Paul Maurice has been an NHL head coach for 1,600 games. He's seen it all. Twice. He has a way of distilling just about any situation into a handy soundbite. Consider this pearl from the Winnipeg Jets head coach earlier in the 2019-20 season after the seventh of his colleagues had been fired: "You're in a marriage. You love the woman but it's getting a little bit rocky. And then you come home one day and she says, 'Paul we're going in a different direction and there's going to be a press conference in three hours and we're going to talk about how great the new husband's going to be.'"
For the men who stand behind the bench, the immediacy and all-encompassing reality of results aren't a throwaway line from a GM in a press conference. It is the life.
The first 15 minutes on every postgame flight in the NHL are identical. Only two scenes can play out near the front of the plane. For winners, there is a quiet moment of happiness as coaches stand and chat in their cabin as they loosen their ties while grabbing a pre-flight snack. For losers, there is silence and the rapid opening of laptops as the loss and the mystery of how to prevent another must immediately be solved.
The hours are long. The job security is minimal.
The travel means missing kids' hockey games and the chance to clean up a skinned knee or wipe away those giant tears only one's kid can cry. Golden Knights Assistant Coach Ryan McGill has moved his family nine times from Omaha to Owen Sound. He won't just sing along to I've Been Everywhere; he can tell you where the best pour is in every Johnny Cash town. And give you the name of the bartender.
Steve Spott was a teacher with security and a pension. He left it to take less than half to be an assistant coach in junior hockey. Golden Knights Head Coach Pete DeBoer is a lawyer. Video Coach Tommy Cruz was working in his father's successful fuel supply company with prospect of a corner office down the line.
These are smart and accomplished people who could do other things. But they don't. They coach.
Talk to NHL players during the height of his career and many will tell you they are never going to coach. Usually it's in colorful language and spat out with almost no pause for thought.
Ask a player with games left in his career rather than seasons and the answer will be different. For people who have dedicated their lives to hockey, the prospect of no longer being involved in the game is scary.
"It's the closest thing to being a player. It's the closest thing to the action," longtime NHL player and coach Randy Carlyle once told me. Carlyle won a Norris Trophy as a player and a Stanley Cup as a coach. "Being a player is the best thing in the world. But you can't do it forever. So being a coach, being that close to the ice and having an impact on the wins and losses, that's the second best thing."
Like any profession, coaching is constantly evolving. Technology and the modern athlete require a new approach. It's not enough to tell a player to do something. He or she must be shown why something works and why it will be good for the individual and the team.
"A coach's job has always been the same, it's just how you get there," said DeBoer. "The coach's job is to take a group of men or women and first take an evaluation or an inventory of what kind of group you have and what their strengths and weaknesses are. Try to maximize their strengths, minimize their weaknesses and get them to play as a team for as long as possible. That's always been what coaching is about. How you get there now has changed drastically. Just in the last two years, with the use of analytics and the information you can give players individually. It's not the coach telling you to do something because he sees it, it's 'Here are the numbers and we need to get this fixed.'"
The modern athlete won't respond to being berated or humiliated in front of his peers. And society won't allow it. Times have changed, and coaching has as well. There used to be an expression "different rules for different fools," which mocked a coach who took varied approaches to the personalities in a dressing room. This tactic was supposed to be the road to ruin. Now it's a must. What works for Ryan Reaves likely doesn't work for Shea Theodore. They're different people with different buttons.
"That's the best thing about coaching in the NHL, you have to develop a relationship with each individual. You figure out the best way for them to learn," McGill explained. "There are just different avenues. That's the best thing about being here with this group, each player is so much fun to be around because they all need different things, all want to provide different things, and all want to communicate in their own way. That is the beauty of what I do, dealing with all of those guys individually. They are all unique in their own way."
The Golden Knights were in first place in the Pacific Division when the NHL season was suspended due to COVID-19. They are Stanley Cup contenders again.
The pause provided an opportunity to discuss the art of coaching and the path of each individual on the Golden Knights staff. We'll roll out a coach each day for the next six in this series.
Gary Lawless: Why did you become a coach?
Tommy Cruz: I wanted a way to stay in the game knowing that I wasn't going to play forever. When I interviewed in Florida, I knew this was something that I could turn into something I could do for my adult life. That was the reason why.
GL: Did you consider going in other directions?
TC: I started so young that I didn't really have any time to work anywhere else. I worked for my dad for less than half a year and didn't like it one bit. That was my only other option I really had. Something great to fall back on if I ever need to, but I like what I do now.
GL: What is a coach's job?
TC: We're providing guidance and structure to the players. They all know how to play hockey, we're not teaching them how. We're guiding them structurally and sometimes mentally. Getting them over some of the hurdles it takes to win games because the gap in skill from team to team probably isn't that much. Comes down to preparation and who wants it more.
GL: Who influenced you?
