rival. If I had signed with Cardiff, the majority of the chirping would probably come from people in Coventry. People are entitled to their opinion, but you hit the nail on the head, they don’t know the situation. It’s just like my first day at university; I had people triple-looking me – forget double-looking, triple-looking me – whispering, ‘that’s the guy that tried to kill somebody…’, and three weeks later, that same person would be sitting with me in the library sharing laughs, pulling pranks, and then saying, ‘Aw man, you’re great! I thought you were going to be this big mean monster guy…’ People have no idea what I’m like. They look at my mugshot that looks like I’ve got a big chew in the side of my mouth, and they see the word murderer, and they say ‘this guy can’t come in. He’s a criminal…’ and that’s their opinion and they’re free to voice it. I really don’t care. The difference in me now is that nine years ago, I would have had to listen to all these chirps and tweets, and I would have wanted to punch them all in the face, cause problems, and be completely irrational and immature about the situation. Now I laugh at it. Usually when someone says something, I’ll get in there and chirp them back about their grammar and say, ‘well if you’re going to say that, at least spell it properly’, or tell them to at least make it seem like their comment could be pronounced properly. All in all, it’s just fun. It’s entertaining to have a guys think that they get under my skin by chirping me about prison, even though I’ve heard that stuff for ten years now. There’s not one prison joke out there that I haven’t heard. The easiest way to shut them up is to talk about the NHL, and they can’t say anything. They’ve never done that, I have. One guy that chirps me is an EIHL player who has played five or six games and has the same amount of goals as me [that’s 0, Mike hasn’t played a game for Coventry]. I’m not going to waste my time with guys that I have absolutely no respect for, because of the way they conduct themselves on Twitter. You don’t go back and forth with fans and tell them they’re fat and ugly – those are the people that pay your salary. You have to have some respect for the game. When I went to jail, there was no Facebook or Twitter. When I got out of jail and was in university, it took me a few months before I got into social media. Now I find Twitter so entertaining. I love going on my page and watching everything people say to me. I don’t know what else to say about it, it’s just entertaining.”
What internet related amenities were available to you in prison? Can people tweet from prison?
No, there’s child molesters and sex criminals in there, and they don’t want them getting on the internet for obvious reasons. From what I understand, in theUSfederal system you can email people now, but that’s the only thing you can do, and the emails are monitored. They get an email account through the prison that costs them money to send emails. In the US system, I had access to cable TV and movies, but nothing that was R rated, contained nudity, or had anything in it that would get our, um, “adrenaline” up, I guess you could say. They try to maintain proper protocol for prison fights and things like that. InCanada, it was a little more lax – we could have video game systems in there, but without online access. The States’ system was a lot worse thanCanada’s.”
And you managed to study towards your university degree while you were in there too, right? And how close are you towards your degree now? What are you going to do when you finish it?
Yeah, it was kind of difficult though – I only got through two courses. They moved me around quite often, and they really screw with your mail in jail, so it’s tough to get things sent to you. But I did manage to transfer those credits towards my degree. Last year I took a full course load online, and I’m doing the same this year. At the end of this year, I should only have four or five courses left. If I went really hard, I could get done by the end of the summer, but I’ll probably do it over a year. I’ll have a double major in psychology and criminology. I do really well in school. The only reason I added criminology in was that psychology was coming to me fairly easily and I wanted a challenge, so I added another major.
I don’t know what I’m going to be – I’d like to play hockey as long as I can, and I don’t want to call it quits yet, but I’ve been thinking about becoming a university professor. I like the social aspect and I like teaching people. Something like sports psychology, maybe. Coaching has crossed my mind. You see a lot of athletes go to university and they end up teaching English, or become PE teachers or something like that. A lot of athletes are very vocal and very social. They’re used to being in the spotlight, being around 20 or 30 guys every day that chirp each other and still get along, having a frat-like relationship with them. Whether you teach youngsters, teenagers, or university kids, there’s that element of social activity that can remain with you through all your years and levels of sports. I’m pretty sure I’m going to go down that road in the future.”
