It’s impressive when a company can re-invent a basic product, and actually have their new approach reach beyond the label of total gimmick. Take the belt and belt buckle for example – l mean, since forever (actually only since the Bronze Age, says Wikipedia), anyone who has ever had a need to keep their pants from falling down has accepted that a belt strap wraps around your waist, heads through a buckle, and then is affixed with a prong securing itself in a hole on the belt’s opposite end. The belt buckle strays a little from this method, but is still conceptually the same. So it is, so it was, so it always will be, right?
Enter The Mission Belt Company. Mission Belt has, without a doubt, changed the belt game. For the better. Not only do they make a better belt than what we’re all used to, they’re helping make the world a better place too. So beat that, conventional belt makers.
The major conceptual reinvention Mission Belt employs with their leather belts and buckles is a ratchet system, built into both the buckle and the leather strap. They’ve completely bypassed the standard holes and prong approach, instead giving you a completely different fastening experience. Conversely, Mission’s belt does away with the leather puncturing holes and replaces them with gear-like teeth on the underside of the strap. When this section hits the buckle after insertion, it’s met by the pawl on the backside of the connection point. The wearer simply slides the belt in as far as necessary, and the belt locks in place. When escape is necessary, freedom is only a release knob lift away. Readjustment requires only a push in on the strap – unlike the traditional belt that requires an entire unlatch and re-latch to get where you need to be. Don’t expect readjustment to be overly necessary though – unlike old style belts that can loosen over time through wear and tear, the Mission Belt stays locked in place all day unless you tell it otherwise.
Still need help with this new concept? Here’s a video walkthrough:
Mission Belts are resizable too — here’s another video walkthrough on how to shorten the leather strap.
Further, you can (likely) get a buckle with your favorite team’s logo on it. 22 NHL teams are available, alongside squads from the NCAA and NBA. Each team has 2-4 pre-set leather color options, but if none of them strike your combo fancy, you can mix and match your buckle with one of the 17 leather colors the company offers. And if sports belts aren’t your thing, they have a whole line of other fashionable belts to peruse instead. A standard belt/leather combo set runs $54.95, but alternatively you can pick your own buckle for $34.95, and then pay $20 for leather of your choice, to get the combination you desire or to switch up another setup you already have in play. Sizes fit small to large, accommodating 32” to 42” waists within those standard sizes, or you can customize a belt to fit up to a 56” waist.
Beyond all that, “Mission” is not only the company’s name, it’s also part of their business plan. For every Mission Belt sold, $1 is donated to Kiva, a non-profit peer-to-peer “micro-lending” organization that helps provide opportunities to support economic development and entrepreneurship around the globe. To learn more about how Mission Belt’s team up with Kiva helps fight global hunger and poverty through micro-lending, read Mission’s statement on their practices here, visit Kiva’s website www.kiva.org, and visit Mission Belt’s Kiva lender profile here.
Look good with Mission Belts, and feel good about looking so good too!
Wanna win your own Mission Belt? I am giving away a size medium (up to 35″ waist) LA Kings buckle with “Cool Grey” strap to the first commenter who can correctly answer the following question:
Wayne Gretzky finished his NHL career with 2,857 regular season points and 382 playoff points. What is the combined total of regular season AND playoff points he scored for the LA Kings?
The first person to leave the correct total in a comment will win! Good luck!
Thinking about attending an NHL game or two this season? The leading resale ticket market aggregator/data source, TiqIQ ( www.tiqiq.com ) has got your budgeting covered as they’ve gathered ticket price info from the entire NHL to show you what’s affordable, what’s not, and everything in between. Here’s what they found out:
- The average price for an NHL ticket is currently $162.96, which is 1.29% higher than the price this time last year ($160.89)
- We have seen over the past several years, prices from now till end of season tend to drop anywhere between 18%-29%
- Below are the Top 5 teams with the most expensive tickets this season:
- Leafs: $373.50
- Canucks: $282.58
- Blackhawks: $275.65
- Oilers: $259.83
- Flames: $241.18
- The team with the lowest average price currently are the Tampa Bay Lightning at $77.21
- The team with the biggest % increase from last season to this season is the Ducks at 75.95% ($55.23 to $95.51) and the Jets had biggest decrease at -24.16% ($206.53 to $156.64)
- Below are a few other notable teams and their change in price from last year:
- Rangers: -6.62% ($233.42 to $217.97)
- Kings: +5.74% ($125.73 to $132.95)
- Blackhawks: -13.03% ($316.94 to $275.65)
- Islanders: +41.17% ($89.17 to $125.88)
- Avalanche: +17.92% ($87.11 to $102.72)
With teams from the Western Conference winning 60% of the Stanley Cup championships since the league split into Eastern and Western Conferences in 1994, does the NHL’s most recent alignment structure disadvantage Eastern Conference teams? New statistical research says Yes!
Last year, the NHL realigned its conferences and divisions. The Eastern Conference now has 16 teams, while the Western Conference has only 14. Since there still are eight playoff spots in both conferences, teams in the West have a 57% probability of making the playoffs compared to just 50% for East teams.
This imbalance raises the question of how much more difficult it will be to make the playoffs in the East. In other words: How many more points—on average—will the East’s 8th seed team need to earn than the West’s 8th seed team to make the playoffs? If this difference—called the “conference gap”—is zero, we can conclude no team is facing an unfair advantage to getting into the playoffs. If the conference gap is not zero, we can question whether the realignment is fair.
