[Archive] 2012 interview with Mike Danton

August 14, 2014 Leave a comment

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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:

Interview with Mike Danton: “Vick, Tyson, and Heatley all got breaks, where’s my break?”

 

(UPDATE: Mike Danton signed with Kramfors-Alliansen of the Swedish elite league earlier in the week. For more, here’s Danton’s personal website.)

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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.

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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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[Archive] 2012 interview with Ken Hitchcock

August 13, 2014 Leave a comment

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. 

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Interview with Ken Hitchcock: “In this business, you learn not to hang pictures.”

(Follow Dave Cunning’s blog “Serenity Now,” and follow him on Twitter here)

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.

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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.”

[Archive] 2012 interview with Pat Quinn

August 12, 2014 Leave a comment

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. 

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A short conversation with Pat Quinn

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.

[Archive] 2012 interview with Mark Recchi

August 11, 2014 Leave a comment

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:

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Backhand Shelf speaks with Mark Recchi at the CHL Prospects Game

 

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.

[Archive] 2011 Interview with Blake Comeau

August 10, 2014 Leave a comment

This article was posted on The Score’s Backhand Shelf blog on December 28, 2011. I interviewed Blake Comeau, then of the Calgary Flames, fresh off a trade from the New York Islanders, hoping to make a fresh start after his time on Long Island had gone sour. After only 91 games, 9 goals, 13 assists, and 22 points over two seasons with Calgary, Comeau has since moved onto the Columbus Blue Jackets (2012-14: 70 GP, 7 G, 14 A, 21 PTS) and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

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Blake Comeau is finding his stride in Calgary, and pleased to be on a playoff contender

Typically when you have a hockey player who improves his point production every season, and is coming off a year of career highs, he’d continue to receive incre

ased levels of playing time, and should subsequently churn out progressively higher point totals with each passing season. However, “typical” is not word that would accurately describe Blake Comeau’s current NHL campaign.

“I was excited with the direction my game was going after last season,” said Comeau, Calgary Flames’ left-winger. “I wanted to build off it this year. I hit a little bump in the road.”

After being healthy scratched by the New York Islanders on October 15th, 20th, and November 21st, the un-injured Comeau knew his days in an Islander uniform were numbered.

He appeared in his last game for New York on November 23rd, where he saw only 6:45 of time on the ice, and was only used for eight shifts. Those numbers were nearly half of his typical game engagement this season –up until then, he was averaging 16 shifts and just under 14 minutes on the ice per game. But even those numbers were in stark contrast to last season, which often saw him play around 22 minutes and get up to 30 shifts some games.

This all translated into Comeau not registering a single point through 16 games with New York, and posting a dismal -11 rating.

”I didn’t feel like anyone was really scoring to start the year off in New York,” Comeau explained. “We were struggling offensively. Honestly I’m still in the dark, and I don’t think I’ll ever know why I was healthy scratched. I asked questions and tried to figure out what I could do to stay in the lineup, and nothing was ever answered. I knew my production was going to go down there, as my opportunities were being cut in half. I wasn’t getting as much ice time as I was in the previous years. It’s on me as well though – I wasn’t producing like I wanted to.”

It was a mind-boggling move by New York, who had re-signed Comeau to a one- year, $2.5 million dollar contract for the 2011-12 season. The Islanders are third lowest in contract spending this year, and have $13 million dollars of salary cap space available, so benching their eighth highest paid player didn’t make any financial sense either.

I’m not really sure what happened over the summer,” said Comeau. “Obviously something changed during that time, and I wasn’t in their plans anymore. I wish I could pinpoint what it was. There wasn’t any communication with me at the start of the year. I didn’t know why I was sitting out, and I didn’t know why anything was going the way it was. I asked questions and there was never really anyone to answer them. To me it didn’t make sense.”

At only 25 years of age, and with improved statistical returns every season, the Islanders decision to delete Comeau from their long-term plans was definitely a head-scratcher.  He was placed on waivers by the Islanders on November 24th, and promptly picked up by the Calgary Flames the following day.

“I was pretty excited when I was picked up by Calgary off waivers,” Comeau said. “I look at it as everything happening for a reason. There are no hard feelings [with the New York Islanders]—I made a lot of good friends in New York. It’s part of the business sometimes – you have to move on, and go to a new team. For me, moving was the best situation. It was a really good time for me to get a change of scenery, and I’m really excited to be in Calgary. The fresh start here has given me a spark.”

Statistically speaking, the scenery change has indeed sparked Comeau  – in his first sixteen games as a member of the Calgary Flames, he’s recorded 2 goals and 3 assists for 5 points, and sits at a much improved  -1 rating.

“I’ve gotten better the more I’ve played, and the more comfortable I’ve gotten,” Comeau explained. “There’s still a ways to go—it’d be nice to contribute offensively a little more. But I’m bringing other things to the game when I’m not scoring too, with physical play, on the penalty kill, and things like that. If I can keep doing the things that made me successful last year, more often than not I’m going to be able to get on the score sheet. To me, it doesn’t really matter if I’m scoring, as long as we’re winning.”

Winning is not something Comeau was not able to do very often with the Islanders, who currently sit 28th out of 30 teams in NHL standings, and have failed to qualify for the playoffs the previous four seasons. The Flames have missed the playoffs the last two seasons, but currently sit in a tie for eighth with plenty of hockey to be played in the 2011-12 NHL season.  Comeau is ecstatic to be part of a team in the playoff hunt.

