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CBJ Q&A: Checking in with Brad Shaw

The Columbus assistant gives a coach's perspective on the current situation

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

Each week during the coronavirus pause, we've done a Q&A with a Blue Jackets player to get a sense of what their life is like during a unique situation.  

This week, we decided to change it up a bit by going to Columbus assistant coach Brad Shaw. Who better to break down the coaches' perspective of this unique time than someone who is known as one of the most cerebral assistants in the league? 

Shaw has spent most of the pause in Columbus with his wife, Mary, and their youngest daughter, Caroline. Their eldest daughter, Taylore, and their son, Brady -- himself a professional hockey player who earned a cameo with the Cleveland Monsters this year -- have been spending the stay-at-home time in Ontario and Illinois, respectively. 

Shaw took some time recently to talk to to discuss his time at home over the past few weeks. He also chats about his efforts to work with other coaches through educational opportunities presented by the NHL Coaches Association as well as what it's like to be the coach of a team at the highest level during a unique time.

What have you been doing to pass the time during the pause? On Twitter, we've seen your wife, Mary, posting about a few different home improvement projects you were doing early on, so is the house in pretty good shape? 

The big one was painting the entire first floor of our house. That project took about 30 hours, so that was a good one. Those home projects kind of dried up a little bit, and you got in the rhythm of not knowing what day it was and you kind of wake up and it's Groundhog Day. It's nice that they pick up the garbage on Thursdays at my house, so I always knew what day of the week it was, but it was tough. I've been kind of still in that same rut where I realize that I'm very deadline based -- you always have a start date for training camp or you have start date for playoff series. We're programmed and scheduled by all these dates, and without a date in mind it was tough to really have a real good focus on getting much done. 

Tweet from @mareshaw3: Day 7 of NHL being suspended. Hoping he doesn���t join the IR list...#NHL #CBJ

For coaches, this has to be an entirely different experience than anything you've ever been through. Have you almost been pulling your hair out or have you at least been able to focus on a couple of things to get through this whole thing? 

I did a couple of Zoom calls, one for the coaches' association based on the penalty kill, and so there was some preparation to that and it was a good process to go through. It kind of got the focus back on hockey and the details and the how and the why and all that stuff. Those were good. I have another one coming up in a couple of weeks, which is good. It gives me something to focus on. Every time you get a chance to talk to other coaches and talk about your thoughts about the game, about coaching, about certain aspects, I think it helps you realize the good and the bad in what you're doing and I think it helps you refine how you approach things with your own team. That's been a positive thing for sure. I'm glad I've gone through that process.  

I wanted to ask about that, your focus on helping other coaches. Is that something that's important to you considering it is a coaching brotherhood? When things aren't as hectic as they usually are, is it nice to take the opportunity to talk to some other coaches and have that kinship and share knowledge a little bit? 

Yeah, it was really good. The first one I did for the coaches' association, we were kind of running out of time and I can kind of get to talking and you lose track of time, so we were like, 'If you have some questions, just send them and we'll get them to Brad and he'll email them directly to you.' That was a bit of a process for the next five or six days, too, and the cool part about that was the variety of where these coaches were from. There were guys based in Europe, there were lots of female coaches, lots of college coaches, a couple of junior coaches, guys that I had played with or coached with who sent me private messages who said, 'Hey, great job. I had a question on this or that.' So for the first one, for the first five or six days after that, it was kind of cool, I took a block of time every morning to look at the questions and try to answer them as best I could. That was really rewarding, too, knowing you're hopefully helping those coaches be a little bit better. That's all we're trying to do. We're trying to get better every day, and if I can help even a couple of them get better results for their team and for themselves as coaches, that's a great thing to do. I required a lot of help when I was trying to learn how to be a coach, and it's a little bit different sometimes from what you think it is. I went through that process myself, so if I can help some of these guys get as good as they can as soon as they can, it's certainly rewarding and something we should all be doing. 