To quantify this potential gap, Stephen Pettigrew, author of the Rink Stats blog (http://rinkstats.com/), estimated the impact of realignment using a Monte Carlo simulation of the new alignment’s scheduling matrix over 10,000 simulated NHL seasons (Monte Carlo methods are a common tool for statistical researchers to simulate games and seasons in hockey and other sports).
Pettigrew’s analysis reveals that when team talent is roughly distributed evenly between the two conferences, it will require 2.74 more points on average to make the playoffs in the East than in the West. So, on average, an Eastern Conference playoff-hopeful team will need to win one or two more games than a Western Conference playoff-hopeful team.
This finding has far-reaching competitive and financial implications for the NHL. For owners, it means imbalances in the revenue earned from home playoff games. Western Conference teams will make the playoffs at higher rates than Eastern Conference teams, resulting in at least two extra games of ticket and concession sales. For players, it means playing for a Western Conference team gives them a better chance of winning the Stanley Cup in any given year since simply making it to the playoffs gives them a chance to win it all. For fans of Eastern Conference teams, it means a higher probability their season will end too soon and less of a chance that in any given year his or her team will win the Stanley Cup.
Pettigrew’s analysis is reported in the September 2014 issue of the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports (http://www.degruyter.com/view/j/jqas), a publication of the American Statistical Association (www.amstat.org).
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My interview with San Jose Sharks’ defenceman Matt Irwin posted on The Score’s Backhand Shelf blog on March 26, 2014. The NHL sophomore went on to play his first season entirely in the NHL, with no AHL appearances. He boosted his game appearances from 38 to 62, added 11 assists to his 2012-13 total for a career high 17, finished with a career high 19 points and +5 rating. He also made his first ever NHL Stanley Cup playoff appearance and scored his first ever NHL Stanley Cup playoff goal in the first round against the LA Kings.
Posted by Dave Cunning under Interviews on Mar 26, 2014
He may not be a household name just yet, but San Jose Sharks defenseman Matt Irwin may work his way into your mental NHL player directory yet. Now in his second NHL season, the 26 year old British Columbian is continuing a trend from his amateur career that has seen his point totals, ice-time, and contributions to his team’s success dynamically increase every year.
Irwin spoke with me at length about his long road to the NHL and what he’ll have to do to stay there, the tough decisions he was required to make and small window of opportunity he had to live out his dream, past teammates that helped get him where he is now, current ones that help make him better, what the San Jose Sharks will have to do to win their first Stanley Cup, what it takes to be consistently inserted into a lineup full of Olympians, All-Stars, and Stanley Cup champions, and more.
Let’s start at the beginning. In 04-05, you got to play three games of Junior A hockey just up the road from your hometown of Brentwood Bay, BC, with the Nanaimo Clippers of the BCHL. You didn’t record any points, but did skate alongside future NHLer Jason Garisson. In 05-06, you played alongside future NHLer Colin Greening in Nanaimo for 56 games and had 9 points. In 06-07 you exploded for 49 points, was the team’s top scoring d-man, the Clippers won the BCHL, and you were named the BCHL’s best defenceman. 07-08 was more of the same, as you’re again the team’s top scoring d man, and win league’s best defenceman. So explain your rather dynamic development in junior hockey — what did you take away from the guys you played with that went on to play at higher levels of the game, and how did it help influence your junior career to produce what it did?
Irwin: “Those three games were as an affiliate player. I played Junior B with Saanich in Victoria, and got an opportunity to play in three games [with Nanaimo] and see what it was all about. It was a big step for me. From there, I got the opportunity to sign and play [the following season] with them for the whole year where I got to play on a consistent basis. Not a lot of power play time, more five-on-five minutes. The following year when everything picked up, Bill [Bestwick] gave me a great opportunity to play on the power play. The first five games of that year I had five or six goals. It was all happening really fast, I wasn’t expecting it. I was working on my shot, Bill had me working on it all the time. That’s where the offensive side of it started to come together.”
After you completed your junior career, you moved on to play NCAA hockey with UMass Amherst from 2008 to 2010. Instead of playing four seasons you only played two, joining the AHL’s Worchester Sharks at the end of the 09-10 season, and did not return to the NCAA. Why did you choose not to stay for all four years after taking the BCHL scholarship route rather than major junior? Talk about making the choice to abandon a fully funded education.
Irwin: “It’s interesting how it worked out. When you mention the WHL, I never had any interest in it at all until my 19 year old year of junior. At that point, it made no sense to leave Junior A and forgo a scholarship that I was about to get at that time to play only another year and a half of hockey, when I could play five and a half more years with the four year scholarship instead.
“I had full intentions going in when I stepped on campus at UMass of playing my four years and getting an education. After my first year, San Jose and some other teams were interested in bringing me out to their development camps. I ended up going to San Jose’s, and they showed a lot of interest afterwards, regardless of whether or not I wanted to stay at school or leave then. I chose to go back for another year at UMass, and then after my second year, they offered a contract. It was the hardest decision I’ve had to make in terms of hockey. You’re leaving an education on the table that’s paid for, to pursue a dream that you’ve had since you were a kid with no guarantee that you’ll make it to the NHL, or even be able to stick in the AHL. It was a risk. I got a lot of support from my family. What they told me, and what made me make my mind up, was that school would always be there, but my window of opportunity to chase my dream to play in the NHL or play professional hockey at my age – I was 22 when I left school, so I was older — to establish myself at that level in the AHL and get a crack at the NHL wasn’t a large one. I figured that school would always be there. Jumping at the opportunity was something I had always wanted to do, and dreamt about as a kid. Afterwards, I could go back to school and go from there. I’ve been going back to school, and I’ll be getting a degree pretty soon, so everything’s falling into place.”