When you look at Mike Tyson – who went to jail before you did, and resumed his career after being released – and you think about your perception of him at that point in time not having gone to jail yet yourself; and then you look at Michael Vick – who went to jail and was released right around the same time you also did and were – what is your perception of those guys as they resumed their athletic careers, has it changed since going through the same experience they did yourself, and do you have a level of empathy for them?
“Gosh, you’re crossing up my morals and pulling my heartstrings here. Because of my personal experiences, and my personal life and childhood, I have a very big problem with people that commit sexual crimes against children and women. It’s really hard for me to look past those things and say they deserve a second chance. However, because of my situation, I have to say that I’m a believer in second chances. I think the way Tyson handled his situation illustrated that he wasn’t capable of being rehabilitated. I don’t know him personally, but the role he portrays and the way he handles himself is a characterization of a nut-job. He didn’t seem like he had a lot of remorse, even when he stated that he did. You could read the bull[expletive] all over his face.
In regards to Michael Vick, I don’t think anyone will ever know for sure what degree his involvement was in the dog fighting ring, but still, he was involved and he went to jail. Both crimes are different – I’m sure I’ll have PETA calling me after this – but at the same time, I’ve got nothing but respect for how Vick has handled himself. He’s come out and accepted responsibility, made donations and done charity work to try and right his wrongs. The way he’s conducted himself – I follow him on Twitter, and if you follow his tweets, well… he’s no Jose Canseco, let’s say. Everything’s about his religion, family, football, and he’s very respectful about it. I think that he’s somebody that made a wrong decision in his life, has turned around for the better, and is prospering. He’s playing the game that he loves, making a boatload of money, and I have no problems with that.
The problem that I have though, it that he’s been able to continue playing the game he loves at its highest level and I haven’t been. I can’t go to Asia, theUK, theUS… I couldn’t even go watch my favorite baseball team play in the World Series last year because I committed a crime nine years ago. If my son plays in a hockey tournament inDetroitsomeday, I can’t go there and watch him because I made a mistake, and at that time my crime will have been 14 or 15 years prior. Don’t get me wrong – I broke the law, and what I did was illegal; however, I’ve paid my dues. I’ve been punished. I’ve lost a lot of money. I’ve lost the opportunity to make a lot of money. I lost six years of my life, away from my family and friends, and a lot of things I enjoyed on a daily basis. Those are things I’m never going to be able to get back. I think my punishment is enough. I’m not going around to bars and getting in fights, or putting bounties on people’s heads, or getting drunk and raping girls, or selling and doing drugs. I have a family, I’ve gone to university, I’m working towards a double major degree and trying to play professional hockey.
What I say is, where’s my break? Vick, Tyson, and Heatley all got breaks, where’s my break? Is it that I’m still allowed to play hockey in Sweden’s third league or an elite league in Austria? It’s not in the AHL, or the NHL. I’m going to have to make a decision in a couple of years as to whether I want my son growing up in Europe following me around from country to country, and if I don’t want that, I’m going to have to quit hockey, and do something else. I don’t want to quit hockey. I’ve got lots of playing time left.
I’ve got a lot of respect for those guys that have made mistakes in their life and have come back to their sport, like Vick. I’m not so respectful of Tyson because of the way he handled himself. But if people can look past Mike Tyson and his issues, how can they not look past mine? Legitimately, I didn’t kill anybody. If that had been carried out, yes, I understand the ramifications; however, that’s a hypothetical situation. You can’t imprison or punish somebody for situations that didn’t happen. Vick did what he did, Tyson did what he did, Heatley did what he did, I did what I did. I didn’t kill anybody, and I didn’t rape anybody. I’m sure you can catch my point.”
You’ve mentioned your family a few times. It’s tough to find any information on them – tell me a little bit about them; how old is your son?
“He’s six weeks old. My family’s kept private for a reason. I’ve had some issues in my past with my own family, so I like to keep my personal life somewhat personal so certain information doesn’t get out.”
