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'Invaluable Experience' is Tocchet's Takeaway from Coyotes' Finish

The third-year head coach wraps up a season that culminated with the organization's first playoff appearance in eight years

by Alex Kinkopf @AEKinkopf / Arizona Coyotes

It wasn't exactly "We came, we saw, we conquered," but head coach Rick Tocchet tried Friday to best summarize a season that lasted 343 days.

"We went to Edmonton. We were underdogs. We beat Nashville."

The Coyotes qualified for the postseason for the first time in eight years. That's a positive, but Tocchet was honest in his end-of-season assessment: the way his team went out left a sour taste. 

"We ran into a buzzsaw in Colorado," he said. "I'm not sure what else I can say on that."

The Avalanche, who eliminated the Coyotes, are a favorite to win the Stanley Cup, but Tocchet didn't surrender anything to that.

"I believe you can win every game you play," he said. "That's just the way you coach and try to think. You can never think you can never beat a team. That's asinine. I could never think that way."

Tocchet did note that the Coyotes played through some injuries, especially at the center position.

"Our center position took a real hit," he said. "And that's something you need. If you really want to go far in the playoffs, you really have to be strong."

Christian Dvorak suffered a shoulder injury in Game 1 against Nashville. 

"He basically played with one shoulder," Tocchet said. "You've got to give him a lot of credit, but obviously he wasn't himself during the games. It's hard to play with one shoulder."

Brad Richardson injured his thumb, which will require surgery. The team was without its regular- season leading scorer in Nick Schmaltz and Conor Garland played hurt before suffering a playoff-ending injury in Game 4 against Colorado.

But eight players got their first taste of playoff hockey, an experience Tocchet highlighted.

"Playing in this is going to make them better hockey players," he said. "Better in their development.

"I think with this group going through what they did, it's just invaluable. I can't stress enough how lucky we were to get these guys in for three weeks of playoff style hockey. But it also shows them how much work they've got to do." 

Asked to point out a moment to remember, Tocchet said, "I think that Nashville game where they tied it up and then we won in overtime. That was a big point for the franchise. I thought we could have wilted, and we didn't. To win that game was huge for us."

The off-season will bring change. It always does.

"That's why you've got to enjoy the moments you have together," Tocchet said. "I told the guys, 'Don't take these moments for granted.' Some guys might never get in the playoffs again. You really have to relish these opportunities. 

"These guys are terrific individuals. It's a business, right? We're here to win. You have friendships, you have love for people, but at the end of the day it's about winning. There's always going to be turnaround and change."

Video: End of 2019-20 Season Interview - Tocchet

Unrestricted free agent Taylor Hall is the subject of most of the what-ifs. 

"I haven't really talked to him about that sort of stuff," Tocchet said. "I thought he worked hard in the playoffs. It was a goal of his to play playoff games. He hasn't played many in his career. He was enjoyable to coach. A really good kid.

"All I know is that he's had positive things in his experience here, which is nice to hear." 

Tocchet doesn't have a long-term plan for an off-season. He will of course meet with Owner, Chairman, and Governor Alex Meruelo.

And he'll be keeping tabs on the remainder of the postseason and how the surviving teams continue to handle the bubble environment.

"In isolation you're by yourself a lot and you think a lot, and you're away from your family," Tocchet said. "It can wear on your energy level. For the most part, I thought we did a good job. But to hang around there in that bubble, the teams that are going to win, obviously you've got to have the talent, but you've also got to have a strong mental fortitude to get through that. 

"I think the team that wins this is going to be one mentally strong team. It looks like there are some teams in there that are really rolling, and they're strong mentally."

Lead Photo Credit: Norm Hall - Arizona Coyotes // Second Photo Credit: Jeff Vinnick - NHLI via Getty Images // Third Photo Credit: Christian Petersen - Getty Images // Footer Photo Credit: Christian Petersen - Getty Images

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