Friday, November 28, 2014

A Player's Psyche, A Coach's Role

I have a friend who used to be involved in the industry. We really could not get into many hockey discussions, because most of the topics were taboo (due to confidentiality.) To my lucky charms, he is out of the industry, so now we can have hockey discussions! 

Recently, we got to talking about just how fragile a player’s psyche is. To the point that sometimes he will stop trying, just drawing his paycheque. I was dumbfounded. I thought every player cared about winning and losing. How does a player just lose heart?

He said it happens without them even realizing it. When a rookie gets drafted to a rebuild team, he sometimes finds himself in an atmosphere where losing is acceptable.

He begins to think it does not matter how hard he works. He begins to get frustrated, and he begins to get used to losing. Then he gets into the habit of losing.

At this stage, he still cares, but there is a thin line. Thin enough that the coaches really have to be on top of things. If they miss it, little things can set the player off and he will start shutting the coach out.

He starts making mistakes over and over again. Not bothering to change his style. Telling his coach that he knows best. The team continues to fire coaches and not hold the player responsible.

How can losing be acceptable? Why would anyone accept losing as part as their routine.

My friend said it does not happen overnight. It happens gradually.

But shouldn’t the coach notice the signs?

Apparently they are part of the problem, not the solution. They are so involved in the process that they become oblivious to what is really going on.

He said he has seen teams consistently outplay another team game after game, and yet they keep losing. The players get very disheartened. Players may finally begin to think: “Who cares?”

Well, I can understand that, but can’t the general manager step in make a major trade? Or maybe the coach can change things up, benching players or changing the lines up.

But of course, that is easier said than done. The general manager has to bring in the right kind of players.

(I smiled and said: “Yeah, get players who can score and play the game!”)

But his response was that that is where the problem lies. Everyone seems to think it is easy to put players together and put them in the right place. But it is like a puzzle. You have to find the right pieces. Coaches sometimes work blindly, trying players out in different places.

They may try to make a player what he is not. For example, putting an offensive player on defense. They rationalize this, thinking this will make him more of a complete player. When a coach tries to make a player something he is not, it can really backfire. The defenseman may very well become resentful. Or since he does not succeed as a dman, he loses all sorts of confidence. When he continuously gets put in places where he cannot succeed, it really wears on him.

So I asked: “What is a coach suppose to do?”

This is where a coach truly becomes a coach. He has to get to know his players. Really, a coach is part shrink. Sometimes he has to gently massage a player’s ego. And sometimes a coach has to bring a player back to earth.  Sometimes he has to treat the stars with kid gloves. For some reason, the stars do not feel they have to work as hard as third- and fourth-liners! 

I asked how the third and fourth line players take that.

If they want to stay on the team, they take it. You can buy role players for a dime a dozen. Finding a superstar is a completely different story.

So, as you can see, being a coach is not as easy as people think. He has to be part friend, part psychiatrist, and part parent. The hardest part of being a coach is knowing when to push a player and when when to massage their ego.

I will be trying to get together a part two on this topic soon! Let me know your thoughts on it.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Leafs Turmoil

What was that? Seriously, where do I even begin? First of all, they get bombed by the Sabres 6-2. That was bad enough, but the preds debacle was a disgrace. One that cannot be tolerated. They look like a team who is not interested in the game.

I have heard many explanations for the Leaf problems. Everything up to the players are shutting out the coaches. Some have gone to the extreme of saying that the players are playing to get Carlyle fired.

The players have fervently denied that. I wonder if they doth protest too much. I am not saying they are trying to get him fired as a coach. But I wonder if they wouldn’t mind if it did happen.

The theory that seems most plausible is that the players simply do not know how to win. The defense continues to throw the puck away in their own zone at an alarming rate. 

The forwards continue to float around the defensive zone, not hitting anyone. Talking about hitting—no one is hitting. In the two game losing streak, too many times Predators forwards were standing in front of the net without any fear of repercussion.

The goalies have not been great. Both Bernier and Reimer have given up their share of bad goals. In fairness, they have not gotten much help from Phaneuf, Franson, or Gardiner. These are the big three. I could also mention how often Polak is caught out of position.

Before you let the forwards off the hook, they are not exactly helping the defense out. They are often doing too much loafing. They have to get back and support the defense, Kadri really has to pick up his game. It really looks like he does not have his head in the game. He is too easily distracted. 

Matt Frattin paid big time for his play, but laziness is an awful disease that has hit the Leafs locker room. The three best forwards of late have been Komarov, Santorelli, and Holland. Even they were sleeping in the Preds game.

The main problem with the Leafs right now is that they are relying too much on the first line, JVR, Bozak, and Kessel. But the first line still has to improve on its own end. They were lifeless in the Preds game.

The Leafs have to start being smarter. They need to stop the blind passes especially. The defense have to pitch in at the right time, and someone better get back to cover for him. Back checking has reach a new low; in fact, it has been a disappearing act. 