Details of your criminal situation have always been hazy. What is your current status as far as being an ex-convict? Are you still on parole, or are you totally free and clear now?
“I was arrested on April 16, 2004. I received my full parole from the National Parole Board of Canada on September 11, 2009. They took a couple weeks, and then I was released from prison inCanadaon September 28, 2009, after 65 months in prison. 22 of those months were in solitary confinement. After that, I was on parole until January 21, 2011. While on parole for a little more than a year, and had to abstain from alcohol and drugs, and do urine tests – I don’t do drugs anyway, but that was just a standard stipulation. When we won the CIS championship at St. Mary’s, all the boys were drinking champagne out of the Cup, and I had to drink a sparkling water. It was kind of a bummer. I wasn’t allowed to travel anywhere without a travel permit. If I wanted to go to my girlfriend’s cottage for the weekend, I’d have to have a representative from the Canadian Parole Board visit the cottage first, interview her parents, and then supervise me while there. January 21 came along, and I’ve been a free man ever since. I have nobody to report to, just like before I ever went to prison. I’m absolutely not on parole one bit.”
While you were on parole, you weren’t allowed any contact with your father or David Frost, two guys at the center of speculation within your crime – now that you’re not bound by parole terms, have you had any contact with them?
“Legally I can’t even talk about that because there are a few things that are still out there. But they will be addressed in the future, for sure.”
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My 2012 interview with St. Louis Blues’ head coach Ken Hitchcock posted on The Score’s Backhand Shelf blog on September 19, just prior to the NHL and NHLPA coming to terms with each other to stop hockey’s latest work stoppage. Since we spoke, the St. Louis Blues have twice finished 2nd in the Central Division, and in the Western Conference top 4 two times as well, but found themselves bounced from the playoffs in the first round on both attempts.
On a brighter note, “Hitch” was named assistant coach for Team Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where he and the team won gold. He also rose to 8th all-time in coaching wins (2nd amongst active coaches) shortly after he collected his 600th NHL win — one of only 11 NHL coaches to do so.
Posted by Dave Cunning under Biography, Interviews, Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis Blues on Sep 19, 2012
While the NHL lockout rolls on, fans may forget there is a group of personnel that is not aligned with either the NHLPA or team owners in CBA negotiations, yet is directly affected by the league’s labor stall – NHL coaches.
Nearly a year after taking over as head coach of the St. Louis Blues, guiding his team to a second round playoff appearance, and winning the Jack Adams Award for the NHL’s Coach of the Year, Ken Hitchcock is just as busy preparing for a season with an unknown start date as he would be if it were already underway.
I had a chance to interview Hitchcock and he gave me his thoughts on his coaching philosophy, on replacing Davis Payne in St. Louis during last season, and other topics.
Hitchcock on evaluating his team during training camp:
“When you start your training camp, you know within three or four players what your team’s going to be like. You’re not working from a base of 60 players, you’re working from a base of 30 players — you’re trying to educate all 60 that attend, but you know the 30 that are going to try out for the 22 or 23 spots. Every coach visualizes what his lines will look like, and what his team will look like; you already know them in your mind, so those are the players you observe. We watch them whether they are already in St. Louis, or in junior, the American Hockey League, Europe – they could be anywhere – those few are the guys we keep our eye on.”
On what role he plays in scouting for the Blues:
“I stay out of it. There are other people who have that duty, and we stay in our own area of expertise. Everyone else has a job to do – our scouts have their own responsibilities, and ours as coaches don’t include scouting. Other people do that and do it well. All we would do is get in the way.”
On the fact that he is still learning as a coach:
“I have a thirst to learn, and to be part of a team – whether it’s as the head coach, assistant, associate, consultant, or whatever – I love being part of a team. I find great joy in being a small part of something pretty big, and having to work together. My thirst for knowledge leads me to try and find out why teams in all kinds of activities – in sports, business, or whatever – are successful. I want to learn that stuff. Part of that is the technical package –the systems of play and everything, but a big part of it is the synergy or the chemistry that goes on with your hockey club. I want to learn why certain people are successful, why they continue to succeed, and what they’ve learned. I know I don’t have all the answers, and I know I don’t have all the experiences, so I seek them out instead. I enjoy the journey of seeking out information and other people’s opinions, and watching other people perform.”