What are you going to graduate with? What’d you see yourself doing with that education if pro hockey hadn’t worked out? How are you taking classes while playing in the NHL?
Irwin: “I hadn’t declared before, but it’ll be a Bachelor’s in Management Degree. I hadn’t looked too far into what I could do. It was more or less that I just wanted to get myself a degree. Something in the business world. I was deciding on what degree would interest me the most and which I’d be able to do the majority of online, so that’s where it went. I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do if hockey doesn’t pan out. We’ll let those chips fall where they may and cross that bridge when we come to it.”
While with playing in the AHL with Worchester, you skated alongside Logan Couture and Tommy Wingels who were on their way up to the NHL, and Jonathan Cheechoo who was rounding out his North American playing career. Was it reminiscent of your experience in Nanaimo, playing with future NHL guys? What did you learn from them at that level, now only one step away from the top?
Irwin: “It was huge going there. It was definitely an eye opener going to pro. It’s a totally different lifestyle. When you’re in school, you’re either in the books or involved in your social life and hockey, whereas when you move on to pro it’s pretty much hockey in the morning and then you’ve got the rest of the day to do what you want.
“You learn a lot from those guys that I’ve been around. Cheech was a great mentor for me to have my first year — a guy that had established himself as a goal scorer in the NHL, and won the Rocket Richard trophy for most goals in the league while he was in San Jose. Just to see how those guys prepare for practices and games, seeing them get called up, sent down, and how they react to being sent down. It doesn’t change their game. They get a little pace, they get hungry, and keep pushing forward because the ultimate goal is to stick in the NHL. You learn from different experiences, and I think that helped my game a lot.”
You played two more seasons with Worchester afterwards — At 25 years old, did you still think you had a good shot at the NHL, or were you starting to think about other options? Some guys at that age who are playing in the minors start thinking about other career paths, and ultimately some decide to move on, thinking their window is closed.
Irwin: “Well I kept up the school thing, but I was still chasing that dream of playing in the NHL. Like I said, when I left school, my window of opportunity was very small because of my age, and it’s not too often you see guys that are 25 and older that are getting a fair crack in the NHL. There are a handful of guys, but your chances get smaller and smaller because there’s so much young talent coming up. I knew where I stood in the organization. They always believed in me, and told me that I was on the right track — right where they wanted me to be as far as development. I thank them and give them a lot of credit for staying with me, believing in me, and giving me that opportunity. The first year that I got called up I never played, my second year I got called up, didn’t play, but got to practice with the team for a week. That was a cool experience. Then when the lockout ended last year I got invited to training camp, and was able to play with the team for the majority of that season. I never gave up on the dream of playing in the NHL. When I was 25 it was only my third year of pro, so I knew if I kept going in the direction I was going, playing well and being dependable in Worchester, they were going to give me a chance up here in San Jose.”
Last season you got called up to San Jose for 38 games. Talk about getting to play your first NHL games after chasing your dream for so long, and what the season was like trying to prove you belonged up there.
Irwin: “It’s pretty cool once you step on the ice, you hear the anthem for your first NHL game, your family’s in the building… it was a cool experience, something I’ll never forget. But then you realize you want to stay there, and prove to yourself, the coaches, and your teammates that you do belong in this league. It’s very cliché to say, but you just come to the rink everyday, work hard, prepare like you’re playing the game, practice to get better, improve and challenge yourself, and translate that over to the game and play consistently. Do what makes you successful, don’t try to do too much. All those things were running through my head. I didn’t want to over think and do anything I wouldn’t normally do. I just wanted to stay consistent and do the things that had gotten me to where I was at that point. I knew what those things were, tried to stick with them, and help the team win.”
How noticeable was the jump in level of play? You took a very incremental route of levels to get to the NHL, and must have seen tangible spikes in talent and speed at every league you ascended to. Did it take some getting used to?
Irwin: “I was comfortable. From the BCHL to college, it’s a different game. Every level you go up, it’s faster. You’re playing with better players. Every level above is going to be a little bit better, little faster, more structured. From the AHL to NHL, there are similarities. The North American style pro game is the same, but the skill level of players is a bit better. The AHL is a great league. It allows you to develop your skill set to translate it into the NHL. The league does such a great job of developing players, and teams do a great job of getting players and not bringing them up too soon, making sure that they’re ready. Once you’re in the NHL, it’s not so much about developing as it is about being able to step in the lineup, play, and contribute, while getting better at the same time. There’s not a lot of time to wait on development because they’ll just find someone else. It’s a business at the highest level. Once you’re there, you’ve got to do what makes you successful and keep getting better. As you go up, the leagues are obviously a little bit better than the one before, but those leagues before were very helpful and were great stepping stones to getting me where I am now.”
So far this season, you’ve played entirely with San Jose. You’ve appeared in ten more games than you played last year and have six more points, but have also missed 17 games as a healthy scratch. Still, you’re playing between 15-22 minutes a night, and are getting up to 28 shifts a night. Do you get a sense that you’ve hollowed out some permanent real estate in the San Jose dressing room? What do you attribute your boost in production and ice-time to?
Irwin: “Coming into this year, I wanted to establish myself as a legitimate top six defenseman in this league. This year there have been ups and downs. We’ve got a great group of d-men between the seven of us. Any of us could play on any given night. We’ve got some young d-men, and some veterans in Dan Boyle, Scott Hannan, and Brad Stuart. Obviously Marc-Edouard Vlasic too, who made the Olympic team and won a gold medal – he’s my age, but he’s played almost 600 games in the NHL. He’s another veteran presence for guys like myself, Justin Braun and Jason Demers, who are the younger guys that don’t have as many games of experience as they do. We have a really solid group of d-men that any one of which can play on any given night. When you do play, you want to take advantage of that opportunity, and help the team win. I’ve sat out my share of games this year, but it’s part of the learning process. You get to see the game from a different angle, and you realize that you actually have more time with the puck than you think you might. It’s good to step back from the game a little bit. Obviously you want to play, but when you do sit out for a couple of games, you’ve got to take it as a way to learn and improve yourself, instead of dwelling on the fact that you’re not playing and being a bad teammate. You’ve got to stay positive until you get that next opportunity to step back in and play.”
