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[Archive] 2014 interview with Bernie Nicholls

August 21, 2014 Leave a comment

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This interview with NHL legend Bernie Nicholls posted on The Score’s Backhand Shelf blog on February 10th, 2014. The LA Kings were in search of their second Stanley Cup in three seasons, and though Nicholls had moved on from their coaching staff, the lessons he left them with clearly had taken root. LA captured that Cup, and the players that Nicholls mentioned working with specifically appeared even more dominant than they did in 2012. 

The audio of this interview can be heard on the XP PSP: the eXPat Pro Sports Podcast by clicking here, or by listening/downloading on iTunes.  

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An Interview with Los Angeles Kings’ great Bernie Nicholls

Bernie Nicholls

When you think about the LA Kings and what players have meant the most to the team since their inception in 1967, most long term fans would not omit Bernie Nicholls from their list of all-time greats. Though he spent time with six different NHL clubs over 19 seasons, the nine seasons Nicholls played with the LA Kings were most his impactful, and what he is best remembered for. His 150 point season in 1988-89, team records of most points in a game and most goals in a season, and fifth place position in all-time team points left an impression on the franchise and its supporters that holds up to this day.

Nicholls was also an instrumental part of the coaching regime that replaced Terry Murray in LA in 2011, and set the Kings on course to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

I caught up with Bernie via telephone just prior to the Superbowl to talk about all things Kings, coaching, his career, what’s wrong with the slumping LA team and how he’d fix them, where he keeps his Stanley Cup ring, and why he declines his New Jersey Devils’ alumni game invitation every year.

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First of all, how’d your Superbowl predictions turn out?

I got killed. I had Denver. Every one of my bets was with Denver. It was not a good day for me.

It’s tough to find a properly defined role to say what your job description with the LA Kings is right now. “Consultant” or “unofficial assistant coach” is what I’ve read in various reports. Whatever it is, it was enough to get you a day with the Stanley Cup when LA won two years ago. Can you clarify what you do with the team?

It was an assistant coaching job. They said I was a consultant to the coach, Darryl Sutter. But I did everything that the assistant coaches did, pretty much. I did more with the players than the coaches. I think I was a lot closer to the players. It was still like an assistant coaching role. I worked the power play, worked with the kids. When they were slumping or getting down, I think it’s always easier for players to talk to a former player than the head coach. I had a really good rapport with the players. It was along the lines of an assistant coaching role.

You’re talking about this stuff in past tense, are you not with the team anymore?

Yeah I’m not with them now, I didn’t go back this year.

How did the opportunity come up, initially? Word is you worked for free in the beginning because you wanted to work with the team so badly.

I was always asking to try and work with the Kings. They were the team I wanted to [work with] but it didn’t really work out. Then once Terry Murray got fired and they hired Darryl, I called Darryl right away and gave him the idea. Once he took over, I came down with him. It worked out great.

You scored 475 goals, and 1209 points in your career, including 88/89 when you scored a ridiculous 70 goals and 150 points. But that was a different era – people often criticize the goaltending of that time, and goaltending styles and equipment have evolved a lot since then. When you work with today’s players on scoring, do the same principles from when you scored 70 in a season apply, or did you have to take new approaches when helping in that department? How did your experience in your era overlap into players of today having success in this era?

Well I think scoring goals is scoring goals. In my opinion, obviously goalies are better now, and players are much bigger and stronger, but for the most part when you’re playing hockey you still have to score goals, and do the things to give yourself opportunities to score goals. That’s the sort of thing you can teach guys. To me, it’s just working hard. When things aren’t going well, you’ve got to work hard, work your way through it, be yourself in those hard places, and things will work out for you.

Obviously the Kings are having trouble in the goal scoring department these days. What is their problem in your opinion, and how do they fix it? Is it at the point where trading for new players is necessary, or is it just a matter of refining what they have? The team is by no means in short supply of goal scorers with the likes of Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar, but the Kings are second last in goals per game average with 2.25, only better than Buffalo’s 1.83 (top team is 3.42), and second last on the power play with only 13.9% (top team has 24.7%).

They do have some offensive talent, for sure. They play a great defensive system, but for some reason they find it very difficult to score, and I’m not really too sure why. They do have some very talented players. They could create more on the power play. They’re second last, that’s not good. That’d be a start – create, and give themselves more opportunities that way, and just try to find chemistry. I know when Darryl put Kopitar and Carter together they worked very well together, but I think they’ve just cooled off. But it’s tough to score in this league. That’s the biggest problem, and those guys are finding that out real bad right now.

