In praise of Mike Babcock, who doesn’t want you to be confused

42 Comments

SOCHI, Russia — “Does anybody know who won the scoring race? Does anybody care? Does anybody know who won the gold medal?”

And with that, Mike Babcock stood up and exited the press conference, once again the head coach of the Olympic champs.

Sure, it would’ve been cooler if he’d dropped the mic before leaving, but it was still a pretty great exit, so far as exits from press conferences go.

The only performance more impressive might have been the one his Team Canada gave here in Sochi. Six games. Six wins. The first team to go undefeated at the Olympics since the 1984 Soviets in Sarajevo.

And while Canada, with all that great offensive talent on its roster, only scored 17 times, it only allowed three. All. Tournament. Long.

On top of that, in the two games that mattered most, against the toughest competition, Canada didn’t surrender a single goal. It was a 1-0 win over the United States in Friday’s semifinals, and a 3-0 suffocation of Sweden in Sunday’s final.

Just don’t tell Babcock he played a “defensive” system. Because he doesn’t like that.

“When you talk about great defense, sometimes we get confused,” he said. “Great defense means you play defense fast and you have the puck all the time. We’re always on offense.

“Don’t get confused. We out-chanced these teams big time; we didn’t score. We were a great offensive team. That’s how we coached. That’s what we expected. That’s what we got. We didn’t ask guys to back up.”

Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman concurred.

“It wasn’t strictly playing defense,” he said. “We weren’t sitting in a shell. Part of our defense was being aggressive. Forechecking. Pressuring. Closing gaps. Not letting them get the red line, or get our blue line.”

You may recall a short time ago when Canada’s scoring ability was being called into question. Like after it only managed three goals versus minnow Norway. Or, after it escaped Finland with a 2-1 overtime win. Or, after another one-goal game versus Latvia in the quarterfinals, a 2-1 win that required a late tally from defenseman Shea Weber.

“No matter how hard people were on us that we weren’t scoring goals, we wanted to stick to our game and play hard defensively,” said Weber, crediting Babcock for maintaining the team’s belief in what it was doing.

“He just portrayed the message that it’s going to come. Defense wins championships. You’ve got to shut the other team’s top guys down and get timely scoring and you’re going to win.”

Meanwhile, forward Patrick Sharp praised Babcock for, not only a great game plan, but also infusing some timely good humor.

“He was one of the guys who was loose in the locker room, kept guys on their toes,” said Sharp.

Forward Jonathan Toews, who scored the game-winner versus Sweden, saw that too, and thought Babcock’s demeanor was an important contributor to the team’s success.

“I think that’s a big part of playing well is being loose and confident,” he said. “He wants that and I don’t think he ever overreacts to any situation. He’s always pretty calm on the bench. If you do something wrong, he lets you know right away, and he’s very detailed and to the point.”

Toews also lauded the coaching staff for getting buy-in from all the players, even the superstar offensive types who may have been prone to veering from the plan, if they weren’t convinced otherwise.

“As soon as we didn’t have possession (of the puck), we were working so hard to get it back,” he said. “We had some skilled, skilled forwards and d-men, but everyone was committed to playing a defensive game, and we created offense off it.”

Of course, according to forward Chris Kunitz, there wasn’t much choice but to obey the coaching staff’s rule. Not on a team as deep as Canada.

“They came here, gave you the information, expected you to understand it, and go on the ice and duplicate it,” he said. “And if you weren’t doing that, there was someone else going to be able to take your job.”

Now, let’s face it, Babcock had more great players to deploy than any coach at these Games, and he was more than willing to admit that.

“We had a good team,” he said, slightly understating the fact.

If Dan Bylsma and Zinetula Bilyaletdinov had the roster of Team Canada, maybe it would be one of them who made all the right moves, instead of all the wrong ones, apparently.

Still, coaching Canada has its own challenges. Gold as the only option. A cadre of stars, many of whom need to be used like role players, and need to accept that.

Two Olympics in a row now, Babcock has gotten the job done.

