First off, are you happy to be back in Chicago for your second Prospects Camp?
I'm ecstatic. It's obviously a little different the second time around. I'm a little bit more comfortable. I got to know a lot of the kids last year, so to get them again this year and see their progression from one year to the next ... it's a big difference at that age for them.
Will there be any difference in your approach or how things are run this year compared to last year?
This year will be a little bit more organized for me. I didn't know anybody last year when I came in. This year I talked with Dan [Jansen] and Phil [Walker] over the summer and figured out the right schedule for everybody to get the best out of every coach that was here, including Stephane [Waite].
(Dan Jansen, Phil Walker and Stephane Waite are the Blackhawks' skating instructor, strength and conditioning coach and goalie coach, respectively.)
Last year you were working mostly with players who were a few years away from Norfolk. Is it different at all having so many guys who could be in your lineup this year, including guys like Dave Bolland, Cam Barker, Bryan Bickell and Mike Blunden?
Yes, it is a little different. You don't want to talk to them too much about Norfolk because they want to think about Chicago, which is rightfully so. But it's good to see them now and give them some things to work on when they leave here and hopefully in September we'll see some more results.
Were there any players you were especially excited to get a glimpse of this year?
Well, I'll really tell you ... Jack Skille didn't skate last year (due to elbow surgery) and I really think he's going to be some player for the Blackhawks down the road, I really do. He jumped out at me for sure, and obviously our 1st rounder there (Jonathan Toews) -- he was real good. Those two guys jumped out for me the first day.
Have you recovered yet from your early exit in the playoffs last season?
No, I haven't recovered from it. We had such a great second half. We felt really strong going in; we had played well against Hershey. Maybe the chemistry or whatever it may have been ... obviously we got beat out by the champs. But it was very disappointing to lose four straight and I certainly haven't recovered from it. I think it's just made me a little more hungry to prove that we can get it done down there.
How much did the team chemistry play a role? You were supposed to be getting reinforcements with guys like Dustin Byfuglien and James Wisniewski being sent down after the NHL season ended...
I think it did a little bit. I'm not using it as an excuse, but I think it did. When you don't have line combinations going in and you pull guys out of the lineup that have been playing pretty good down the stretch for you, it makes for an adjustment. They got there the day of the game and played that night and played very well for us; they got better as the series went on, which was good to see. The ultimately thing was that I think Hershey was a little deeper than we were.
What were the biggest adjustments you had to make coming from the ECHL to the AHL?
You're dealing with guys who make a lot more money. I certainly enjoyed coaching at [the AHL] level; it's a great level and it was a challenge every day. But I think the adjustment for me was dealing with the players ... They all want to be here in the NHL and when they get a taste, their mental state was something we really worked with this year, which was great for me because it was the first time I had to deal with it.
So you have to be more of a psychologist than just worrying about X's and O's?
For sure. You do at every level, but I think more at that level because a lot of guys maybe feel they deserve to be here or they played well when they were here and don't understand why they got sent down. So you have to be kind of a father figure at times and sit and listen to them and explain because they are young kids.
You're a very fiery guy and I know you said you wanted to work on being a little more laid back. Is that something you'll definitely work on this season?
For sure. I think I learned my lesson. I was fined pretty good this year and that wakes you up a little bit. The one thing with me is that I'm fiery. I'm very passionate. I stick up for my team when I think I need to. But certainly it's an aspect of my coaching I need to work on. I know the second half was much better and it's something I'm really going to control this year.
Tell me about your new assistant coach Ted Dent.
Teddy and I worked together. We won a championship together; he was my assistant in Trenton. He's a consummate professional, first and foremost. He comes to work and knows the hours that need to be put in. He's very knowledgeable about the game and is great with the video systems. He's a quality person and a quality coach. I certainly loved working with him and told (Admirals general manager) Al MacIsaac that I wanted to do it. He knows Ted and wanted to do it, so it's great to have him back.
(Asst. Rick Kowalsky is now the head coach of his and Haviland's former ECHL team, the Trenton Titans.)
Are you tempted to start penciling in your lineup for next season?
It's tough not to. But it's also at the point where it's early and we still have a lot of time. I know that everything is obviously always about Chicago. I certainly want to make them better, and if we can develop guys, that's my job. You do pencil it in, but things change so much ... I remember coming here in August last year and penciling guys in with Al and we didn't have the same guys. You understand that's what it is in the minors. Whatever you get, you've got to work with and make them better.
Last year Mike Blunden (2nd round pick, 2005) got to finish out the year with you in Norfolk after his junior season ended. How valuable do you think that experience was for him?
I think it was great for him. First thing I noticed was that he lost about 10 pounds and put it in the right places. That's going to make him a little quicker. Blunds has got a bright future ahead of him. I think that those 10 games just being around the guys and getting that experience is very important. I know [Brent] Seabrook did it the year before. I think it's outstanding for guys to do that if they have the chance. You're playing against men now, not 19 year-old kids. There are some 30 year-old men who have been around and I think it's good for them to see.
What are you looking for out of Dustin Byfuglien in his second year as a pro?
Well Buf, I think he's done a great job up to this point with getting himself started in the right direction and getting into shape. Dustin needs to continue to work on getting his weight where he can play at his maximum ability. Once he does that, I think he has endless potential. I think he was one of the best, most raw talents we had down there. I think he really looked good and I'm excited for him because I think he's got a chance ... He'll be in the mix to make the Blackhawks, which is great.
I think some fans expected goalie Corey Crawford to dominate in net as a rookie the same way he did in junior hockey. Of course, it doesn't usually work like that. How did you feel about his season overall?
I think Crawf did a great job for us. With Munny (Adam Munro) being up here when you guys went down with some injuries, I think Crawf really took the load and held the team together during the mid-season and played very well for us. It's an adjustment for anybody coming out of junior or college that first year. Again, you're not playing against your own age group; now you're playing against men and guys who have been around. Guys can shoot the puck a lot quicker and everything is just a little quicker -- and it's even quicker in the NHL. But I think he looks good; he's put on a little weight. I think he got tired last year with the number of games and the travel and everything. I think he's going to be real good for us this year.
I noticed you had a conversation with Adam Burish there as practice was winding down. He was a standout here last year on the ice and is a great character guy off it. Are you looking forward to having him down in Norfolk this year?
I just said to him, "Adam, your focus should be on Chicago and making the Hawks." I think he's a great character kid. He's won a championship now and was the captain at Wisconsin. I took a liking to him last year because of his leadership and the person that he is and as a player. You can't get too many of those people in your organization; you'd like to have a lot of them. He's just that type of person. He wants to win and he'll do it at any cost. So we had a nice little chat about that ... being focused on coming in here and being ready to go in September.
Is there anything you'd really like to do for fun while you're in Chicago?
I haven't really been downtown that much. I'd like to get downtown and really look around. It's been a couple years now. Sometimes the schedule makes it tough, but it's a nice time being out here and being around hockey again. It's been two long months, I can tell you, without hockey.
Email web producer Adam Kempenaar at: firstname.lastname@example.org.