Is that a product of coaching, or of other teams adjusting to their style of play?

The other teams, for sure. Darryl allows the guys to create opportunities. That’s one thing that he does do. He gives guys opportunities to be creative. But one thing about Darryl, if you’re not working hard and you’re not competing, you won’t have an opportunity to be on the power play or be in an offensive role. He demands that you work at it, but sometimes that just doesn’t work.

On the flip side of those negative stats, LA is league best in goals against average with 2.07, gives up the third fewest shots per game with 26.8, has the most wins when winning after two periods with 100%, and win the most face-offs in the league with 53.3%. How has the team been able to accomplish those positive instances alongside the slump? Is there more to it all than having an elite goaltender in Jonathan Quick and great backups in Scrivens and Jones to him, as well as guys like Carter, Kopitar, Stoll, and Richards being dynamite in the faceoff circle? Or is it simply Sutter’s coaching systems, perhaps?

In my opinion, they have the best goalie in probably the world in Quick. They play great defense. That’s Darryl there – he demands his systems are great, a good work ethic, whistle-to-whistle hard nose play, and the players do that, man per man. That may be why you don’t see as many goals from that team, because they do play such a defensive game. No one cheats. To create offense, they play their defensive role, and that gives them an opportunity, but maybe doesn’t give them quite the opportunity to score as many goals. They take care of one end, and that’s key for them. They play so well defensively. They’ve got a good defensive system and a great goalie. That’s why they’re in every game. If they could score goals, they would win every game.

You mentioned you worked with the “kids”. Who were those guys you worked with the closest, and what did you focus on with them?

One thing I preached more than anything — and we worked on it everyday — I’d take Drew Doughty or Voynov out and just work on their trade. You watch good athletes in general, they work hard, and they work hard on their trade. Whether it’s a football player throwing passes all day, or a hockey player shooting hundreds and hundreds of pucks every day. That was key. We would do that. You work with those guys, work on one-timers, quick release, shots from the slot, coming out of the corner…you just work on things to help you create goals. Guys working on their trade is one thing I tried to work on more than anything.

You played with six teams during your NHL career, including nine with the LA Kings. Is there any particular reason you decided to work with LA when your playing days were over, instead of one of your other five former teams? Do you feel you identify with LA the best of them all? Did you have opportunity to work with the Rangers, Oilers, Devils, Blackhawks or Sharks?

LA was the team I approached first. They were the team I wanted to coach. I knew most of the guys there, I spent more time in LA, they were the team I played with the most. I still say it was my team as far as the team I felt most comfortable with. I just liked the guys too. When Darryl went there I felt it was a great opportunity for me to go there. It was more or less because they were my first team, I played the longest there, and I’m there more than any place.

What was it that made you feel LA was your team more than any of those other five you played with?

I played in the organization for ten years, and the others were for two or less. It was the first team I played for, and for the longest, my kids are there… I feel more comfortable with the LA team than any other team I guess.

Do you do any sort of alumni stuff with those other teams, or are you primarily just an LA guy?

I still do some alumni stuff for Chicago a little bit, San Jose I have. I haven’t for the other ones, but I would. I’ve been asked every year to go to New Jersey, but it’s moose hunting season for me at that time and I can’t make it. But I’ve done charity games for the other teams as well, and I enjoy doing it, for sure.

When the Kings won their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, did you feel any personal connection with the championship as a former Kings player, and further as a player who was so instrumental in the smaller successes the team had while you played? You’re fifth in all-time team points (758), and even have a couple of team records that Wayne Gretzky doesn’t have: most points in a game by a King (8), and most goals in a season (70) – those sort of things tend to stitch you to a team pretty tight, especially to fans in retrospect. Obviously you weren’t on the ice when they won, but did you feel like that was your Cup too?

Well, it’s not the same as playing, obviously, but it’s a close second. Being around the guys, you get the joy from watching them compete everyday. You know, as a former player, what they go through and what it takes to be successful. You’re out there helping them any way you can, and if you’ve added a little bit to their success, then great. You hope that you did, and looking at it like that, yeah you do feel like you’re part of it.

Did you get your name on the Cup, or a ring?

I got a ring, yeah. It’s on my dresser in my bedroom.

