Berube helped Blues find identity after early-season struggle

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BOSTON — During his press conference following the firing of Mike Yeo, St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong stated that he was ready to do an off-season search for a new head coach, and that that search would take him far and wide. He would explore all levels of hockey — college, junior, the AHL, Europe — to find a successor and get the franchise back on track.

At that same press conference, interim head coach Craig Berube said he saw a team that needed a boost of confidence. After all, he’d been an associate coach for Yeo and been on the bench for the first month and a half of the 2018-19 NHL season, a start that saw the Blues fall down the Western Conference standings and into a hole seemingly too vast to dig out from.

On the 205th night since that November press conference, the Blues celebrated as Stanley Cup champions for the first time in franchise history. A team that was in need of a kick received it when Berube took over. The players bought into his message at a time when they needed to the most.

“He has conviction when he speaks,” said NBC’s Brian Boucher about Berube, his former NHL teammate and head coach. “If he says something, he’s thought about it and when he believes in something, you believe him.”

[RELATED: Blues win first Stanley Cup]

When Armstrong decided to make the coaching change he turned to Berube because of his experience. Of the remaining assistants, he had the most experience as an NHL head coach and the GM was confident he could keep the ship steady until a full-time replacement could be found.

“He answered the bell,” said Armstrong.

Berube kept the Blues afloat and slowly started to make progress with his players, with the results showing on the ice. He took the bond that he created as an associate coach and kept it strong when he took over for Yeo. His message resonated with his players at a time when they were feeling lost, and the losses piling up. 

“It was really tough at the start,” said Ryan O'Reilly, who was named winner of the 2019 Conn Smythe Trophy. “It was tough. We were all questioning each other and frustrated. We kept working, though. We had great leadership at all sorts of different times [stressing] to keep working and eventually things started to click. Chief got us to just get out there and play hard, be hard on every puck and help us find our identity.”

The Blues’ biggest strength in Berube’s eyes? They trusted the guy next to them on the bench — a trait that he had to instill into his group.

“They put the team first,” said Berube, who’s now the seventh coach to win the Stanley Cup after taking over midseason. “That’s been a message for quite sometime. They’ve done a real good job of that, the players. They believe in it. Once they got that message they started playing mid-December, we started to really pull it together.”

Now the long journey is complete and the Blues are Stanley Cup champions. Berube is still technically the team’s “interim” head coach, but that title will be getting an upgrade very soon.

MORE BLUES STANLEY CUP COVERAGE:
Video: Blues hoist Stanley Cup
Blues fan Laila Anderson gets moment with Stanley Cup
Ryan O’Reilly wins Conn Smythe Trophy
Blues latest team erased from Stanley Cup drought list

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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.