Berube delivered confidence when Blues needed it the most

ST. LOUIS — Brian Boucher was able to experience the two sides of Craig Berube in professional hockey.

During his rookie season in 1999-00, the then-22-year-old Boucher was a teammate of Berube’s on the Philadelphia Flyers. At that time, Berube was in his 16th season and had nearly 800 NHL games under his belt. The veteran tough guy was well-liked and kept guys honest in the dressing room. More importantly, he wasn’t afraid to speak up, even on a team that featured a number of players who had plenty of career success like Mark Recchi, Eric Lindros, Rick Tocchet, Eric Desjardins, and John LeClair.

Berube’s personality was a hit with teammates because he could crack a joke one minute then tell it straight when a player or the team needed a kick. Those qualities he possessed 20 years ago clearly still remain today as he was one of the key factors in the St. Louis Blues’ turnaround this season.

Boucher could see those traits back then.

“100%. He could talk to the best player on the team the same way would talk to his linemate on the fourth line,” said Boucher, who’s been analyst with NBC Sports since 2015. “There was no separation to him. He treated everybody the same. I think everybody had a ton of respect for him just because of the role that he played on the team. One of the toughest guys I’ve ever played with in the NHL.”

Berube compiled 3,149 penalty minutes in his NHL career with 241 fights, per HockeyFights.com, helping make up that large number. So when he transitioned to an assistant coach role with the Flyers’ AHL affiliate in 2004-05, the players knew his resume and respected him for the way he played the game.

His approach in communicating with players was and remains a simple one: there are no games. Berube tells it like it is and in a black and white manner.

“You’re not confused when you speak with him,” said Boucher, “you know exactly what the message is. I think guys really appreciate that. Whether it’s at the NHL level or the AHL, they just want to know where they stand, what their role is going to be and how to execute it.”

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When Blues general manager hung the still-remaining (for now) interim tag on Berube in November, the new head coach had an advantage compared to an outsider entering the situation. He knew the roster. He knew the skill level of the players, and his relationship with them was already good having been in the assistant coach role where you typically assume the “good cop” role. 

Berube had confidence in his team, something that he noticed the players were lacking as they sat with a 7-9-3 record. 

“It’s a good hockey team, got good players,” Berube said at the introductory press conference. “We’ve got to get moving in the right direction.”

It took time, but but his message eventually began to resonate.

Brayden Schenn has seen what Berube can do. In six of his last eight years in the NHL he’s had Berube as either a head coach or an assistant. The pair were with the Flyers in Berube’s two seasons there after he replaced Peter Laviolette early in the 2013-14 season.

Schenn saw Berube do in St. Louis what he was able to do in a short time in Philadelphia.

“Just got us to believe,” Schenn said. “Believe in one another, believe we’re a good hockey team. He took down the standing board in the room and worried about one game at a time, and that’s really all it was.”

When Berube was elevated, the Blues sat 30th in the NHL. The process of improvement took some time as St. Louis won only nine of their first 20 games under Berube, and we all know the climb up the mountain began after being dead last in the league on Jan. 3.

“Just don’t look back” is Berube’s mantra. Everyone knew how bad the team’s record was, but that was in the past. The Blues couldn’t change yesterday so they had to focus on changing tomorrow.

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Things looked bleak for the Blues at the start of the new year. Had the tailspin continued into February, Armstrong’s comment after firing Mike Yeo about his patience with the core group being “at its thinnest point” could have led to major changes to the roster. But he held firm and began to see some light. Confidence was coming back and Jordan Binnington was soon on his way.

Four months later the Blues are playing for the Stanley Cup for the first time in 49 years.

“It is about the players,” said Berube. “They’re the ones that go out and do the job and play. They’ve really bought into what we want from them. I think when we took over, we wanted a team-first mentality. We wanted to put the team first. We wanted to get these guys playing for each other on a nightly basis. That was the biggest turnaround for this hockey team.”

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Tyler Bozak appreciates Berube’s direct approach. He also enjoys the coach’s style in dealing with players.

“He’s almost a teammate at times out there,” he said. “Then he’s also very demanding at the same time. It’s a pretty cool dynamic.”

When Berube speaks, players and teammates listen. Boucher remembers that well.

“When he has to get a message across, he gets a message across,” he said. “It doesn’t take forever to get it across. He’s direct, to the point. You understand where he’s coming from. … He hasn’t lost that as a coach. He’s not afraid and go tease a guy or make fun of a guy — not in a way that would embarrass a player, but the kind that would bring a group together. There’s a real skill to that and you have to have the respect of guys to do that.”

Berube will shed the “interim” part from his title this summer. Armstrong’s stated plan back in November that he was going to cast a wide net in a coaching search has been whittled down to a list of one. Along with consistent goaltending, all the Blues needed was some confidence and the right messenger.

“He has conviction when he speaks,” said Boucher. “If he says something, he’s thought about it and when he believes in something, you believe him.”

Blues-Bruins Game 3 is Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET from Enterprise Center on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Devils trade Blake Coleman to Lightning for Foote, first-round pick

Blake Coleman Trade
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The for sale sign is officially up for the New Jersey Devils.

The team completed its second trade of the day on Sunday evening when it sent forward Blake Coleman to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for prospect Nolan Foote and a conditional 2020 first-round draft pick that previously belonged to the Vancouver Canucks.

