For hockey players, early August is usually reserved as time to get that last bit of down time or vacation in before gearing up for training camp in six weeks.
For hockey coaches, it’s a whole different matter.
Take Flyers coach Peter Laviolette for instance. Friday he was holed up in an unfamiliar office at Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J. watching tape for two different organizations and working on a game plan for next month’s training camp.
While at the same time gearing up for his fifth season as the Flyers head coach, Laviolette is also working furiously for the USA Hockey as a strategy is being prepared for the upcoming Winter Olympics in Februaray in Sochi, Russia.
Laviolette was named an assistant coach of that team last month, where he will work with Pittsburgh Penguins coaches Dan Bylsma (head coach) and Tony Granato as well as Columbus Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards as the all-Metropolitan Division crew tries to bring a gold medal back to the United States for the first time since 1980 and only the third time in Olympic history.
Laviolette has plenty of international experience, having been the head coach of the U.S. Olympic team in 2006 as well as the 2004 and 2005 entries in the IIHF World Championships. He was also an assistant coach on the 2004 squad during the World Cup of Hockey.
“Representing your country in a sport is a great honor,” Laviolette said. “Having been there before a few times, knowing first hand what a great experience it is and it can be I’m grateful to be a part of it again.”
Historically, the U.S. has taken a back seat to other countries in international competition headed into these tournaments – places like Canada, Russia, Sweden and Finland.
But, after the memorable 2010 games in Vancouver where the U.S. took the favored Canadian squad to overtime in the Gold Medal game, it’s a safe bet that the current generation of American-born players is one of the best in the World and it’ll be up to the coaching staff to try to get them over that hump to reach Olympic gold.
“Certainly there is an expectation now that we can go over there and be successful,” Laviolette said. “We believe we have a good team. I’m sure we don’t stand alone in that category though as other countries probably feel the same way about their chances.
“Ultimately we’ll have to go there as a group and prove ourselves.”
Laviolette said he is already working on video for the U.S. squad, but he’s pulling double duty and preparing for the Flyers season as well.
With the wholesale remodeling of the Flyers locker rooms, training rooms and coaches offices underway at Skate Zone, Laviolette has temporarily relocated his operation to the office of Bob Clarke on the executive level of the facility, getting everything ready.
“Right now I’m getting everything back in order,” Laviolette said. “I’m making sure we’re prepared and getting ready to go. Preparation is the most important thing in August and the beginning of September so that way when the players are here everything is ready and there is no doubt or are no questions about what we’re doing on any given day. “
|Peter Laviolette also played for Team USA in the 1988 and 1994 Olympics, serving as captain in '94. |
Laviolette was vacationing with his family last month when the team introduced their newest acquisitions, so he didn’t have an opportunity to speak about them publicly.
Friday, he was excited to talk about them and the prospects of how they will fit in on the roster, as his expectations for the team are far greater than where the team finished last season.
“With regards to Vinny (Lecavalier) I think it’s a really good acquisition for our group,” Laviolette said. “We were able to pick up a seasoned, two-way center who adds size down the middle and has proven he is capable of playing in so many ways.”
Laviolette went on to add how impressed he is by Lecavalier’s offensive statistics in his career, noting that the consistency he has shown in his time in Tampa is pretty hard to find anywhere in the NHL.
“Rarely do you find a guy who has scored 20-plus goals in almost every season he has been in the NHL and also done it for 14 years.”
The only seasons in his career that Lecavalier didn’t top 20 goals was his rookie campaign as an 18-year-old in 1998-99 and last season, which was cut short by the lockout.
“We pick up a real talented, experienced guy who can help with leadership,” Laviolette said. “That’s one of the nice things about our pick ups this summer is we added two guys who were captains of their teams before coming here and that should be a big help to our young group.”
The other was Mark Streit, who was captain of the New York Islanders before signing with the Flyers.
“Just by playing against him, he’s a talented offensive defenseman and a great leader,” Laviolette said. “He had a terrific year last season and was a big part of the Islanders rise to becoming a playoff team last year. We’re fortunate to get that type of defenseman on the back end and adding him to the group we already have.”
That group now has a balanced mix of defensive styles, giving Laviolette pairing options with guys who can move the puck – like Streit, Kimmo TImonen and Erik Gustafsson – to pair with more stay-home types like Luke Schenn and Nick Grossmann or two-way guys like Braydon Coburn Andrej Meszaros and Bruno Gervais.
“Just to get guys back and healthy on the back end is a relief,” Laviolette said. “We were so tattered there at the end of last season and it was so difficult to take all of those pieces out of the lineup.
“To get a healthy group back and to add Streit who can put up 40-45-50 points on the offensive end – that’s all pretty exciting on the back end.”
Finally, Laviolette weighed in on the addition of Ray Emery in goal, where, for maybe the first time in his coaching tenure, he feels good about his goaltending situation moving into the start of a season.
“I remember before I was hired here, I was working for TSN in Canada and I was watching Emery play (for the Flyers) and I really liked him,” Laviolette said. “I was making a pitch for him on television to be added to the Canadian Olympic team because I thought he was playing so well at the time.
“As a matter of fact, the last game he played for the Flyers was in Calgary in 2010 and he won 3-0 and was phenomenal in the game. The next day, the news turned on him (with his injury). So to watch him come back last season and go 17-1 in his role – any team would welcome that. So I’m excited to see him in the mix with Steve (Mason) and we think we have a real good goaltending tandem for the upcoming season and moving forward.”
Laviolette will have to temper that excitement – for the next six weeks anyways – when training camp commences.
Until then, he’ll be bunkered down in Clarkie’s office putting all the finishing touches on the final preparations for what he expects to be a bounce back season for the Flyers.
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