“It started in the summer when we went in there and we played ball hockey,” said Weber. “Everyone laughed at us. We went over systems.

“I think there might be a lot of teams that are going to try ball hockey now.”

PS – Phil Kessel won the scoring race.

Devils hold open tryouts for emergency goalies

Getty
1 Comment

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) Steven Porzio’s father was a New York Rangers fan, but he always rooted for the New Jersey Devils. A goaltender himself, Porzio was struck by Martin Brodeur, and he dreamed of replacing the NHL’s career wins leader when his days at the Prudential Center were done.

Porzio is now 27 years old and working in information technology, and he’s given up hope of replacing Brodeur.

He still might suit up for the Devils on their home rink, though.

Porzio and 14 others tried out Saturday to become the Devils’ emergency goaltender for this season. They were run through drills by former New Jersey goalie Scott Clemmensen at the Prudential Center, faced shots from players in the minor league system and even used a dressing room next door to the Devils’ home locker room.

Read more: Kings hope to find emergency goalie candidates with open tryouts

“You walk through the locker room area and see all the team photos, the little replica Stanley Cups,” Porzio said. “That gives you chills a little bit.”

This wasn’t exactly fantasy camp, though. Clemmensen pushed the prospective netminders – mostly former college or junior players – through rigorous tests to evaluate their skating and puckhandling.

“Put them through a legitimate goalie clinic today, which I don’t know if they were expecting,” said Sarah Baicker, the Devils’ director of content and communications, who helped coordinate the tryouts. “A couple guys looked like they’re going to sleep really well tonight.”

The tryouts are in response to a new league rule for this season, which mandates that teams have an emergency goalie present for all home games ready to fill in for either team. Last year, a number of clubs required backups on short notice, including when the Chicago Blackhawks called on Philadelphia-area youth hockey coach Eric Semborski for a game against the Flyers because Corey Crawford needed an emergency appendectomy.

New Jersey plans to pick a winner by the end of the week, and that goalie will need to be at all 41 Devils home games this season, plus the playoffs. New Jersey might pick more than one player to split up the schedule, though it hasn’t decided yet if the emergency goalies will be paid.

The 15 netminders at the rink Saturday were selected from a pool of nearly 400 applicants, some of whom were targeted by the team.

“The skill level was pretty good, and that’s what we’re looking for today,” said Clemmensen, now the goaltending development coach for the organization.

Among the final group was 43-year-old Anthony Felice, a hockey coach at Rye Country Day School in Rye, New York, who has been an emergency backup for the Devils’ minor league teams in Lowell and Trenton. Injuries have slowed the former junior player, but he’s healthy enough now to seek “a chance to do it one more time.”

“To come out here and be in the big building was a lot of fun,” he said.

Not all the participants were Devils fans, either. Matt Palella, a 23-year-old who played at Stonehill College in Massachusetts, just moved to the area from Chicago for a job in Manhattan a few weeks ago. He got word of the tryout and put in his name, not sure what he’d get from the experience.

“I was expecting, `Go in the corner, figure it out,”‘ he said. Instead, he was surprised by how well New Jersey treated him and the others. “It was top-notch.”

Palella blew out his knee late in his college career, and this was just his second time skating since the injury.

“I’m not hurt,” he said. “That’s all I care about. Walking away in one piece.”

 

Jankowski ‘continues to impress’ at Flames camp

Getty
Leave a comment

Mark Jankowski made his Calgary Flames debut last season. It appears he’s making quite a case to at least start the new campaign in the National Hockey League.

On Friday, he notched his third goal of the preseason, helping the Flames to a 4-2 victory over the Coyotes. Make that three goals in three exhibition games for Jankowski, Calgary’s first-round pick from the 2012 NHL Draft.

Once considered an “off-the-board” pick in that opening round, the 6-foot-4 center has developed into a very intriguing prospect, particularly after an impressive 2016-17 season down in Stockton, scoring 27 goals and 56 points in 64 AHL games. He appeared in one NHL game last season, and is leaving an impression during this year’s training camp, too.

