During the long grind of an 82-game season, it’s often nice to get the kind of break the Atlanta Thrashers received this week, as the team’s schedule features a significant gap between their last game on Saturday and their upcoming contest on Thursday. Yet when you consider the crushing 8-2 loss the team suffered against the Buffalo Sabres, one would think that the Thrashers would have preferred back-to-back games to cleanse their palates.
Having a long time to languish in that defeat presents the latest problem for head coach Craig Ramsay in his up-and-down first year behind Atlanta’s bench. There are many ways a coach can react to such a dilemma – football great Bill Parcells was known for being tough on his team after a win, but relatively gentle following a defeat – so Chris Vivlamore asked Ramsay how he’s dealing with the problem.
Ramsay seems like he’s trying to find the right mix between providing “tough love” and not kicking his team while it’s down. Here’s an excerpt from Vivlamore’s Q & A with Ramsay after the Thrashers’ morning skate.
Q. How do you not let such a loss fester? With the NHL schedule you normally have a day or two between games. After this particularly bad loss you have five days before you play the Islanders on Thursday night.
A. That can make it much more difficult. As a coach you want to, perhaps, go out and skate them until, perhaps, they fall down. Or show video that is truly embarrassing. What I’ve tried to do is give them a good hard off-ice workout so I wasn’t involved. We are having an individual meeting that is short. I want them to understand that their accountability is to themselves and to their teammates, not just to me as a coach or the coaching staff. They have to hold themselves to a higher standard. That has to come from them. You can point them in the right direction but at the end of the day it has to be a standard, a very high standard, that’s within the dressing room.
Q. You were very candid after that loss with some pretty harsh words; were you trying to deliver a message or were you just speaking from the heart? What do you hope is the impact of those words?
A. You have to be very careful after a game, and you say things you don’t mean, so I try not to. Certainly for me to go into Buffalo at this time of year with a score like that is pretty disheartening. But it’s also something that you can build on. It’s something that you can use. It’s something that can be part of the growth of you as a person and you as a team. That you can take something that is a big negative and use it and understand it and grow with it.
To some extent, it seems like Ramsay accepts the fact that this season might be a learning experience more than anything else for this mostly young team. They seemed to overachieve in the early part of the season before falling apart badly in the second half. There’s reason for big picture optimism, even if their chances of making the playoffs are dim (but not totally gone yet).