When he was hired in May, Brad Larsen spoke about two pillars that he wanted to quickly become part of his team's foundation: accountability and playing hard.
Not surprisingly, those were his hallmarks as a blue-collar NHL player: the ideal "glue guy" who made sure every player was doing their part. He is and was steadfast in his belief that there is no such thing as a corner to cut, and those principles are rapidly being implemented into everything the Springfield Falcons do - both on and off the ice.
As training camp closes in on its first full week at the MassMutual Center, Larsen is entering full-fledged evaluation mode. Which players pulled their weight in the summer and dedicated themselves to coming to camp in top shape, and how many guys are grasping the concepts that have been taught in the early going?
In order to keep everyone honest, Larsen and his staff are paying close attention to make sure everyone is on the same page.
"Whether you're a first-time coach or a first-year coach, accountability is such a big thing," Larsen told BlueJackets.com. "It should be important as a player, but even more so as a coach. I think with our practices right now, if you asked everyone, we're harping on the details and making sure that nobody's cheating our drills or cheating the structure we're trying to put in place.
"It's not about punishment and that's what players have realized. You have to be in the best shape you can be in order to be the best player you can be. It's our responsibility as coaches to make sure that happens."
Keeping the group in-step can sometimes be a daunting task, and with 38 players currently part of the Falcons' training camp, it's even more imperative to garner a collective focus. Larsen has spent most of the team's early practice time educating the group on systems and structure to get the "heavy details" out of the way early.
"So far, we're really happy," Larsen said. "For having a full group together here with a big camp and being split into two groups, they're picking up on the structure pretty good so far. We had our first scrimmage today, and you could tell that guys are understanding what's going on.
"That's a good sign, and overall, I like what I see."
PUSH THE PACE
Another of Larsen's preferences is to push the pace at all times. He wants the Falcons to be playing on their toes, or as some coaches refer to it, a "downhill" brand of hockey. The style of play won't be too different from what Todd Richards and his staff will impress upon the Blue Jackets; they want to be an aggressive yet responsible team that is constantly putting pressure on its opponents.
The only way to establish a high tempo style of play is to make it an expectation for every rep of every drill during practice, Larsen said, and it eventually becomes habit.
"Guys are probably a little tired right now with being split into two groups," Larsen said. "With smaller numbers on each side, they're getting a lot of reps and we've been pretty demanding on the pace.
"We're getting the detail stuff out of the way right off the bat, so that as we go along during the season, that stuff just comes out automatically. So far, things are going well."
What Larsen has also made clear is that his expectations aren't in place for his own benefit. If the Falcons are to achieve their goals and compete for a Calder Cup championship, the bar is high and that's the way it should be.
"It's not about me putting my stamp on this team," Larsen said. "It's about our staff building a program here where we're creating a team that's responsible and will be tough to play against.
"A focal point for us here, obviously, is developing these players so they can be ready for the National Hockey League."
The next step is wrapping up the first week of practice and preparing for upcoming exhibition games against Providence (Wednesday and Saturday) and Worcester (Friday). With a primarily young team, Larsen said he's anxious to see how his veteran leadership group comes together.
He has seen the likes of Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, Cam Atkinson, Ryan Johansen and Tim Erixon from either coaching against them in the AHL, or working with them during Blue Jackets development camp this summer.
"We have veteran guys coming in like Ryan Craig, who's been around a while and came to camp in really good shape," Larsen said. "You can tell he's a leader and I really like what he's brought. There are newer guys that maybe I haven't seen every day (before), but I've been impressed by those guys, as well.
"Our guys have really put the work in and it shows in their game."