You’ve got a pretty elite group this year – 4 Olympians in total between gold medalists Patrick Marleau and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, bronze medalist Antti Niemi (also 2nd in NHL wins), and Joe Pavelski, in addition to some of the NHL’s elite in Joe Thornton (2nd in NHL assists), Logan Couture, Dan Boyle, and others. The team is currently 4th overall. Is this the roster of San Jose Sharks that finally get past the seemingly cursed third round? What will it take to do so? How is it playing with guys who have accumulated the accolades they have?
Irwin: “Those are so pretty impressive names to have all in one locker room. When you first get to the team you get caught watching, seeing how they go about their business. It’s pretty impressive what they do, because they’ve been doing it consistently for so long. That’s one thing I’ve tried to learn from those guys — consistency. That’s one of the greatest attributes someone can have playing in the NHL — bring it every night, be consistent, and help your team win. We’ve got guys who have been around for a long time and have won Olympic medals, Stanley Cups, NHL awards, and have been NHL All-Stars. There’s a lot of that in the room, and they’re great for young guys like myself and the others to look up to, and learn from.
“As far as whether this is ‘the year’ for us to win it all, of course we think every year is the year for us, but the league is just so tight, and it’s tough. It’s not easy to win the Cup. If it was, we’d have a handful of them already. The guys in the locker room are determined, we have a great group of core veterans and young guys, and we feel strongly about this year. Our goal is to get home ice advantage throughout the playoffs in the Western Conference, and if we’re fortunate enough to make the Stanley Cup Final, get it there too. We’re chasing Anaheim for it right now. We’re comfortable at home. We play well there. You’d always prefer that seventh game to be on your home soil if it comes down to that. Last year we lost in game seven in LA. We felt like we played well enough to win, but we ran into a really good goalie. This year’s going to be a lot of the same. With the way the new playoff format is, we’re going to have to play out of our division first, so we’re looking at playing Anaheim, LA, or one of those teams in the first round. That’s a tough first round matchup, but you’ve got to get past those teams at some point to get where you want to go. I think our team is built to make a deep playoff run. We’re a big solid team that skates well and can score. I like our team, and time will tell when we get to the playoffs.”
How’s hockey in California these days? With Anaheim and LA now both having won Stanley Cups, and San Jose being in the hunt every year as well, there’s been a real evolution of interest in the game there, and competitiveness of the teams located in the state – especially when compared to how teams in that area traditionally fared in the 90’s and earlier.
Irwin: “It’s great. Growing up as a kid, it wasn’t a hockey hotbed here. I didn’t know much about them. You watch the Mighty Ducks movies, and that’s pretty much all you know about hockey in California. But nowadays, it’s three teams at the top of the league almost every year. LA and Anaheim won Cups, and we’re looking for our first. It’s good for the state of California. More and more kids are getting involved in hockey. The youth programs around here are picking up steam. We’ve got a junior Sharks program that we just had our first graduate player of just suit up for us last year in Matt Tennyson. The grassroots of hockey in California are picking up, and the sport’s becoming more and more popular. I would like to think that’s in large part because of the success of the NHL teams in the area. Kids look up to us and they think hockey’s a pretty cool sport to get involved in. You see more and more players from California in the NCAA, major junior, and the pros. The number of guys from California that are making it to the NHL is going up. It’s good to see.”
Back to your Olympic teammates – did you notice any extra fatigue in them after the tournament, especially considering the travel? Did they come back totally gassed, or energized from the experience and ready to go?
Irwin: “When those guys came back – we had Patty [Marleau], Eddie [Vlasic], Pavs [Pavelski] and Nemo [Niemi] who were all at the Olympics and all played deep in the tournament — they were confident. They all had good tournaments. I think the hardest thing on them was the travel and the time change. Tthat’s probably where the fatigue came in, but you wouldn’t know it when we played the games. They stepped right back into the lineup, played their 20 minutes a night, and contributed to helping the team win. I think Pavs had a hat trick in his first game back. I don’t think fatigue was much of an issue. They got a lot of confidence from playing in the Olympics, and for us, that’s great. They represented their countries and our organization really well. We’re happy to have them back. They’re four of the best players on our team. They came back and didn’t miss a beat.”
Has there been any light back and forth between any of those guys regarding the different places the countries they represented finished at the Olympics? Is it a sensitive issue, or just water under the bridge?
Irwin: “There hasn’t been too much chatter, really. There might be the odd poke here and there, but other than that, there’s not much that has been said. Coming back, the Olympics are behind them now, and the focus is on the stretch run for us. We’ve got 13 games left, and our goal is that home ice. I think they embraced the opportunity they were given at the Olympics, and here and there there might be a quick jab, but other than that, everyone’s focused on the Sharks and making a deep run.”
How did you spend the two weeks off you got during the Olympic break? It seemed like lots of guys did different things; some just trained harder, while others took time off to spend with their families and other things.
Irwin: “I went home to Victoria and spent time with friends and family. I helped out with my old Junior B team the Saanich Braves, and the hockey academy that runs out of my old high school. Other than that, I just relaxed, got engaged, and that was pretty much it.”
