ANAHEIM, Calif. – Most of the Anaheim Ducks had left the arena late Wednesday night, but there was a core group of veterans who remained gathered with general manager Bob Murray in the corridors of Honda Center.
The Ducks had just beaten the Montreal Canadiens to stop a seven-game losing streak and, ostensibly, allay fears of a trade or coaching change.
At least that was the mindset of a group that included Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne, who were told by Murray that he had just fired coach Randy Carlyle.
"It was shock," Getzlaf said. "We thought kind of the time had passed. We were going to stick with our group and go."
Added Perry: "All of us in that room were kind of shocked, and we didn't really know what to say. There wasn't too many words said."
Goalie Jonas Hiller was working on his black mask when he got word.
"It was definitely surprising at that point," Hiller said. "We had just won a game. Everybody was feeling good."
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Change came so swiftly the Ducks didn't really have time to react. They were at practice Thursday morning under new coach Bruce Boudreau, who was hired just two days after his firing from the Washington Capitals.
But the one message of clarity in Carlyle's firing was that, at least for now, Murray still believes in the team as it is comprised.
While they are excited about Boudreau, most of those veteran players felt guilty for a 2-12-4 nose dive over an 18-game span that has doomed Anaheim's season.
"I felt we let him down a little bit," Getzlaf said. "He did a lot of things well, and he did a lot of things right over the last few years and we just weren't able to turn it around."
Said Selanne, "I really feel sorry for those guys. They had to pay the price for what we did on the ice. It was kind of tough to hear that. I know we're very disappointed too. But like I said, it's a tough business. We have to move on."
Boudreau represents a fresh start, and the Ducks organization hopes that he can duplicate his turnaround of the Washington Capitals in 2007-08 .
He repeated in his Thursday press conference that "I want them to believe in themselves," and the players were ready to follow.
Boudreau addressed the team for 10 minutes before an energetic practice saw Andrew Cogliano playfully jabbing Perry. Francois Beauchemin let out a big smile as he left the ice. There was a big "Woo!" when the team broke its final huddle.
Said Ryan of their meeting with Boudreau, "It's almost like a first date, but I think it went well."
"He's a player's coach," Perry said. "He told us that today that his door's always open to go in and talk to him. That's what guys like to hear. When you have a good relationship with your coach it's just going to add to the relationship with your teammates and you want to go out and win for your coach."
While they made introductions with Boudreau, players said goodbye to Carlyle. Getzlaf saw him late Wednesday night and said the emotion was visible.
"He was upset. He was hurt," Getzlaf said. "We felt we let him down and we felt the same way. I had never been in that position. I can't quote him or say how he was feeling but he was broken up about it."
Murray cited a disconnect between Carlyle and the players that was manifested in a loss to Chicago last Friday in which the Ducks blew a 4-2 third period lead. They followed that with another uninspired performance in a loss to Toronto on Sunday.
Anaheim had become a team that folded at the first sign of adversity, and its confidence looked shot. Its big line of Ryan, Getzlaf and Perry has underperformed. The team's secondary scoring is nonexistent and its defense shaky.
Most of the players who have played under Carlyle since Carlyle's hiring in 2005 didn't deny that his message wasn't getting through anymore.
"Maybe some guys were starting to tune him out and starting to play their own way," Perry said. "It just wasn't working."
Getzlaf was more diplomatic.
"It's a natural progression for some guys to tune out certain things and maybe not buy in as much as they should be," he said. "That's on us as players, not as a coach. That's our responsibility to absorb things and buy into the system."
The ever-positive Selanne concurred and said that wasn't necessarily the scenario.
"Every time when Randy was talking, everybody really paid attention," Selanne said. "We have so much respect for that guy. I really feel (there weren't) any issues that some guys would not listen or not trust our plans or the system we played. That's why it was a shock for me when it happened. But obviously Bob was very patient with the team and not making any moves until now."
Carlyle is the only coach that Getzlaf and Perry have known in their NHL careers. They have tasted champagne from the Stanley Cup and missed the playoffs entirely within the past four years.
Carlyle was crusty and work-driven. He was known for 90-minute practices that ended in conditioning drills, even in April, and excruciatingly long training camps that Selanne always cited as the reason for the slow starts.
But Carlyle was also an old school coach who scheduled team-bonding days to a local bowling alley in San Jose – or a shooting range in Orange County.
After a loss at Detroit in Game 6 of the 2009 Western Conference semifinals, Carlyle had the team practice with the wrong end of their sticks to remind them that hockey was still fun.
"I owe him a lot," Hiller said. "He gave me a chance to play here. He gave me the chance to be a No. 1 (goalie). On the other hand, hockey is a business in the end.
"It wasn't an easy situation coming in today, but on the other hand I think everybody was excited. It's like a new starting point. It felt like something changed and it felt like we found some new fire."
This isn't exactly how Selanne pictured his 19th season unfolding. He has been the one offensive standout at 41, but said he hasn't regretted coming back at any time this season.
"I still enjoy this," he said. "A lot of nights, a lot of days, (I think) how we can turn this around. Every solution I came up with is, ‘Just do your job.' Enjoy coming here and bring some positives every day."
It will take some positive thinking to believe the Ducks will make the playoffs. But Boudreau told them that he knows the way there.
"He's been here before," Perry said. "He knows what's going on….It's one of those things, I think we still can save the season. It's not out of the picture yet."