Shanny may not make a panic move, but maybe he should, because this team continues to make horrible decisions.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Are the Leafs Changing their Colours?

The Leafs played their best game of the season, blasting the Bruins 6-1. They were flying on all cylinders, consistently out-working the Bruins.

Physical play

The biggest improvement in the Leafs' game was physical. They would not let the Bruins push them around. They were sticking up for each other, and maybe even getting in to the Bruins players' heads. Too many times in recent games, the Leafs were letting the opposition get into their heads.

Play Smart, Put Out the Effort.

The Leafs were playing smart, not making bonehead plays. Less selfish play, and more team play. This game, the Leafs were hitting and egging the Bruins on. They need more of that play within their game. In the past they were often lazy, not willing to make the reach, instead tripping up, taking the easy way. But tonight, the Leafs were energetic, taking bull by the horns, and forcing the play instead of being forced.

Power Play

When was the last time the Leafs connected three goals on the power play? It was a very pleasant change. The biggest improvement was the passing. They were precise and accurate. It wasn't the blind passing of the past where someone was suppose to be there, but nobody told him. 

The less mind-reading the better! The players really seemed to be on the same page. They have to look, to know when to shoot and when to pass. 


In a nutshell, Bernier was outstanding, stopping the Bruins from everywhere. He was focused and didn’t let the big, bad Bruins take him off of his game. He was the stable influence in the Leafs' zone. He made the first save and controlled the rebounds. 

Bernier's play can influence other parts of the Leafs' game. If Bernier can be more consistent in his play, this will really help the defense’s psyche. Lately, the defense has been walking on eggshells, not trying to make mistakes. If Bernier can show them he has their back, fewer mistakes will be made. Simply put, defense will not have to be perfect. They can relax, knowing that one mistake won't necessarily be disastrous.

Defense has to be smarter

There are still way too many times defense is throwing the puck up the middle. The Leafs have to be smarter with the puck and stop the panic plays in the defensive zone. Communication has to be there. They must let each other know when there is trouble.

Forwards Come Back, Give Defensemen Options

The forwards need to get back to the defensive zone. They need to do their jobs. The defense is making blind passes and panicking. They are running out of options. I have observed the forwards heading up the ice too early too many times. Someone has to stay behind to give the Dman a target.

Defense is a team game. The Leafs' defense have been blasted, and rightly so. But the forwards can help. They have been left out to dry too many times.


The Leafs showed us what they are capable of in the mauling of the Bruins Wednesday night. More will be expected of them. The Division is there; the Leafs just have to grab it before anyone else does.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Should We Plan the Parade

Did I get you attention? Seriously though, you have to admit the Flames are the talk of the League right now. Everything about them is a feel-good story.

I continue to worry about when the other shoe drops; yet there are no reports about the shoe dropping. The Flames are still winning, and the world has not ended. Heaven knows, they have enough excuses for there world to end. Think of the player’s injuries alone. What players, you ask? Matt Stajan, Joe Colbourne, and Mikael Backlund… of course, I have not even mentioned our biggest injury yet. That, in my opinion, is Mason Raymond. With five goals, he was the leading scorer before he was injured. 

So how have the Flames overcome all odds to remain in the playoff hunt? Not only do they remain, but they have exceled to one of elite teams in the League. I have heard so many people ask how they are doing it. By mirrors? Does Bob Hartley have voodoo dolls of all the other thirty teams? Do the players all carry around a rabbit’s foot?

Here are some of my thoughts on the Flames’ surprisingly fast start this season.

1. Bob Hartley 

Bob is one of the best coaches in the League. He is getting the best out of every player on the Flames roster. Right from the start, the players knew what exactly was expected of them. Not only do they know what it is expected, he puts them in positions where they will succeed. He knows exactly who he wants on the ice and when. 

He is especially very good with out young players. He does not throw them out in the wind. He brings them in slowly, giving them each a little more responsibility, until they reach their potential. Case in point: benching Johnny Hockey a game, so he can see the game from the press box. From that moment, Johnny was a shoe-in for the Calder trophy. 

The second reason is really also the third reason at the same time.

2. Jonas Hiller

Probably the steal of the free agency draft. Simply put, Jonas has been outstanding in every sense of the word. He has been a rock all season so far. He is so cool in net, rarely does he allow himself to get out of position. He does this by playing deep in his net. I think this gives him a better view of where all the action is. He uses his size to his advantage in finding out where the puck is. He has been very successful in finding the puck when the net seems to be getting crowded. Most goalies come out to cover the angle, but with Hiller, he seems to be able to cover more of the net by staying deep. His style helps with his ability to control the rebounds, which helps him cover most of the net.

3. Mark Giordano + TJ Brodie = best combo in the league.

Mark and TJ have been the talk of the League. Mark is Mr. Consistent. Everyone knows his offensive ability. His rushes into the offensive zone are epic. Case in point: on Lance Bouma’s goal, Gio got the perfect pass after he got around PK. But do you notice he kills penalties just as much as power plays? He is first to block a shot as well as to take a shot. He is one of most complete defensemen in the League right now.