Regarding another current teammate of yours, what’s Raffi Torres like in the dressing room now that he’s returned, considering the drama he’s been through? Is it distracting at all to you or the other guys?
Irwin: “We’re all happy to have Raffi back. It’s been a long recovery for him. Any time you get a player back after they’ve worked so hard to get back into the lineup, the boys are excited. He’s a really good teammate. He was great while he was injured, which is tough because you might not feel part of the team when you’re out, especially for that long, and don’t travel or participate in practices. He was always around the room, chilling with the boys. When we got him back we were thrilled. He brings a presence to the lineup, adds depth and scoring, and he’s relentless on the fore check. He’s one of the better guys in the locker room. He’s funny. It was almost like he didn’t miss a beat – he had a couple of goals his first game, a couple more the next night, and he was playing physical, the way he has to to be successful. He helps our team out so much when he plays like that. It backs up our d-men, and backs other players off of them when they know Raffi’s on the ice. He’s the kind of player you need this time of year, and especially in the playoffs. We love having him in the lineup, and he adds a lot more depth to our group.”
In such a tight and dominant Western Conference, what’s it going to take to be the team that tops this year’s powerhouses like Chicago, St. Louis and Anaheim? Who’s been the toughest for you guys to play this year, and who will it be toughest for you guys to beat in a deep playoff series?
Irwin: “We always have tough games against LA. It won’t be a walk in the park for any team that makes the playoffs. There may be upsets based on your seeds and where you’re ranked going into them, but the parity in the league is so tight. There are teams on the wildcard bubble like Dallas who would be tough to play in the first round of the playoffs. Whoever you draw in the first round isn’t going to be easy, and as you go on it won’t get any easier. LA, Chicago, Anaheim all have great teams, big bodies, great players, depth throughout the lineup, rolling four lines – I think that’s what makes those teams so good, having four lines and six d-men that can play, and it’s not just a burden placed on two lines and four d-men to play heavy minutes. In a playoff series, that’ll take its toll eventually. To be able to spread the minutes out among the lineup is important. All those teams have that ability with the depth they have at all positions.”
As a defenseman, who’s one guy you don’t want to see bearing down on you on a 1-on-1 or an odd-man break?
Irwin: “There are a lot of guys in this league that have the ability to make you look really funny if they get that chance. Datsyuk, Jagr – he’s just so good and so strong even at his age and with how long he’s been playing. He’s just a dominant force. He doesn’t look like he’s that fast, but he can move. His first couple of strides are so quick, and he’s a big body. He’s hard to get the puck from and he’s got great vision. Those types of players are the ones that on any given play can make you look silly.”
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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.
Posted by Dave Cunning under Interviews on Feb 10, 2014
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.
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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This interview with Logan Couture posted on The Score’s Backhand Shelf blog on December 19th, 2012, amidst the NHL’s most recent work stoppage. He was clearly ready to get back to work.
Couture went on to lead the Sharks in goals (21), game winning goals (5), power play goals (7), and a couple other categories in 2012-13, as well as sign a 5 year/$30 million contract extension with the Sharks. 2013-14 was not as good to Couture though. He suffered a wrist injury that required surgery, and took him out of the Sharks’ lineup for 17 regular season games. The playoffs were not nice to San Jose either, as they lost in the first round to the eventual Stanley Cup champion LA Kings, despite holding a 3-0 series lead at one point.
Interview with Logan Couture: “They’re hard-line guys, they don’t give you the time of day, and they barely even look at you”
Posted by Dave Cunning under Interviews on Dec 19, 2012
Logan Couture is ready to play NHL hockey again.
So ready in fact, that he left the European club he had been playing with early to return home to North American preparation and anticipation of once again donning a San Jose Sharks jersey and taking NHL ice.
The only problem is that the NHL still isn’t ready for him, nor anyone else.
In the meantime, Couture will settle for suiting up along side Steven Stamkos, PK Subban, Dion Phaneuf, Phil Kessel, and 34 other locked out NHL players on December 19th at Maple Leaf Garde—err, the Mattamy Athletic Centre at the Gardens in Toronto, for the 2012 RBC Play Hockey Charity Challenge, in support of the NHLPA’s Goals and Dreams Fund.
I caught up with Logan via telephone for an interview just prior to the event, and he graciously chatted with me about everything from his experience in Europe, to his thoughts on the lockout, the owners, and where he’ll be skating until the NHL finally calls.
You just returned home to Ontario after a three month stint with Genève-Servette in Switzerland’s National League A. How was your experience over there, and how does it feel to be home?
Couture: “It’s good to be back. I’d rather be playing in San Jose, but it does mean I get to spend some time with my family. This will be my first Christmas at home in four or five years since my junior days, so I’m looking forward to that. It was my first time in Europe, and the distance from my family and time change were both really tough.
Switzerland’s a beautiful country, so it was a good experience in that sense. The food was really good. Driving though the Alps on road trips was pretty cool. The hockey was pretty good and the organization was great. They treated me and my teammates very, very well. Being so far away was the toughest thing. I missed my family. Not being able to watch sporting events at regular times and stuff like that was hard too. I was watching football games at 1 am, and I missed the baseball playoffs. I’m a big fan, so that was tough for me. I tried to keep up with it as best as I could though.”
Why did you leave the team? Statistically you were doing great – your 23 points in 22 games still lead the team in points today, despite being in Canada. Did you part on good terms?
