Rick Tocchet finished his first All-Star coaching experience as a champion.
And many memories were made along the way.
"It was a lot of fun, they did a great job here," Tocchet said of the weekend in St. Louis. "It was fun to see some old friends, Craig Berube and Wayne Gretzky, that was really fun, a lot of good festivities, but the players were really great, I enjoyed talking to them."
"I just opened the gate and those guys won, it was fun."
Tocchet, whose name has been involved in early Jack Adams Award conversation, oversaw a Pacific Division club that won back-to-back games en route to collecting a $1,000,000 championship check. They first beat the Central Division in decisive fashion, 10-5, to advance to the final against the Atlantic Division, who they then defeated to clinch their crown in a 5-4 nail-biter.
Wayne Gretzky joined Tocchet on the bench as the Pacific's honorary captain, taking an assistant coaching role.
"It was great," Tocchet said of reuniting with Gretzky. "He just reminded me that he's 2-0 in All-Star games as a coach, and I told him that's why I signed him up. Good free agent pick-up for us, Wayne Gretzky."
"He just said 'third man high' the whole time," Tocchet added with a chuckle. "He didn't say play offense, just 'third man high'."
Joking aside, there was a fair share of defense played by the Pacific squad, notably in the championship game, a contest that was locked in a 4-4 tie with under five minutes left on the clock.
"I've got to admit, if you watch in these games no one really likes to defend, but I thought our team defended well, especially the last five minutes. Then you saw guys like Connor [McDavid] pick it up, and I like when the players pick it up to be honest with you, I liked that last five minutes, it was fun."
Respect for your peers usually overshadows any rivalry-related ill-will during All-Star scenarios, especially for a coach; and for Tocchet, he honed in on a San Jose Shark when asked who impressed him the most on his Pacific Division squad.
"I thought Tomas Hertl was really good, he played defense, I said 'you're the next Brent Burns', I thought he was the next Brent Burns out there, he was playing defense, he was awesome for us."
Video: Rick Tocchet: 2020 NHL All-Star Recap
At the end of it all, what the Coyotes coach will embrace the most is his opportunity to get to know opposing players on a personal level.
"Just talking with the players, getting that couple of minutes with each player and talking about whatever, talking about their families or their respective team or something like that, that's enjoyable," he said. "You never really get a chance to do that, I don't really know Connor McDavid very well, so I was able to talk with him, and then see Big Walt's kid, Matthew, talking with him for a while, you don't get those chances when they're on different teams."
And now, he'll get back to the players he knows best, his own, as the Coyotes take the ice for their first post-break practice on Sunday afternoon.
"Now it's time to get going here. You try and separate yourself from the season during these 3-4 days, but it's hard not to think of the team and how to get guys ready for the home stretch."
One championship down.
Lead Photo Credit: Jeff Vinnick - NHLI via Getty Images // Footer Photo Credit: Jeff Vinnick - NHLI via Getty Images