“Talking with my peers and watching how my peers practice and play feeds the hunger for learning that I have. I talk with other coaches all the time. As long as you’re in that constant learning path, you stay fresh, you stay energized, and you stay current. The minute you get satisfied, or the minute you lose your flexibility and feel like you don’t have to learn, in our business, I think that’s when you become very stagnant. If you stand still, the game starts to go by you.”
On coming in and replacing the previous coach (Davis Payne):
“Over time, you learn what sells to your players and what doesn’t. One of the things that experience tells you is that when you’re in a critical situation, or one where there’s a lot of anxiousness and anxiety, you find out that less is more – that less information and keeping it simple becomes more effective over time. The other aspect is – and I don’t want to call it luck – but when there’s a change, your players need to see instant success for them to buy in. We simplified, and in the four games we played in the first eight days we had wins over Chicago, Detroit, and Pittsburgh, and an overtime loss. Because of that immediate success, the buy-in became a lot easier and more black and white for the players. Every new coach that comes in sells a new program, and if there’s no success early, the buy-in takes longer.”
“When you look at the history of coaching, usually what happened when a coach had success is his players bought in, starting with the leaders. When the leaders buy in, the rest of the players have no choice but to come along. When you have great leadership, and you have cooperative leadership with the staff, you usually have a very successful team. What happens to a lot of coaches is their leadership changes – through trades, retirement, or whatever – that’s when you reach a crisis stage. Your team’s chemistry starts to change, the way of doing business changes, and a transition phase begins. Coaches get fired in that transition phase. Trying to create new synergy and new energy while going through a leadership change and missing a bunch of guys because of it is hard to do. You win in the National Hockey League because a team’s leaders follow their coach, and the players follow the leaders. When there’s a vacuum effect taking place, that’s when it gets chaotic.”
On what happened with Bruce Boudreau in Washington:
“He’s a good coach. Sometimes there are certain horses for certain riders. Sometimes good coaches don’t fit with the personnel that’s on the team, and sometimes they fit perfect. Once you’re a good coach, you don’t all of a sudden become a bad coach. Sometimes change is good for both parties – the players and the coach. It doesn’t mean it’s a matter of bad people, it just means a fresh approach might work better. You can find other ways to do it than changing the coach, and usually if a guy’s a good coach, that option is a last resort.”
What he thinks of the level of play in hockey today:
“This is an unbelievable time to be a hockey fan – this is the highest skill level I’ve ever seen and worked with. Everybody’s a good skater, the knowledge on the players that come from junior and college is at a high level, so they’re able to adapt much quicker. The whole game is at an incredible level. I don’t care how many goals get scored, it’s all about the intensity level and the execution – this is as high as I’ve ever seen it in my life.”
His opinion on the Kings who defeated the Blues in the second round of the Western conference playoffs:
“Nothing they did surprised anybody. The division they played in was incredible — really high end teams. Just getting points out of their own division was a struggle. When they made their personnel changes with about 25 games left in the season, they became big and fast. Anybody who played them in the last 20 games knew exactly how good they were. We played them twice, and we left both games going ‘Oh my god, are they ever a good team’. Nothing they did in the playoffs was surprising.”
On the stress of coaching and how it affects you:
“Coaching requires a lot of focus, a lot of energy, and a lot of work. There’s a tremendous amount of stress on coaches, especially in our sport because there’s so many teams that can win the Stanley Cup. Quite frankly, sometimes coaches lose their energy, get frustrated, or they get critical or cynical because of the stress, the demand, and the combination of everything. Sometimes, the energy level that was there at the start isn’t there at the end. Teams decide to make changes to create a higher energy level. We all think that we should coach forever, and we all think that we should never get fired, but we don’t see the things that other people see. We don’t see the read that players have of our body language, or the little things that ownership or management see.”