Couture: “Yeah I left on good terms. I just told them that I was thankful for the opportunity that they gave me, but that I wanted to come back home because I felt I was ready to play back over here. I had hoped the season would have started by now, but in the meantime I’m enjoying spending time with my family while I can. I went over there to get in shape and get ready for the NHL season. After the three months I was there, I felt like I was ready to come back and play over here, with the hope that the season was going to start. I’m sure a lot of the other guys who have also come back felt the same way. You get to a point where you feel good about your game, you feel like you’re ready to play, and where you don’t want to risk injury anymore. I figured it was time for me to come back home.”
You were one of 19 locked out NHL players competing in Switzerland. Why did you choose Switzerland out of all countries you could have chosen; and in particular, why Genève-Servette?
Couture: “I chose Switzerland because Joe [Thornton] told me about how good of an experience he had there during the last lockout. The general consensus from guys on our team was that they’d heard great things about Switzerland. I talked with my agent, and we worked out a deal with the team there. Genève-Servette gave me a chance and said I could come over and play for them as quickly as I wanted, so I agreed to come.”
How did you interact with Joe Thornton on the ice when your team played his team, Davos? As NHL teammates, do you guys go easy on each other in a league that doesn’t matter as much as the NHL, or if you had him lined up in the corner did you hit him like anyone else? What about the other NHLers in the league when you played against them?
Couture: “If it’s Joe, I’m not going to hit him over there, that’s for sure. He’s a teammate. Obviously I don’t want to get hurt either. I’m not the most physical player in the world, and over there I was even less of a physical player just because I didn’t want to take that chance of getting hurt. I try not to put myself in dangerous spots. You have to be careful though, hockey’s a dangerous sport.”
As you will be going into your fourth NHL season eventually, do you feel playing against a lower level of competition in Europe may have been a detriment to your development as an NHL player? For example, did the unfamiliar size of the ice, or the pace of that league and its players throw off your timing while playing with/against less skilled players than you’re used to? Or maybe you didn’t get passes when and where your used to, or the speed and physicality was harmfully different? Do you think the same is bad for other young NHLers that are now scattered around other European countries, the AHL, and other places to be playing down a level? Will any of this hurt you or them as players when you eventually come back to the NHL?
Couture: “I think it’s the best case scenario for the guys right now. You’d rather be playing than not playing. Even when you’re playing there, it takes some time to get your timing down and into a rhythm. Guys that haven’t played yet this year aren’t going to have that right now; they’re going to be behind in that aspect when it’s time to play again. You are playing with lesser skilled guys over there, but I still think that being on the ice every day in practice and games will make you a better player, no matter who you’re playing with, as long as you’re working on your game. I spent as much time as I could after practice working on puck skills and different things, trying to improve.”
What do you think about the notion of your arrival on that team meaning you squeezed someone else out of their lineup – maybe a domestic player, or someone who won’t ever make it to the NHL – while you were only a temporary member of that team? In your opinion, is it fair for locked out NHL players to come to Europe and take those jobs?
Couture: “It’s hockey. It’s a competitive sport. Would people be saying the same thing if an 18 year old came into an NHL camp and knocked a veteran out of his job? It’s the same thing – people play to take someone’s job. You go into a training camp to take someone’s job so that you can play. I don’t really understand why people say that. When I made San Jose, I ultimately put someone out of a job. That’s just the way hockey is, and all pro sports are.”
Is there any chance that your return home is a cryptic indication that a resolution to the lockout is on the horizon? What are your current thoughts on the lockout?
Couture: “I read a rumor on Twitter that said I was coming back because I knew a deal was coming, but no, there’s nothing like that happening. We’re at a stage now trying to figure out the best way to move forward with these negotiations. We’re hoping something can get done in the near future, but there’s nothing being said right now that’s going lead to a deal in the next couple of days or anything like that. It’s not true.”
Are you optimistic that a deal is indeed forthcoming, and there will still be an NHL season?
Couture: “Yeah, you have to think it’s going to get done. It would just hurt so badly to see a season wasted. It hurt the players last time – I wasn’t in the league yet then, I was just a hockey fan – and it hurt as a fan to watch a full season go by without any hockey. For it to happen two times in an eight year span – I mean it really plays with the fans. It’s tough for a sport to recover, especially in some of the markets down in the States. Even where I play in California, it’s going to be tough for teams to recoup their fan base. In these next couple of weeks, somehow we need to find some way to get a deal done. We’re at a stage right now where we’re trying to do whatever it takes to get the season started. We’re still willing to negotiate. We’re doing what we can to get it going.”
Do you think those California based teams will suffer in particular, despite LA and Anaheim each winning a Stanley Cup in the last five years, plus San Jose’s recent rise to prominence?
Couture: “I can speak for San Jose – in the last couple of years, and even when the team got Joe Thornton, hockey in the area really, really took off. There was an increase in kids starting to play at an earlier age, and stuff like that. I think it’s within reason to think that’s because the Sharks have been good the last six or seven years. They’re selling out every game and people are interested in hockey. You take another year away from those fans and some of the ones you just won over in the last few years are going to leave for something else. Look at Florida – they made the playoffs last year, had a good run, probably won some new fans over – now there’s no hockey, and those fans are fine with something else [note: there are seven other pro sports teams in that state]. It’s tough to watch.”
Has this lockout left you feeling any ill-will or animosity towards the owners, or San Jose’s owner in particular? Or do you look at this situation objectively as a business deal?