Also on the coaching front, I know we've written about the quizzes the Blue Jackets coaching staff put together for the players, different things to try to keep players engaged. It's something you've never had to do, but was it fun to look at different ways to keep guys thinking about hockey through the whole process? 

Yeah, I think it's a great idea by Torts to do that. It's evolved into a real competition for most of the guys. It's great. Initially, I think the point system was based on not having to skate as many laps or being able to give a lap to one of your teammates, and anybody who has seen Torts' camp realized the value of that stuff. Players were invested right away, which was good. You had a reward system that guys could get a picture of it having some serious impact. It's good. I think it gives us a chance for the players and the organization as a whole to feel like we're still in something together in the midst of real uncertain times. It's a lot of new scenarios for everybody. It's brand new, and we're all trying to deal with it and trying to make the most of it and trying to come out the other end of it as healthy people and also a hockey team that can play to our potential and win some games. It's going to be quite a challenge when we do get back on the ice. It's going to be a very different environment, but the quizzes have been a real boost to morale and that togetherness and collective ideal that all teams like to share. 

You mentioned there that it is going to be different when you get back. One thing that's weird is prepping for Toronto -- you're almost like a football coach right now where you have your first opponent and that's the only team you really have to focus on for months, which is unique for hockey. What do you think it's going to be like having this long to prepare for just one opponent and break them down? 

It doesn't change much. It gives you more time to do it. I don't think I'm going to try and look into their game much more than what I would normally do for a playoff series anyway. For me, I need to know their power play frontward, backward, inside out. I need to know how they're trying to create chances and goals and trying to be dangerous, and then it's about trying to find ways to counteract that. I think the prep gives you the ability to talk about every element of the team and answer every question that you can predict for your players, and that's the value of it.  

They are a highly skilled team. They get their success through scoring. We get our success through not letting teams score. So it's actually one of the more intriguing matchups in the opening round in the difference in how both teams have their success. It's going to be a challenge, but hopefully watching the video and going through the basket of knowledge I have on what has worked and what hasn't worked in the past, hopefully we can put together a game plan that will stifle a lot of what they're trying to do and give us the best chance to win. That's why you put the work in, is you're giving a game plan or a set of structures or ideas that give our guys the best chance to make good decisions and perform on the ice and get teams out of maybe the best stuff they're trying to do. 

A lot of the players I've talked to said they looked back on the season and one of the things that stuck out to them was how much of a team they became and how much of a bond they had. You've been on a lot of teams and coached a lot of teams, and that's something you're always searching for, but it doesn't always happen. Did you have a sense of how this team came together and could feel the way they were all on the same page as the year developed? 

Yes. We had a few things I think that worked in our favor, right?  

You don't often see a team with the injuries that we had, and especially the level of the players that they were happening to, to be able to withstand that and be able to continue to put points up and stay in the race, that was a real credit not just to obviously the players but I thought Torts did a fantastic job of keeping the focus and keeping things on track, not letting the injuries to become an excuse. I thought we just kept playing. We found ways to be successful. I thought we played some of our best hockey with some of our more limited lineups. The one thing that really helped was Elvis (Merzlikins) finding another level and providing us with some of the best goaltending that we saw all year. When your goalies are playing like our goalies were, it allows you to mess up on the ice and not pay the price and not get scored on and not lose games. I think that element really gave us a chance to weather the storm, so to speak, as far as some of the injuries we had and kept us knocking at the door. Like I said, I thought we were playing some of our best hockey getting into that last 11 or so games. Who knows what would have happened?  

But we'll get a chance to prove what we've learned and how well we play as a team once those games do start. Obviously that will be against Toronto and that will be with no fans, which will be really weird. It'll feel more like a youth tournament than the NHL playoffs, but we have to find that intensity. We have to find that good team game that has been our calling card here the last couple of years and certainly this year with all the injuries we had. 

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