The Lightning originally acquired that pick from the Canucks over the summer in the J.T. Miller trade. If the Canucks fail to make the playoffs this season, they will hold on to the 2020 first-round pick and the Devils will then receive the Canucks’ 2021 first-round pick.

Just hours before sending Coleman to the Lightning, the Devils traded captain Andy Greene to the New York Islanders for David Quenneville and a second-round draft pick.

It’s a little surprising to see the Devils part with Coleman because he is one of their best players and is signed for one more season at a bargain salary cap hit of just $1.8 million. He is an excellent penalty killer and proven 20-goal scorer in the league. He is currently on track for 30 goals this season.

The only reason they were willing to part with him now: The Lightning were willing to pay a fairly steep price to get him. Along with the conditional first-round draft pick that belongs to Vancouver, the Devils are also getting Foote, the Lightning’s 2019 first-round draft pick (No. 27 overall). He is currently playing for the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League and is now going to be counted on to be part of the Devils’ future alongside recent top picks Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes.

The Devils could now be in a position to have three first-round draft picks this season. Along with their own, they also have a top-three protected pick from the Arizona Coyotes (Taylor Hall trade) and also the conditional pick from the Canucks.

As for the Lightning, this is a pretty big addition and makes an already dominant team that much deeper and stronger. They are already riding a 10-game winning streak entering the week.

Coleman is now one of five players on the Lightning (Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Alex Killorn, and Brayden Point) to already have 20 goals this season. Anthony Cirelli and Ondrej Palat could eventually get there as well.

Related: Islanders acquire Devils captain Andy Greene

Brothers from the Congo flourishing on the ice

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NBC Sports celebrates Hockey Day in America this Sunday with an NHL tripleheader on NBC and NBCSN, as well as a collection of stories and features which explore hockey’s impact and influence across the U.S.

Over 10 years ago Steve and Molly Seidl of Stillwater, Minnesota, adopted two brothers, Sawyer and Simon, from an orphanage in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

At the time, they were three and five years old, and after settling in their new home the two brothers began to play hockey, garnering attention with skills few would have anticipated.

While this hockey family has dealt with some unwelcome attention due to the color of Sawyer and Simon’s skin, that has not affected their passion and love for the game.

In fact, it has motivated them to push forward. The brothers hope to be an example for others, removing labels and barriers to allow everyone an opportunity to play.

Now 13 and 15 years old, they are dominating their age groups and playing in youth tournaments all over the world.

You can check out their story in the video above.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Blues-Ducks game rescheduled for March 11; Blues-Panthers game also moved

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The NHL announced on Sunday that the postponed game between the St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks from this past week has been rescheduled for March 11 in Anaheim.

That game was initially postponed just seven minutes into the first period when veteran Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester collapsed on the team’s bench due to a cardiac episode.

The two teams will replay the full 60 minutes, but the game will begin with a 1-1 score, which was the score at the time of the postponement.

As a result of this rescheduling, the NHL also announced that the Blues game against the Florida Panthers, originally scheduled for March 10, will now be played on March 9 at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Bruins hold off Rangers, improve lead atop Atlantic, NHL

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The Bruins and Rangers both came into Sunday playing good hockey. It makes sense, then, that Boston needed to work hard to beat the Rangers 3-1. By persevering, the Bruins improved their lead over Tampa Bay for the top spot in the Atlantic Division, and thus the entire NHL.

Charlie McAvoy opened the scoring with a strange goal. Charlie Coyle collected a shorthanded game-winner, while Mika Zibanejad scored New York’s lone goal. Patrice Bergeron iced the win with a remarkably fancy empty-netter.

Jaroslav Halak continues to be a strong backup for the Bruins, stopping 25 out of 26 shots. Alexandar Georgiev took the loss for New York, allowing two goals on 33 SOG. It was likely a frustrating game for Chris Kreider, who didn’t score despite four SOG and suffered a -4 rating.

Bruins – Rangers special teams battle

New York’s power play failures told the early part of the story.

Through the first two periods, the Rangers man advantage went 0-for-4. That number only tells part of the story, really. New York squandered a four-minute power play after Ryan Lindgren was bloodied by a high stick. Coyle dug the knife in deeper with that shorthanded goal later in the middle frame.

This Rangers team boasts some dangerous scorers, though, and Mika Zibanejad made that clear by breaking through. Zibanejad scored a power-play tally to tighten things up, with assists from usual suspects Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome.

Bruins bolster Atlantic lead, Rangers see streak ended

Again, these two teams had been playing well lately.

Boston clearly hears the footsteps of the hard-charging Lightning. The Bruins extended their winning streak to three games, and have won nine of their last 10 games (9-1-0). This updated look at that battle for the top spot in the Atlantic reminds that this was a valuable, hard-fought win for the B’s:

Bruins: 86 points in 60 games played
Lightning: 83 points in 59 GP

The Bruins fattened their lead in the Atlantic, which also ranks as the current Presidents’ Trophy race. Of course, the Lightning can slim that right back down to one point with by winning their game in hand.

Meanwhile, the Rangers suffered a painful blow to their shaky playoff hopes, falling to 64 points in 58 GP. This loss ended the Rangers’ season-long four-game winning streak; it’s also merely the Rangers’ third loss in 10 games (7-3-0).

NBCSN Hockey Day in America remaining schedule

Blues at Predators – NBCSN –  6 p.m. ET (Watch live) – Chris Cuthbert will call the action from Bridgestone Arena alongside Darren Pang.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.