Couture: “I don’t know, it’s all up in the air. The owners aren’t allowed to speak publicly, nor to us. We have no idea what each owner is thinking. I’ve been in meetings before, but you’re in there with [Craig] Leopold, [Jay] Jacobs, [Murray] Edwards – they’re hard line guys, they don’t give you the time of day, and they barely even look at you. They’re there for one reason, and that’s to help their teams make money. I wish we could hear from all 30 teams’ owners, but obviously they’re not letting them speak out and have their opinions known. I’m sure if they were able to, there would be a bunch of them with different opinions right now. All the players are allowed to speak their minds. It’s tough. I don’t know where the San Jose owners stand on this. You hear things, but you never know until you hear it from them, so you can’t really hold judgment against them until you know the truth.”
As far as Players Association meetings and negotiations with the league, how did you stay in the loop while you were overseas, and even now while you’re in Ontario?
Couture: “It’s all through the phone in scheduled conference calls. There’s an app we check for updates. They supply us with numbers for the players who are in the meetings, and if you have a question you want a player to answer instead of Don, you can call the player and ask him, and he tells you word for word what he heard in the meeting. You get 10 to 20 different opinions, usually all saying the same thing. They’re in all those meetings, so we hear the truth from those guys.”
Any chance you would return to Europe over Christmas to compete in the Spengler Cup tournament for Canada? Where are you going to skate until the NHL resumes?
Couture: “No, not this year. I think I’m going to stay in North America for the rest of the season. I’m going to skate with the London Knights in the OHL when they start up again after Christmas break. I want to go down and skate with some of the guys in San Jose in a few weeks too, hopeful that the season will start. I don’t know exactly what the timeline is, but there isn’t much time left to get this deal done.”
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My 2012 interview with St. Louis Blues’ head coach Ken Hitchcock posted on The Score’s Backhand Shelf blog on September 19, just prior to the NHL and NHLPA coming to terms with each other to stop hockey’s latest work stoppage. Since we spoke, the St. Louis Blues have twice finished 2nd in the Central Division, and in the Western Conference top 4 two times as well, but found themselves bounced from the playoffs in the first round on both attempts.
On a brighter note, “Hitch” was named assistant coach for Team Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where he and the team won gold. He also rose to 8th all-time in coaching wins (2nd amongst active coaches) shortly after he collected his 600th NHL win — one of only 11 NHL coaches to do so.
Posted by Dave Cunning under Biography, Interviews, Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis Blues on Sep 19, 2012
While the NHL lockout rolls on, fans may forget there is a group of personnel that is not aligned with either the NHLPA or team owners in CBA negotiations, yet is directly affected by the league’s labor stall – NHL coaches.
Nearly a year after taking over as head coach of the St. Louis Blues, guiding his team to a second round playoff appearance, and winning the Jack Adams Award for the NHL’s Coach of the Year, Ken Hitchcock is just as busy preparing for a season with an unknown start date as he would be if it were already underway.
I had a chance to interview Hitchcock and he gave me his thoughts on his coaching philosophy, on replacing Davis Payne in St. Louis during last season, and other topics.
Hitchcock on evaluating his team during training camp:
“When you start your training camp, you know within three or four players what your team’s going to be like. You’re not working from a base of 60 players, you’re working from a base of 30 players — you’re trying to educate all 60 that attend, but you know the 30 that are going to try out for the 22 or 23 spots. Every coach visualizes what his lines will look like, and what his team will look like; you already know them in your mind, so those are the players you observe. We watch them whether they are already in St. Louis, or in junior, the American Hockey League, Europe – they could be anywhere – those few are the guys we keep our eye on.”
On what role he plays in scouting for the Blues:
“I stay out of it. There are other people who have that duty, and we stay in our own area of expertise. Everyone else has a job to do – our scouts have their own responsibilities, and ours as coaches don’t include scouting. Other people do that and do it well. All we would do is get in the way.”
On the fact that he is still learning as a coach:
“I have a thirst to learn, and to be part of a team – whether it’s as the head coach, assistant, associate, consultant, or whatever – I love being part of a team. I find great joy in being a small part of something pretty big, and having to work together. My thirst for knowledge leads me to try and find out why teams in all kinds of activities – in sports, business, or whatever – are successful. I want to learn that stuff. Part of that is the technical package –the systems of play and everything, but a big part of it is the synergy or the chemistry that goes on with your hockey club. I want to learn why certain people are successful, why they continue to succeed, and what they’ve learned. I know I don’t have all the answers, and I know I don’t have all the experiences, so I seek them out instead. I enjoy the journey of seeking out information and other people’s opinions, and watching other people perform.”
“Talking with my peers and watching how my peers practice and play feeds the hunger for learning that I have. I talk with other coaches all the time. As long as you’re in that constant learning path, you stay fresh, you stay energized, and you stay current. The minute you get satisfied, or the minute you lose your flexibility and feel like you don’t have to learn, in our business, I think that’s when you become very stagnant. If you stand still, the game starts to go by you.”
On coming in and replacing the previous coach (Davis Payne):
“Over time, you learn what sells to your players and what doesn’t. One of the things that experience tells you is that when you’re in a critical situation, or one where there’s a lot of anxiousness and anxiety, you find out that less is more – that less information and keeping it simple becomes more effective over time. The other aspect is – and I don’t want to call it luck – but when there’s a change, your players need to see instant success for them to buy in. We simplified, and in the four games we played in the first eight days we had wins over Chicago, Detroit, and Pittsburgh, and an overtime loss. Because of that immediate success, the buy-in became a lot easier and more black and white for the players. Every new coach that comes in sells a new program, and if there’s no success early, the buy-in takes longer.”