TJ is growing to be one of the best in the League in his own right. His strength is his speed. He glides through the zone and yet he can get back to cover up in his own zone. You remember his play in the defensive zone in the Habs game? The blocking of the pass in his own end and the perfect backhand pass to Goudreau? I do not know too many defensemen who could have made that pass. TJ has learned from the best (Gio) how to handle the pressure and get the puck up to the forwards.

4. Defence pinching in 

Another key point in the success of the Flames is the ability of the Defense to pitch in with the offence. Hartley has given them a green light to jump in the play anytime. This is true with all the top four. Russell and Wideman have also been known to jump in. Their ability to jump in at the perfect time has been key. This also has to do with the netminding of Hiller; knowing he has their backs if they do jump in.

5. Johnny Goudreau + Shawn Monahan: blessed beyond their years

Johnny Goudreau 

The Flames fans have not been this excited about a rookie since the Newy days. Mr. Hockey, the name by which Goudreau is known, has been nothing short of spectacular this season. He has the ability to do things with a puck that I did not know were possible. He has been one of the most consistent Flames this season. The biggest compliment I can give him is his skill at staying calm no matter what the situation is. For example, in the Panthers game he set up Monahan for the fifth goal. How many players do you know that could make that blinding pass? The Flames have him on the ice in the last minute to score the empty net goal. The kid has so much composure, you would swear that he has been in the League for ten years, yet he is only twenty-two.

Shawn Monahan

So far, the sophomore jinx has not happened. With three of our centers out, Shawn has stepped up to the plate as our number one Center. His six goals lead the team in scoring. He is a leader who has at times been Mr. Clutch. I have noticed this season that he has gotten stronger. He has a more complete game this season.


Obviously, I do not know if the Flames are going to keep up this pace all season. But what I am saying right now is that they are playing like a playoff team. They are finding new ways to win instead of finding ways to stay in the game. Every player on this team knows his role and is doing his best to fulfill it. It is a credit to how they are coached, and a credit to them for executing. Right now, they are gaining confidence that they can compete, and that can just as big as winning itself. As long as Hartley continues to get these players believing in themselves, who knows? Maybe a miracle on the red mile can still happen.

First published on Flames Jambalaya

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Toronto Maple Leafs: 5 Observations

So far this season, I have observed five things that have been going on with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Lack of Consistency 

This season has been a real up and down season. There have been times when I loved the way the Leafs have played, and times I found myself shaking my head. I find myself swinging between wanting to fire everyone to wanting to give everyone a raise. So you can imagine my confusion when people ask me are the Leafs are a playoff team. That is an interesting question. Right now, I would have to say no.

Although the Leafs were on a three game winning streak of late the Leafs play was not warranted of that honour. To many mistakes the only consistent thing about the Leafs this season, is they will be consistently making some real boneheads plays this season. There will always be a one silly stupid lazy mistake that will cost team a goal in the net.

Not Enough Supportive Scoring

Phil Kessel

When Phil scores, the Leafs usually win. Simply put, Phil is heavily relied upon to be the leader, and he gets the paycheque to do that. Phil has six goals, ten assists. He has been outstanding this season. I am sure he is quite capable of taking this team on his shoulders. The problem is, he may just have to do that.

Kessel leads this team with sixteen points. The next closest player is Tyler Bozak with eleven points, and JVR with eight. Next are Daniel Winnik and Leo Karmarov, both with seven points. That’s right: Daniel Winnik has more points than Nazem Kadri, who only has five points. Nazem has to pick it up. We need Nazem’s support in order for this team to be successful. Sorry; one goal in twelve games does not cut it. The Leafs need the secondary scoring to take some pressure off the first line.

Joffrey Lupul

With the injury to Joffery, the Leafs should be actively looking for another top six forward to fill in. It will looks like Lupal is the most unlucky forward on the team. The Leafs have to find a way to trade or pick up the slack with some of the forwards.

Defensive Woes

Jake Gardiner

I never like calling any players out. But in all honesty, Jake really has to pick it up. Lately he has been… well… terrible. At times he has shown the puck moving defenceman that he can be. But too many times, he has been sloppy in his own zone. The latest mistake in Phoenix was awful, and he knows better.

Lack of Offense in the Defense

Cody Franson

Franson leads the defense in goals. The defense as a whole have to pitch in more with the scoring. The Leafs rely constantly on the first line. If the forwards can't score, someone has to. Cody is a good offensive defenceman. Frankly, he needs support.

Pick a Number on Goalie; Specifically Jonathon Bernier

Randy Carlyle

Earlier in the week, Bernier was beginning to get on a roll with two solid starts. I really feel that Bernier should be our number one spot. I am not so sure that Carlyle, has done this. If he wants Bermier, to be number one, he has to reward him when he is playing well.

Whatever Caryle is selling, no one is buying it. Either the players are not buying into his system, or we have the wrong players for the system. Which begs the question: How long before we push the panic button?