On his energy level when he coached in Dallas and Columbus:
“When I got the job in Dallas, I thought that would be my first and last job. I thought I was going to coach there forever. I never thought I’d be let go in a million years. But I did. And as disappointed as I was getting let go in Columbus, the year and a half I had off gave me energy for the next five or six years. It gave me a freshness, an energy, and an enthusiasm that is necessary to coach in the NHL. As a coach, you’ve got to look in the mirror – it’s a hard look, but you have to if you want to stay current.”
On the transient nature of coaching in the NHL:
“In this business, you learn not to hang pictures. We love St. Louis and I hope I stay here forever, but you come to understand that you’re in a transient situation, and that’s just the way it is. That’s the nature of our business, and we’ve gone about living that life. I’ve got great energy right now, but the moment my energy drops, I’ll be the first guy to knock on the General Manager’s door. But the way I feel now, I feel like I could coach a long time. The players have given me faith and hope, and that’s really rejuvenated me. The players have really created an enthusiasm for me, and I can hardly wait for the season to get going. I’m going to get every ounce out of this team and myself.”
This 2012 interview with Pat Quinn posted to The Score’s Backhand Shelf blog on February 13th of that year. A former NHL coach to four teams and defenceman to three, Quinn made it clear in our conversation that he wanted to coach in the NHL again. While this hasn’t happened quite yet he has been busy since we talked — Quinn received the Order of Canada later that year, became the chairman of the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2013 (and assumably had a hand in Pat Burns finally receive induction into the Hall), and was inducted into the Vancouver Canucks’ Ring of Honor in 2014.
Posted by Dave Cunning under Interviews on Feb 13, 2012
When you’ve been named the NHL’s Coach of the Year twice, won an Olympic gold medal, the World Cup of Hockey, two gold medals with Canada’s junior program, and guided multiple NHL clubs to their best seasons in modern history, having your team finish dead last in the NHL during the final season of your coaching career doesn’t seem to add up. Yet, this is what happened the last time Pat Quinn was seen behind the bench as the Edmonton Oilers’ head coach.
“We had some young kids that that were first round picks, but quite frankly I wasn’t sure that they were first round picks,” said Quinn of the Oilers. “I knew it wasn’t a good team when I took the job, but I took it with a plan to help them be better. That’s what I do. I’ve taken over teams that weren’t very good, and after a few years you get them better. I thought that was going to be what happened in Edmonton, but after the first year they decided to make a change. I’m not sure why, you’d have to ask them. I wasn’t ready for it. I wanted to complete the job that I was hired to do there. Unfortunately it didn’t happen.”
Some may make the case that Quinn and his coaching style/techniques were too “old-school” for players of the “New” NHL. At age 60, the St.Louis Blues’ current head coach Ken Hitchcock is a relatively good comparison piece for the 69 year-old Quinn, age and experience-wise. Hitchcock is currently behind an NHL bench for a sixteenth season, while Quinn was relieved after his twentieth. Both have coached over 1000 games in the NHL, and both have the grey hair to prove it. While Hitchcock may not have the Jack Adams Trophies and international success that Quinn acquired, he’s found a way to guide the St. Louis Blues to a 23-5-0-6 record, and place them third overall in the NHL since taking over – an accomplishment Quinn was not able to attain with this new generation of hockey player when he took over the Edmonton Oilers in 2009 and finished in the basement. Clearly it is possible for an older coach to get through to the new generation, and be successful.
“He took over a more mature team that was ready to win,” Quinn contended. “The Edmonton team wasn’t ready to win. He took over a much more mature team that has been in the playoffs several times in the last few years. He’s a coach that’s prepared, just like I am. Your circumstances often dictate a lot of things, and he stepped into a good spot. Hitch is a good coach — he was ready to help these guys, and they were ready to have a different voice in there. Clearly they’re responding well. I relate well with the young kids. I had Eberle, I had Hall. I had those kids. I can speak the language of hockey. The age group doesn’t matter.”