“When you look at the history of coaching, usually what happened when a coach had success is his players bought in, starting with the leaders. When the leaders buy in, the rest of the players have no choice but to come along. When you have great leadership, and you have cooperative leadership with the staff, you usually have a very successful team. What happens to a lot of coaches is their leadership changes – through trades, retirement, or whatever – that’s when you reach a crisis stage. Your team’s chemistry starts to change, the way of doing business changes, and a transition phase begins. Coaches get fired in that transition phase. Trying to create new synergy and new energy while going through a leadership change and missing a bunch of guys because of it is hard to do. You win in the National Hockey League because a team’s leaders follow their coach, and the players follow the leaders. When there’s a vacuum effect taking place, that’s when it gets chaotic.”
On what happened with Bruce Boudreau in Washington:
“He’s a good coach. Sometimes there are certain horses for certain riders. Sometimes good coaches don’t fit with the personnel that’s on the team, and sometimes they fit perfect. Once you’re a good coach, you don’t all of a sudden become a bad coach. Sometimes change is good for both parties – the players and the coach. It doesn’t mean it’s a matter of bad people, it just means a fresh approach might work better. You can find other ways to do it than changing the coach, and usually if a guy’s a good coach, that option is a last resort.”
What he thinks of the level of play in hockey today:
“This is an unbelievable time to be a hockey fan – this is the highest skill level I’ve ever seen and worked with. Everybody’s a good skater, the knowledge on the players that come from junior and college is at a high level, so they’re able to adapt much quicker. The whole game is at an incredible level. I don’t care how many goals get scored, it’s all about the intensity level and the execution – this is as high as I’ve ever seen it in my life.”
His opinion on the Kings who defeated the Blues in the second round of the Western conference playoffs:
“Nothing they did surprised anybody. The division they played in was incredible — really high end teams. Just getting points out of their own division was a struggle. When they made their personnel changes with about 25 games left in the season, they became big and fast. Anybody who played them in the last 20 games knew exactly how good they were. We played them twice, and we left both games going ‘Oh my god, are they ever a good team’. Nothing they did in the playoffs was surprising.”
On the stress of coaching and how it affects you:
“Coaching requires a lot of focus, a lot of energy, and a lot of work. There’s a tremendous amount of stress on coaches, especially in our sport because there’s so many teams that can win the Stanley Cup. Quite frankly, sometimes coaches lose their energy, get frustrated, or they get critical or cynical because of the stress, the demand, and the combination of everything. Sometimes, the energy level that was there at the start isn’t there at the end. Teams decide to make changes to create a higher energy level. We all think that we should coach forever, and we all think that we should never get fired, but we don’t see the things that other people see. We don’t see the read that players have of our body language, or the little things that ownership or management see.”
On his energy level when he coached in Dallas and Columbus:
“When I got the job in Dallas, I thought that would be my first and last job. I thought I was going to coach there forever. I never thought I’d be let go in a million years. But I did. And as disappointed as I was getting let go in Columbus, the year and a half I had off gave me energy for the next five or six years. It gave me a freshness, an energy, and an enthusiasm that is necessary to coach in the NHL. As a coach, you’ve got to look in the mirror – it’s a hard look, but you have to if you want to stay current.”
On the transient nature of coaching in the NHL:
“In this business, you learn not to hang pictures. We love St. Louis and I hope I stay here forever, but you come to understand that you’re in a transient situation, and that’s just the way it is. That’s the nature of our business, and we’ve gone about living that life. I’ve got great energy right now, but the moment my energy drops, I’ll be the first guy to knock on the General Manager’s door. But the way I feel now, I feel like I could coach a long time. The players have given me faith and hope, and that’s really rejuvenated me. The players have really created an enthusiasm for me, and I can hardly wait for the season to get going. I’m going to get every ounce out of this team and myself.”
There is a lot of statistical data out there to help compare the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers ahead of their 2014 Stanley Cup Final meeting, and an incredible number of rabbit holes one could venture down when attempting to analyze all the data made available. With stats gleaned from NHL.com, here’s a brief look at the the teams’ 2 regular season meetings from the categories I find most important, to show how they stack up versus and solo so far in the first 3 rounds of playoffs.
HEAD TO HEAD October 17 (Staples Center), November 17 (MSG)
Despite an even head-to-head record, NYR seemed to have a slight statistical advantage when playing each other.
*No longer on NYR’s roster.
**Quick only played 1 of the 2 games. Ben Scrivens played game 2, and is no longer on LA’s roster.
|Goals, PG AVG||73 — 3.48 (1st)||54 — 2.70 (8th)|
|GA — AVG||60 — 2.86 (9th)||45 — 2.25 (2nd)|
|PPG — %||17 (1st) — 25.4 (5th)||11 (5th) — 13.6 (10th)|
|PK%||81.2 (9th)||85.9 (2nd)|
|Total PIM||272 (16th)||200 (14th)|
|Blocked Shots||314 (4th)||331 (2nd)|
|Hits||898 (1st)||587 (2nd)|
|FOW — %||735 (1st) – 52.9 (2nd)||601 (3rd) – 47.5 (12th)|
|Leaders||Goals (Gaborik -12), Assists (Kopitar -19), Points (Kopitar -24), +/- (Williams – +11)||Goalie Wins, Save % (Lundqvist)|
With a slight edge in playoff statistics, LA seems to have the advantage through 3 rounds. They should dominate in face-offs, hits, goals, assists, points, +/-, shots, on the power play. Despite LA’s touted defensive domination, it’s actually NYR that leads the two on the penalty kill, PIM, goals against, shots against, blocked shots, and goaltending.
Of interest: Rangers are 100% when shots are even, and when leading after 2 periods.
By the numbers, this series may be closer than many assume. With more category leads in the above categories, I am giving the nod to the LA Kings to win the 2014 Stanley Cup. But those are just numbers — let’s see what the games actually bring!