An interview with you I read said you had never touched the Stanley Cup, presumably before you got your hands all over it when the Kings won. How good did it feel to finally be able to break that vow?

It was really exciting. More so for the players than myself. It’s much different as a player than as a coach, assistant, or whatever it may be. But it was still really, really exciting to be there. My daughter was with me, and we spent a lot of time with it that night. It was really exciting, no question.

Was there any one player on that team that you felt you identified with most, had the best rapport with, and was particularly happy to watch win the Cup?

Other than one or two players, no one else had won the Cup, so they were all really, really excited. I played similar to a Mike Richards I guess, but I think I could identify with the skilled players – Kopitar, Doughty, Carter – that’s kind of the role I would have taken. Those guys played so well, and so well as a group. They were not going to be denied. They had as good of a run in the playoffs as probably any team has ever had. It was pretty cool.

Why in particular is that tradition of not touching the Cup unless you’ve won it so revered? Lots of people with or without hockey backgrounds seem to uphold that approach — even former players who will never win it.  

I think it’s just respect. As a hockey player, you realize how tremendously difficult it is to win, that it’s such an honor to win, and until you do win I just don’t feel, and I’m sure there’s a lot of people who don’t feel like you should be touching it as far as players and former players who’ve never won it. It may be a little weird, but it is what it is. I just think the players have so much respect for the Cup that if you don’t win it, you don’t deserve to touch it.

What are your thoughts on the NFL’s tradition of the winning team’s owner touching the trophy first, rather than how the captain gets first touch in hockey?

I have no problem with that. Everything’s different. Every league’s different. That’s great too. The owner is the one who pays all the players all the money, so he’s responsible for the team, and it’s his team, so I have no problem with him touching it first either. I’m not sure every player gets their trophy for a day like hockey does though, which is just amazing.

So if Dean Lombardi, or Kings owner Philip Anschutz had touched the Cup before Dustin Brown did, you’d be ok with that? Or is it just ok for the NFL because it’s a totally different sport with its own unique customs?

I love the way we do it. They way it’s presented on the ice, the way they do it I think is great. Football’s different. They have the big stage, the owner, GM, and coach are up there, and then they’ll call up one or a couple of the players to talk, but that’s fine too.

Another interview I read with you regarding the 2012 playoffs quoted you as saying,

“We had a big meeting the night before Game 1, and I went for a walk after, and it was like I went right back to (being) a player. I was really excited, I had the butterflies, I was just so amped up, I was so excited – that was the first time for me in 12 years. It was unbelievable. To have that feeling is great – athletes get it a lot before big games and I had it. I could have played that night, I could have played, I was ready to go!” 

How hard is it to be in a position like that and not be able to play? How often do you get to play these days? You seem like a player that genuinely loves to play the game.

Well I don’t think it’s like you want to jump on the ice and go, that kind of wears off after you’ve been out for a couple of years. But just that thought – I hadn’t been around the game in a long time, or in a competitive setting like I was there, back in the game again. As athletes, you’re kind of wired different than most. Regular season games are regular season games, but once you make the playoffs, your body and your mind knows it’s a different animal. You feel different the day of the game — your body does, your mind does. For me at that time, we had the meeting, and I just went for a walk, and I felt like I did in one of my playoff games when I played again. It’s a great feeling to have. It’s tough to explain unless you’ve been there. Most athletes who have been there understand. It was really a cool feeling to get that again – to get those butterflies, to get all excited about the game. It’s difficult when you can’t do anything though. If I’m working the power play and I’m watching them and they go 0 for 5 or something and you go, ‘wow, I maybe could have helped,’ not that I could, but your mind still thinks you can, and you’re body says, ‘noooo, you can’t.’

Did you get the chance to skate on the Dodger Stadium ice during the Stadium Series event?

I didn’t. They dropped the ball so bad. Out of all the outdoor games, the only one they did [alumni games at] was the Winter Classic. They had Toronto and Detroit and they had two games. That’s how many alumni they had. They had 40,000 people there for an alumni game. I can’t believe why at Yankee Stadium they wouldn’t let the Rangers and Devils play an alumni game, or at Dodger Stadium. I heard Luc [Robitalle] tried, but the league wouldn’t let them. I just can’t believe they wouldn’t let them do that. It would have been so cool.

I still do fantasy camps, though. I’m going to do Wayne Gretzky’s fantasy camp in Vegas in March, I’ll try to do the Kings, I think I’ll do the Sharks at the end of March. I still love to skate. Even to this day, I put my skates on, and I still feel like a kid when I go out on the ice. It’s something that will probably never leave me, and I hope it never does. It’s always fun to put those skates on.