Read more: Looking to make the leap — Mark Jankowski

“The confidence thing, right? These young players grow more confident as it goes,” head coach Glen Gulutzan said of the 23-year-old Jankowski following last night’s game.

“I thought he played well tonight. I thought he was better tonight than he was against Vancouver (on Wednesday) and he just continues to impress everybody.”

Calgary has three more preseason games remaining on their schedule, which could provide more of an opportunity for Jankowski to prove himself to the Flames coaching staff ahead of the regular season.

“I’m just trying to get better every day and keep on showing the coaching staff and management what I can bring to this team,” Jankowski told reporters.

“As camp goes on and it gets thinner and thinner, I just have to keep on doing that and get in some preseason games against almost full NHL lineups. That’s when you can really show your stuff, show you can play at this level and have an impact.”

Hossa undergoes ‘independent medical evaluation’ to determine if he’s eligible for LTIR

Getty
4 Comments

Marian Hossa and the Chicago Blackhawks announced in June that the 38-year-old forward will miss the entire 2017-18 season with a skin disorder.

However, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, the National Hockey League has yet to determine if Hossa will be eligible for long-term injured reserve.

“Marian Hossa underwent an independent medical evaluation several days ago,’’ NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the Chicago Sun-Times. ‘‘We are waiting for the report. Once we have that, we should be in a position to determine his proper status.’’

Hossa’s total salary is only $1 million for this year. His cap hit remains at $5.275 million.

From CSN Chicago:

Here are two basics about the cap: a team can be 10 percent over it during the summer, and a team must be at or below it the day the regular season begins. If the Blackhawks place Hossa on LTIR, it wouldn’t take effect until the second day of the regular season. So on Day 1 of the season, the Blackhawks would still be carrying Hossa’s $5.275 cap hit.

Once the LTIR would take effect, though, the Blackhawks would have wiggle room. If they spent to the $75 million cap, they could utilize Hossa’s entire $5.275 million cap hit on other players.

While there are salary cap implications for Chicago with Hossa’s absence, not having him in the Blackhawks lineup is a difficult loss. Yes, he’s approaching 40 years of age, with more than 1,300 NHL regular season games under his belt. But last season, he also posted 26 goals and 45 points — still very productive at his age.

It was reported, prior to the Blackhawks announcing that Hossa had this skin condition, that there was a “legitimate possibility” Hossa had played his last NHL game.

Karlsson is back skating, but ‘we don’t want him to get too excited,’ says Boucher

Getty
Leave a comment

The good news? Erik Karlsson hit the ice to skate with his Ottawa Senators teammates on Saturday.

“Back at it,” is what the star defenseman wrote in an Instagram post, which included a photo of him on the ice in a blue jersey.

It’s certainly an exciting development for the Senators and their fans. Karlsson was a dominant player for Ottawa during the Stanley Cup playoffs despite playing with a foot injury that later required surgery, with an expected recovery time of four months.

Head coach Guy Boucher, however, offered some cautionary words on Karlsson’s status. Basically, it’s exciting, but Boucher doesn’t want anyone — Karlsson included — to get too far ahead of themselves right now.

“It’s a positive thing, but we don’t want to get too excited. It’s a second step,” said Boucher, according to NHL.com.

“The first step was to let the therapists tell us when it was adequate to put him on the ice, because you need to get the flexibility and the strength off the ice before we could put [him] on the ice. Yesterday they apparently put the skates on to see how it felt and [went] very lightly on the ice, and they felt he was able this morning [to] get dressed and be with the boys.

“Basically, this is the second step, but there’s quite a few steps before we get to him playing. We don’t want him to get too excited.”

His status for the Senators’ season opener against the Washington Capitals on Oct. 5 has been up in the air since he underwent the operation. Karlsson admitted earlier this month that he wasn’t sure if he’d be ready for that game.

Ottawa is dealing with a few injury situations right now, with four preseason games remaining on their schedule. Karlsson is one of the best defensemen in the entire NHL and given how important he is to the Senators, there is absolutely no need to rush him back into the lineup if he’s not ready.