To be fair, Quinn has had success with teams comprised of young players – he guided Team Canada’s Under-18 team to a gold medal in 2008, and their Under-20 team to gold in 2009.
“I must admit, some of the best thrills I’ve had came from being around the kids the past few years.” recollected Quinn.
Quinn clearly still has a passion for the game of hockey, and to be involved in it – ideally as a coach. Unfortunately for now, it doesn’t appear any clubs are reaching out to acquire his services.
“I’ve got a void in there I’d like to fill,” Quinn admitted. “This life of mine has been all hockey for a long, long time, so when you’re not doing it anymore there’s a void there. I haven’t figured out how to fill it up yet, but I will. I’ve had a wonderful ride in this game. It’s given me so many thrills from the time I was a youngster. I’m lucky to be around it. [As far as NHL coaching offers]No, nothing. I think my ship has left the harbor.”
Quinn’s most recent coaching duties were played out at the 2012 CHL/NHL Prospects Game in Kelowna, BC on February 1st. Quinn, alongside Vancouver Giants’ head coach Don Hay, led Team Orr to victory over Team Cherry 2-1. Interesting that Quinn was chosen to head Team Orr, considering the speculatively dirty hit he delivered to Orr in 1969 that ignited a brawl between the Leafs and Bruins. Water under the bridge, I suppose. Quinn also serves as a co-chair of the Hockey Hall of Fame Selection Committee.
My 2012 interview with Mark Recchi posted on The Score’s Backhand Shelf blog on February 1st of that year, shortly after his retirement from the NHL. At that time, Recchi denied foraying into the coaching world, but the co-owner of the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers has since worked for the Dallas Stars as their Advisor to Hockey Operations, and the Pittsburgh Penguins as a player development coach.
The audio of this interview can be heard here:
Posted by Dave Cunning under Interviews on Feb 01, 2012
Usually when people retire from their line of work, they cease continuing to labor in their field of employment. Mark Recchi may have missed this memo.
Although his competitive hockey days are behind him, Recchi continues to be active in hockey. Since his Swan Song Stanley Cup, Recchi has been a participant in the 2012 Winter Classic Alumni Game, Mario Lemieux’s Fantasy Camp, and most recently was a guest coach for Team Cherry at the 2012 CHL/NHL Prospects Game in Kelowna, BC.
The Kamloops Blazers alumnus has always followed his old squad closely, and has finally had the opportunity to attend junior hockey games now that he’s not travelling the continent as a player.
“I always watch. I pay attention,” admitted Recchi. “I know what’s going on, especially in the WHL and all the different teams – that’s the great thing about the internet, you can watch all kinds of different games. I watch all the Blazers games. It’s exciting. I’ve had the opportunity to come back three times and watch the team live, which obviously I wasn’t able to do before. It was really neat for me to get in the building and watch some games.”
Those thinking that this two-day stint as a coach may be foreshadowing a return to hockey for Recchi as a coach can hold on to their rumors – for now. Even though at age 43 he’s becoming farther removed than the younger generation of hockey player, Recchi knows he could still find common ground with players if he did choose to pursue a coaching career.
“No. Not yet anyways,” said Recchi, quelling the coaching notion. “I like the building side more than I do the coaching right now, but you never know. I think everything’s definitely changed since I played junior hockey and over the last number of years, but that’s like anything. I have five children, and I know how to handle young kids. I played with a lot of young players too – Steven Stamkos, Tyler Seguin – I’ve been involved with these younger players coming in and tried to help them. You can see it in their eyes whether they’re a deer in the headlights, or whether they take it all in and do the right things. That’s the stuff I really like to see. Most of these kids will have a great chance to play in the NHL for a number of years if they can keep doing the right things, keep maturing, and stay headed in the right direction. It’s nice to see how they react to it and to see how they handle it. Bottom line is they’re all good kids and they want to learn and get better. Yes, it is a little different world than what I had and I understand that, but you can still talk the same language. I’m 43 going on 25, so I still feel young.”