TC: My coach growing up was Rob Tallas. He is the Panthers goalie coach right now and played for the Bruins. He probably has had the most influence on me because he is the only reason that I am where I am. He stuck his neck out for me to get the job in Florida and was patient with me and the other coaches on giving me a chance to do what I can do. Obviously, Gerard Gallant would be the other one who went on a limb and took Rob's word in giving me a chance to see if I could do the job. He was also very patient with me the first year or two. I would say those two guys for sure.
GL: How did you get your first job?
TC: It happened in two stages. I was 19 and had just finished playing a year of juniors, but wanted to still play. That summer, Rob Tallas came to me and knew I wanted to still play hockey, but Kevin Dineen, who was the head coach for Florida at the time, wanted to have the video guy upstairs and be an eye in the sky during games, which meant someone else needed to be downstairs during the game for the coaching staff. In my head, I still wanted to play but I interviewed and sat down with Kevin Dineen during one of their development camps. I walked into the rink and talked to the coaches and thought I wanted to do this. I did that for a year, along with a part-time job and classes for school. That summer, Gerard Gallant got the job in Florida and the video coach there stepped down. That's when Dale Tallon and Rob Tallas told Gerard that he didn't have to worry looking for a guy and that I could do it if given the chance.
GL: What is your job?
TC: Most of my work is probably pre-scouting other opponents. I'm starting a week away from a game and watching the team we play in their last three games. I'll get special teams stuff and hand that off to the assistants. They'll take that and do what they need to with it. I'll be watching the games 5-on-5 from start to finish, putting together something that will go to show Pete. Pete will decide what is important and what he'll show the players.
GL: What do you do during a game?
TC: I'm watching and marking breakouts, forechecks and scoring chances for the coaches to look at in between periods. I also have a computer next to me with the offsides and goalie interference challenges, to be able to rewind in slow-motion.
GL: Is there pressure which comes with video review decisions?
TC: It is my decision and there is some pressure there obviously, especially now that it is a penalty if you get it wrong. You have to be right. If you're not sure, then someone else isn't going to be sure. Luckily, offsides is pretty obvious, but with goalie interference you're almost looking for a reason why they would leave the call on the ice. If you can find the reason, that means someone else is going to find the reason. Over the last few years, that has changed the perception of it. Before, when it was just a timeout, if there was any reason for them to overturn the call you were probably challenging just for the chance. Now, it has flipped.
GL: Do you like your job?
TC: I love my job. I love what I do. I don't know exactly the reason. I know I was either 15 or 16 years old when the Florida Panthers opened up their new practice facility where I played growing up. They built an extension to the rink. We got a tour of the facility from Panther executives and you're walking through and you see the locker room and you see the gym and then they buzzed you through the coaches office - almost as something to do to kill time - and I saw the video coach's room. I saw the TVs and all the stuff there and I said this is kind of cool. This is something that would be really cool to do. Funny enough, three or four years later that was my office. That same room.
GL: What makes a good coach?
TC: I think the ability to connect with your players. There's only so many ways to play hockey. There's only so many ways to coach hockey. Your ability to convey that message to the players and get them to believe in you and make them think you're in their corner and not in anyone else's I think is the quality that makes a good coach.
GL: What is it like when you lose?
TC: Quiet, for sure. I know for me personally it's just head down, get my stuff done and don't say anything unless asked something. I think there's some situations I've been in where game ends and guys are around the room kind of acting like nothing happened, but I know here in Vegas there's a lot of quietness around the room, which is a good thing. I don't think you should be comfortable losing. It's quiet and uncomfortable but I think it's better that way than being comfortable when you lose.
GL: What is it like when you win?
TC: It's the best. Everyone's joking, everyone's got a joke, everyone's picking on everyone. It's the total opposite of a loss.
GL: You came right to the NHL. How did you prove yourself so fast?
TC: That's a hard one for me to answer because I would say a lot of peoples' pasts were a lot harder than I had. I kind of was in the right place at the right time and got lucky. I think the biggest thing I got out of it was I was doing a job that required me to show up to the rink every day without a promise of anything happening. It could have been something I did for a year and then go finish school and move on with your life. I remember my parents told me you go to your job everyday like you're going to get paid a million dollars and that's kind of the attitude you go with. People see that you want to be there and you're happy to be there and they want you back. You're not someone that they think is expendable or they think they can find someone else to do your job. You make it so that they can't find anyone else. You're the guy.
Tommy Cruz is in his third season as the video coach for the Vegas Golden Knights. He most recently worked with the Florida Panthers organization from 2014-17. Prior to becoming the video coach with the Florida Panthers, Cruz was a goaltender for two years in the Eastern Junior Hockey League for the Philadelphia Revolution (2011-12) and Palm Beach Hawks (2012- 13). During the 2011-12 season with the Revolution, Cruz appeared in three games. After a year with the Revolution, he spent time with the Hawks. Cruz is a Davie, Florida native and currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Gary Lawless: Did you always want to coach?