Are you one of those players who is superstitious and still uses all his old gear, or have you upgraded your equipment over the years? 

My pants I had in Chicago in ’94, I don’t wear a helmet anymore but I still have my CCM helmet from LA, my skates I’ve had for a little while but new skates are always better than the old ones anyway. I’ve got my old gloves too. I still like the old setup.

So you didn’t get on the Dodger Stadium ice, but did you get down to the event? Did you get any beach volleyball in on the court in left field?

No, I was at home. I was back in Canada for it. I wasn’t out there. I would have liked to have went, but I was back in Canada, in the snow.

Well that was a poor decision.

It was a terrible one.

To your knowledge, is there any reason the Kings decided to go with gray jerseys for the game, rather than a throwback to the purple and gold version, like most teams tend to do for outdoor games?

I think they did the same as New York. They went white and black I think. I just think they did all that for advertising and for merchandise to sell. The uniforms looked beautiful. The Ducks’ were different, so were the Islanders’ and Rangers’. I just think it was a big money grab to sell merchandise. Just another jersey. The Kings always wear the old jersey on legends night. There are about three times a year that they’ll bring the old purple and gold out.

When you look back on your career as both a player and a coach, what’s that one moment that stands above the rest of them?

I think having an opportunity to play with Wayne Gretzky was great. Just playing in the NHL. I feel like I’m just a kid when I’m playing. To think you get to play a game every day in front of thousands of people, I can’t think of anything better to do. Just everything about it to me is amazing. Playing in the NHL for that long, playing with the great players that you play with, travelling around… it was a dream that most kids dream about and only a select few get an opportunity to do, and I was fortunate to be one of them.

 

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[Archive] 2013 interview with Wade Redden

August 18, 2014 Leave a comment

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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. 

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Interview: Wade Redden talks with Backhand Shelf about his return to the NHL

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. 

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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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[Archive] 2012 interview with Logan Couture

August 15, 2014 Leave a comment

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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.  

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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”

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.

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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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[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.

XP PSP episodes 11 & 6

February 14, 2014 Leave a comment

Two new episodes of XP PSP to update you on:

In episode 11, Sachin and Harold return for panel discussion on the Superbowl, cast their Superbowl predictions, discuss how to choose a team to cheer for if you don’t have one in your hometown and whether geography or national pride should play into your decision; Harold says the CFL isn’t real football and discusses why he turned down an opportunity to play in the league; Sachin plays the race card concerning the Richard Sherman issue and rips Erin Andrews; and we all decide whether we’d let our kids play hockey or football knowing how what we now do about injuries, and how prevalent the risks of concussions and other injuries now are in sports.

Click here to listen to episode 11

In episode 6, I went 1-on-1 with 19 year NHL veteran Bernie Nicholls to talk all things LA Kings, their current slump and how he’d cure it, where he keeps his Stanley Cup ring, why he declines his invites to the New Jersey Devils’ alumni game every year, who should be allowed to touch the Stanley Cup, and a whole bunch more.

Click here to listen to episode 6

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Click here to download or listen to any past episode on iTunes

Feel free to email the show at xppsp@yahoo.com with any comments, guest requests, or discussion topic suggestions!

Are Ovechkin’s Best Days Behind Him?

November 13, 2011 Leave a comment

 

[originally post for www.betonhockey.com on November 8, 2011]

Is it possible that Alex Ovechkin’s best and most productive days of hockey are behind him?

Probably not, but let’s speculate some evidence of why they might be, if indeed they are.

Last year, in the first ever fantasy hockey pool that I paid money to take part in, I somehow lucked out and drew the first overall pick.  At the time, it was a no-brainer and generally assumed that your first pick would be either Ovechkin or Crosby.  I picked Ovie.  Mainly because in his past 4 of 5 seasons, he had 100 or more points, and seemed like he could score whenever he wanted to.  He was just always dangerous if he had the puck.  The guy scored a goal sliding on his back on the ice while doing a barrel-roll for crying out loud.  Now, you may argue that I did get the better choice of the two considering Crosby’s season-ending injury, and that Alex finished ahead of Crosby in points.  But, for the guy that was supposed to finish first overall in scoring, instead he placed seventh, and scored 24 fewer points than he did the season before.  I made an early exit out of the fantasy pool and lost all my money.  **Screams in my best Captain Kirk/George Costanza Wrath of Khan reference impression** OOOOOOVVVVVVIEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!