Some players who have won multiple Stanley Cups fondly remember their first as their favorite. After playing for seven different teams over twenty-two seasons and winning three Cups, Recchi feels his teams’ championship victories grew sweeter each time — and so did his appreciation for the effort it took to achieve them.
“They are all special,” Recchi acknowledged. “The first one’s great, but I thought every other one got better after that. I was 22 years old when I won my first Stanley Cup. I had won in the minors two years before that, and won the World Juniors… and then all of a sudden I didn’t win anything for the next fifteen years. We won the World Championships in 1997, but it was a long time until I won the Cup again in 2006. That one was special. Then to retire on a winning note, and to go out with a bang – I went to Boston to give it that one last chance, and it came through. They’re all totally different. It makes you appreciate how hard it really is to win the Stanley Cup – especially when you go fifteen years between winning another.”
His most recent Cup inscription of course came while he was a member of the Boston Bruins last season. While many have scrutinized the Bruins for being a reckless and dirty team that plays a “bad guy” role in the NHL (see: Lucic vs. Miller), Recchi contends people have those criticisms confused with their deep commitment to teamwork.
“I don’t think they have a “bad guy” mentality, I think they have an all-in team mentality,” Recchi countered. “We took care of business when it needed to be taken care of, but what people didn’t understand was how good of a team we were, and how good of skaters we were. We had better skaters and were deeper than people thought. People overlooked what we had on our team, especially in the Stanley Cup Finals. We were four lines and eight defencemen deep. We were a deep hockey team that was big, and we could skate. We felt in seven game series, we would come out on top because of it. We could skate and play with anybody. We definitely had some incidents though the year where we looked after each other, but we weren’t a highly penalized team overall. But when things needed to be taken care of, or if someone had problems with one of our teammates, we took care of it. We helped each other, and that’s why we were able to build something very special. We had each other’s backs – we knew management had our backs, we knew the coaching staff had our backs, and we had theirs in return. It was an all-in attitude.”
Recchi himself was not without receiving his own criticism in last year’s playoffs – he made a memorable comment that Montreal’s Max Pacioretty may have been embellishing his neck and head injuries after receiving a hit from Zdeno Chara. Recchi admits now that is was indeed a calculated veteran move on his part to deflect heat away from his captain.
“I was doing it to deflect some things,” Recchi conceded. “[Chara] was our captain, and he was very upset about the whole thing. It was a very hard thing for him to handle. He didn’t mean to and doesn’t want to hurt anybody. ‘Z’ is a great person. I said it to take the attention away from him. Pacioretty’s a heck of a player. I felt bad doing it, but at the same time, I had my teammates to protect – that’s the bottom line. ‘Z’ would have done it for me. Anybody would have done it for each other in our dressing room. We were there to look after each other, deflect pressure, deflect criticism, or whatever was needed. That’s what we did, and that’s why we were successful.”
Recchi’s former teammates continue to draw attention to themselves – most recently Tim Thomas, who declined his invitation to meet US President Barack Obama while the rest of his teammates showed up. Recchi was in attendance, but respects Thomas’ exercising of his right to choose.
“That’s Timmy’s choice. I was there, but that’s Timmy’s decision. I respect Timmy for what he is as a person, and as a goalie. Everyone has their own opinions. I would have went, but that’s your right as a person. He’s a terrific goalie – he stops the puck and he’s a great teammate to the guys. It didn’t have any effect with them.”
In addition to his Stanley Cup championships, Recchi was a seven time all-star. His 1,533 career points place him 12th on the all-time NHL scoring list. He’s also 19th in goals (577), 14th in assists (956), 15th in power play goals (200), and tied for 14th with Wayne Gretzky in game-winning goals (91). One would have to think a Hockey Hall of Fame nomination for Recchi wouldn’t be out of the question when time comes.