Since the day he was hired as coach of the Ottawa Senators last month, Craig Hartsburg has been preaching the word “accountability” as his mantra.
When training camp rolls around, the former coach of the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks will be patient with his new team, but he will still expect his players to be accountable for themselves and each other from the second they enter the rink.
“Accountability is something I expect on and off the ice,” Hartsburg told NHL.com. “It has to do with conditioning, a team-first attitude and work ethic. Those are the areas we want to hold the players accountable in. If they come to camp ready to work and they’re playing with passion, then they’re doing what they’re supposed to and that’s what I mean by accountability.”
While Hartsburg expects this accountability to be evident from the start of training camp, he realizes it takes time for a team to get in sync. But as long as his players are exhibiting the aforementioned attributes and pushing each other and themselves to do so, he will be satisfied. If there’s one thing Hartsburg has learned, whether it is working with pro players when he was in Chicago and Anaheim or with teenagers at the junior level, it’s to be patient. As he pointed out, there needs to be time to let the on-ice product develop.
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“There’s going to be mistakes on ice every game. But as long as players uphold those standards I mentioned, that’s what accountability is.”
The Senators recently added former Western Hockey League coach Curtis Hunt (Regina) as an assistant on Hartsburg’s staff. Hunt, who also worked with Hartsburg on the Canadian World Junior team the last two years and won gold both times, impressed Hartsburg with his diligent preparation. Just as the players will, the coaching staff will also hold itself accountable. If the system in place isn’t working, it will be forced to implement a new one.
“Curtis and our whole staff we’ve assembled bring a sense of accountability, and as a staff we will always be prepared,” Hartsburg said. “If we sense that the plan isn’t working but the players are still doing what we asked, then it’s our job as a staff to change the system. So in that sense, the coaching staff will lead the way.”
Hartsburg will also look for his core of veterans to lead the way. That’s why he was thrilled with the recent signing of Jason Smith, who is known around the League as one of the game’s great leaders and a solid citizen in the dressing room.
“We’ve been happy with all of our moves thus far and certainly Jason Smith fits into that leadership role that we will need a strong core of,” Hartsburg said of the former Edmonton Oilers’ captain. “Jason has proven to be a great leader on and off the ice, and that will go right along with that sense of accountability that we’re trying to build here.”
The Senators still have a very talented core of veterans like captain Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley. While Hartsburg is excited to work with such a skilled group, he knows that without hard work and a team-first attitude, the skill could be rendered meaningless.
“If you watched the Stanley Cup Playoffs carefully, you saw that it was not only the skilled teams advanced, but the ones that combined their skills with hard work,” Hartsburg said. “The teams that win are the ones that buy into a system and think team first. We’re going to address that here in Ottawa when camp starts. We’ll let everyone know that they need to be on the same page and establish that team-first atmosphere.
“You have to play hard to win. It still doesn’t matter how much skill you have … if you don’t fight hard to protect and gain your space on the ice, you won’t win.”
While Hartsburg realizes that working with professionals is different from working with junior players, he still believes his approach of patience and hard work can work at the pro level and help achieve his goal of getting the players to play as a unit.
“The NHL is certainly different in that the players are already at the highest level, so there’s less teaching involved,” Hartsburg said. “But there’re still similarities because no matter what level you’re at, there’s always room for improvement.
“To improve and achieve your goals, you need to preach patience and motivate each other. Like I said before, if we’re all doing that -- coaches and players -- then it goes back to what I’m saying (that) we’re holding each other accountable, and that’s what we plan to do.”