We’ve since learned that he was injured – as he took 10 games off before the playoffs, and has eluded in interviews to rehabbing over the summer during his training.  Whatever was bothering him then, may continue to linger.  When an injury site is vaguely referred to as an upper or lower body injury, it’s hard to speculate the possible extent and long term effects on the injury.  BUT, from experience, between a torn ACL in my knee, broken collar-bones, pulled groins, and minor neck, back, and shoulder issues, they all had range-of-motion limiting effects on me, though I eventually healed and played through them all.  Wayne Gretzky’s back injury in 1991 was one that had lasting effects on his career and offensive productivity until he retired.  As of this post, Ovechkin’s sitting at #39 in league scoring, averaging less than a point a game, and sitting at -1.  For him, that’s unheard of.  Since 2008, his point totals have been slowly diminishing, and so have his shots on goal (you know, scoring chances).  In 2008, he took 528 shots.  The following years, he only took 368, then 367 shots.  And with those lowered totals have also come less wild, pre-meditated stick-burning goal celebrations.  While he’s still excited when he scores, his reactions are noticeably subdued, for him anyways.

He’s changed his gear this year too, switching from CCM to Bauer.  Hockey players are very particular with their gear, and once a player finds a setup they like and seems help put pucks in the net for them, they’ll quite often remain loyal to that brand forever.  This move may be purely monetary, but it may also indicate that Ovechkin’s lost confidence in his previous equipment to help him score goals.  And further, it may have damaged his confidence in himself to score goals.  You could always tell in Ovie’s goals, skating speed, interviews, and off-ice antics, that confidence has never been an issue for him.  When you’re a player of Alex Ovechkin’s caliber, you can’t afford to have anything get you “in the head” if you hope to score torrentially like you once did.

And further on confidence, even his coach, Bruce Boudreau has shown lower confidence in him; benching him on November 1st, in favour of other players.  Boudreau was quoted as saying, “I thought other guys were better than him …I’ve got to put out the guys that I think are going to score … I just didn’t think Alex was going to score.”  Moments after Boudreau cold-shouldered him, Ovechkin was cussing like a sailor at the snubbing.  Ovechkin’s used to being the go-to guy when the team needs a goal, and in these key situations, he’s starting to not be the guy Boudreau taps on the shoulder first anymore.  That can’t be good for the ol’ ego.

And further still, Ovechkin’s the Capitals captain.  What are other players supposed to think of their leader when they see him not chosen to lead them?  The C may simply be too much responsibility for him, ala Mike Modano, Brett Hull, or any other former NHL captains that have either surrendered their C, or had it taken away by their coach/team management.

Boudreau’s not exactly innocent of blame here either.  He’s spent so much time trying to change Ovechkin and the Capitals’ overly offensive playing style over the last couple of seasons that Ovie couldn’t even be his old-self if he tried.  His most effective style – the kamikaze-bull-in-a-china-shop-shoot-and-score-from-anywhere-blow-guys-up-and-there’s-no-need-for-defence- style – has been rendered obsolete.  Bruce, you seriously want an offensive juggernaut to turn in his guns and become a 2-way, defence-first, responsible, playmaker instead?  Has anyone told you who plays for your team, and what they do best?  Sure, balance out weaknesses, but come on, no other team has the scoring personnel that Washington does.  Last I checked, you still have to score more goals than the other team to win a hockey game, right?

Ovie could be just plain distracted too.  He’s doing endorsements and/or commercials for Bauer, Nike, Mr. Big, Eastern Motors, ESPN, and probably forty companies based in Russia.  Maybe making money’s beginning to take mental precedence over being a dominant hockey player every year?

Some speculative conspiracy:  George Laraque recently wrote in his book regarding steroids in the NHL, saying that,

“I can give you some clues here that will help you identify the ones using steroids, if you really feel like it. First, you just have to notice how some talented players will experience an efficiency loss as well as a weight loss every four years, those years being the ones where the Winter Olympics are held. In the following season they make a strong comeback; they manage a mysterious return to form.”

I’m not going to say Ovechkin was/is on PED’s, but his production did begin to decline post 2010 Olympics. Heck, even during the Olympics.  Ovie’s former other-worldly talent, speed, and scoring ability suddenly turned suspiciously average.  Like Tiger Woods, but without the TMZ scandal.