“My first goal is to try to help the team make the playoffs. In New York, we never made the playoffs while I was there, and I haven’t played in them yet. It’d be a nice thing to have in my first year in Calgary. It’s nice to be in a playoff race now. Every game’s important. There were times in New York where we were out of the playoff race pretty early. Not taking anything away from New York – they’ve got a lot of good, young players, a young team, and a good future ahead of them I think – but  it’s a nice change of pace for me to be out here in a playoff race, and able to see how important every game is. It’ll be really nice if we can string some wins together here and get in the playoffs – that’s definitely our goal.”

Calgary’s current three-game winning streak, which boasts victories over top ranked Minnesota, Detroit, and Vancouver, makes the Flames’ playoff aspirations more tangible and realistic.

Comeau will face his old club for the first time later this month, when the Calgary Flames travel to Long Island to face the Islanders on December 29th.

 

Jeju Cup scores big, puts hockey on the map in Jeju, South Korea

July 25, 2014 Leave a comment

faceoff

Photo credit: Douglas Macdonald

I think we might have made hockey a thing on Jeju Island.

The Inaugural Jeju Cup was a stunning success. We amazingly met our fundraising goal of 1,000,000 KRW to benefit the Jeju Inline Academy with purchase assistance of their first set of goalie equipment, which we hope to acquired soon. Besides that, Jeju went from having zero hockey to six teams and 40 players in the span of nine months, featuring a tournament filled with players from Canada, the USA, England, South Africa, and Korea — some reconnecting with the game, and many trying it for the very first time. Backgrounds aside, everyone had a great time, and there were many requests for another event to be hosted in the near future.

But don’t take my word for it, here’s the coverage our tournament got from all over:

event rundown by the Jeju Weeklyhttp://www.jejuweekly.com/news/articleView.html?idxno=4231

the event made news in my hometown of Kelowna, BC Canada too, as Wendy McLeod of KelownaNow.com wrote us up: http://www.kelownanow.com/columns/sports/news/Sports/14/07/19/Okanagan_Hockey_Player_Brings_Canada_s_Sport_to_South_Korea

Locally renowned photographer Douglas Macdonald — who’s had his shots in National Geographic and Getty Images — captured our event through his lens too: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=oa.247836218748279&type=1

If you’d like to support the ongoing growth of hockey in Jeju, South Korea, consider picking up one of our t-shirts, which we sold out of at the event and had to re-order due to their popularity: https://www.etsy.com/shop/davecunning

And you can always join the Jeju Islanders’ Facebook group if you want to keep up with our team: https://www.facebook.com/groups/jeju.island.hockey/

IMG_4526-4

Photo credit: Douglas Macdonald

Is the World Cup worth it? Infographic lets you be the judge.

July 7, 2014 Leave a comment

With the 2014 FIFA World Cup now whittled down to its semi-finals,  and Brazil, Germany, Netherlands, and Argentina ready to square off against each other to see who will play for soccer’s richest prize, it seems like a good time to evaluate whether the tournament has been worth what Brazil paid to get it. The hosts were (and always are, not unlike Olympic hosts) heavily criticized for their expenditures a midst troubling economic times for its citizens — especially considering that hosts get very little money back at tournament’s end,  or over the long term.

The folks at 188betblog.com have made an infographic showing the costs that many host countries paid for past World Cups, and the returns the event created for both the host and FIFA. You’ll be interested to know how expensive it is,  and you may even start questioning whether hosting the World Cup is actually worth it in the long run or not — if you weren’t already prior to seeing this evidence.
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WorldCup infographicThe 2014 World Cup is one of the biggest international sports events of the year, rivaling the Winter Olympics in Sochi held in February.  The World Cup is a celebration of football, a sport beloved by millions — if not billions — of fans from all corners of the world.

Fans are embracing the World Cup, but FIFA and other tournament organizers were concerned about the costs spent preparing for the tournament.  Many of the costs were tied up in stadium construction or investments in infrastructure.  On the flip side, the work stimulated thousands of jobs for the national economy.

But do those costs pay off over the long term? Economists predict Brazil will spend at least £8.6 billion ($14.5 billion), with some experts predicting the cost could even double that estimate.

If the total cost is finalized at the minimum projection, the bill will still be astronomically above the tabs for previous World Cup tournaments.  For example, South Africa spent approximately £2.6 billion ($4.5 billion) on the 2010 World Cup – only a fraction of the projected costs for Brazil.

What’s more concerning for the Brazilian economy is that history is not a comforting guide.  According to International Business Times, South Africa made back only 11 percent on a £2.6 billion ($4.5 billion) investment to host the 2010 World Cup – falling far short of initial estimated profits.

The same post mentions Brazil’s plans to bring home approximately £6.5 billion ($11 billion) in revenue from the 2014 World Cup.  Even if Brazil hits that goal, the revenue will still fall short of making back all the money invested into hosting the tournament.

The cost vs. benefit debate dates back to previous World Cups as well, with many experts questioning if hosting the World Cup is in a country’s best economic interests.  As costs and expectations continue rising with each passing year, is the payoff to host the World Cup really worthwhile?

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