And finally, the guy just can’t seem to win the big one.  Besides the 2008 World Championship tournament that’s attended by a fraction of the best players in the world, the Stanley Cup, and the Olympic gold medal (the real world championship in my view) continue to elude him.  Could frustration over continual early playoff exits, and Crosby’s ongoing trumping of him be wearing him down too?  Is it possible he’s become complacent with just being really good and making a lot of money?  Is it feasible that with Sidney Crosby sidelined, Alex doesn’t have the competitive drive to try and be better than Sid, his arch-nemesis, the player he’s most often compared to?

I love watching Alexander Ovechkin, and I truly hope he gets back to form and proves all of this wrong.  He’s been the face of the league since he’s been around, and if he can get his act together, there’s no reason why he can’t continue to be.  But the question is, will he?

 

Hockey Talkie: Winnipeg Jets, Draft, Oilers – Smyth, Taylor/Tyler Trump, and the Creepy Keeper of The Cup.

June 24, 2011 2 comments

Do you remember in 1994 when the unnamed Baltimore franchise competed in the CFL, and then won the Grey Cup the following year? It looked like we might be getting to that point with the “Winnipeg NHL franchise”, until mercifully, they officially introduced themselves as the Winnipeg Jets at the 2011 Draft. Great move. I understand the arguments to have called the team other things to be more provincially inclusive, or go in a different direction; but in the end, the team did the right thing – they gave the people what they wanted. Gonna be awkward when the Phoenix Coyotes play their first game at the MTS Centre though. Now all they have to do is swindle Teemu Selanne out of Anaheim and they’ll be set. Also, jerseys and a logo would be nice.

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On the heels of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, and with last year’s #1 overall, Taylor Hall, ascending the podium with the Oilers brass to announce the first overall pick, I had a thought a while back….with a Stanley Cup ring in his first year in the league, did Tyler Seguin check-and-mate the Taylor vs Tyler debate? Seems like the ultimate trump card, does it not? These guys are going to have long, successful careers in the league, and the debate will probably live on for years, but at this point, Taylor’s got a whole lot of catch-up to play; especially while still a member of the cellar-dwelling (albeit youthful talent laden) Oilers.

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Speaking of the Oilers…. You know you’re either Canadian or just plain nuts when you voluntarily request to move from +30° C LA beach weather to -30° C Alberta blizzard weather, as Ryan Smyth is trying to wiggle his way back to Edmonton. I really respect what Smyth has done in the NHL, and for team Canada and all, but where does he get this crazy notion he can play for anyone he wants to? Even though he’s following all Wayne’s team footsteps, Gretzky went where he was told in the end (PS – you should watch ESPN’s 30 for 30 “Kings Ransom” on the Gretzky trade for that whole story). It just seems a little arrogant for Smyth, which is extremely out of character. With LA nabbing Richards from Philly, I’m sure the Kings aren’t exactly clambering to pick up the pieces after his departure. It’s too bad, because he was one of LA’s more productive players last season, right into their playoff run.

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Good to see the Columbus Blue Jackets finally acquiring some talent to help out Rick Nash from doing everything.  I was seriously thinking of starting a FREE RICK NASH campaign to try and get him traded to team with a chance to win, but with these latest developments, I may have to sit on that one for a little longer.

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Phil Pritchard, aka the” Keeper Of The Cup” sure does polish the Stanley Cup a disturbing, creepy amount, wouldn’t you say? The guy is with the trophy every day of his life; have you ever seen him not rubbing that Cup down with that little grin on his face? I thought he might go all Smeagol/Gollum and run out and stab Zdeno Chara this year after Bettman took the Cup away from him and gave it to the Bruins’ captain. He probably could’ve claimed the riot tweaked him out, and gotten away with it.

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Brad Marchand is the NHL’s new Claude Lemieux, pest/irritation wise. With those babyface red cheeks of his and inability to grow facial hair, perhaps just less assuming, but just as ratty.

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And lastly, even if you didn’t like the outcome of the Stanley Cup Final, you gotta agree, seeing that Stanley Cup hoisted is absolutely extraordinary. What an exclamation point of a literal life-long journey for those fortunate enough to win it. The most difficult trophy in sports to win, and the biggest and most impressive looking for a reason. I wonder if any of this year’s draft picks will be lifting the grail above their heads, ala Tyler Seguin, at the conclusion of next season?

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