Mike Rosati: Early in my career, I definitely would have said no. When I finished playing in Germany with Mannheim, the very next year I was added to the coaching staff there as goalie coach. During that season, the head coach was fired and they bumped up the assistant coach to head coach and bumped me up to both assistant coach and goalie coach. I loved it, but my girls were at an age of going to school and we decided it was wiser to come back to North America. It was always my ambition to get back into coaching. I lived in Barrie and they had an OHL team. I opened up a goalie school in Barrie at the time and eventually was added to that Barrier Colts staff.
GL: Why did you become a coach?
MR: As a player, you never think you're going to not be a player. You think you can play forever. You're healthy and always feel like your game is where you want it to be. Coaches and managers may have different opinions on that, but I always felt like I was capable of playing in to a later age. At 37, my career came to an end and I didn't want to leave the game. I loved the game. It's the only game or job I've ever really had and only job I ever want to have.
GL: You spent six seasons in the OHL before making the leap to pro. Was that a good time for in terms of learning?
MR: It was awesome. Working with Dale Hawerchuk and Todd Miller every day. Dale was such a great guy and down-to-earth. Great guy to learn from, he's not too intense as a coach he's pretty laid back. I think the players appreciated not having that added stress while chasing their dreams. He was a great guy to learn from.
GL: How did you end up with the Golden Knights organization?
MR: When Dave Prior was hired to be the goaltending coach in Vegas, he and I go way back to my junior days and always maintained a friendship and relationship. He approached me to come on as his assistant before knowing what was really going to happen with the club and affiliation. After year one when we knew there was going to be an affiliation with Chicago, that's where I was placed to work the minor league goalies.
GL: What do you like about coaching?
MR: I love being at the rink every day. I love learning stuff almost every day, since I've been part of this team and working alongside Pete, Steve, Ryan, Ryan and Tommy. Sitting in those meeting rooms and picking their brains. I love being around the guys. You still feel like you're a player because you're still part of the game you love so much.
GL: On your HockeyDB page there's lots of time in the minors and one game played in the NHL with a 1.000 save percentage. What was your NHL debut like?
MR: That's why I didn't play in a second game, I didn't want to tarnish that record. Olaf Kolzig got pulled that night, we were in Ottawa and it was a 3-3 game. They scored two quick goals to make it 5-3 and I knew it was coming. Ron Wilson looked down the bench and told me to go in. I skated by their bench in the second period and had a feeling that every guy on that bench was asking who I was. Olaf was great, he was great to me. I wasn't up a lot that season I spent most of it in Portland in the AHL. Whenever I was called up, he was outstanding. He was frustrated, you know him, he hates getting scored on and was a fierce competitor so he wasn't happy coming out of the game. I came into camp as a 30-year-old, but as a rookie. I was signed with the New York Rangers out of junior in '88-89, but only got into one game with them. I was playing junior in Niagara Falls and John Vanbiesbrouck was sick that night and couldn't play in Montreal so I got called to back up Bob Froese. It happened to be Guy Lafleur's first game back in the Forum as a member of the Rangers. I was sitting on the bench with Guy Lafleur and I was thinking to myself, what am I doing here?
GL: Who has given you breaks in your career?
MR: In the NHL and American League it's definitely Dave Prior and George McPhee. George trusting Dave's trust in me to give me an opportunity to work alongside him in the Chicago Wolves organization and with our junior prospects. I owe a lot to Dave. He opened the door for me.
GL: What's it like to work with elite goalies Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner?
MR: It's great. I've known Marc for the four training camps I've been a part of here with the team. He's such an easy guy to get to know and communicate with. He makes it very easy to approach him. Robin, I didn't know him at all. He's a great guy. He's very intelligent. He's easy to talk to, likes the open communication. I think I'm a good communicator, so I think it's a trusting relationship.
GL: What's your job with the Golden Knights?
MR: It's the day-to-day goalie coach. Working with them, going over their game results and correcting what didn't work out in the game or at least addressing what we thought didn't work out in the game. Keeping them ready to play and keeping them positive. They don't need that motivation, they're outstanding pros, but that's the approach I take.
GL: What do you do in-game and during intermission?
MR: I go straight to the goalie. I go straight to them and give them any feedback that I saw up top. If there was a goal scored against, I'll address it. If there's a certain play I think a team's trying to work on a power play or something like that for example, I'll discuss it with them and see if they recognize it. Most of the time they have. And just keep them positive. If it's been an off period, for example, just try and get them to stay in the moment. I'm a firm believer, just stay in the moment, keep making saves and hopefully we'll plug a few goals and get ourselves back in the game.
GL: Is your job more about the technical side of the game or the mental side?
MR: For me, and this is the great debate when it comes to goaltending, my belief is come game time it's all mental. You do your work, you do your preparation, your body needs to be fit, it needs to be flexible, it needs to be strong and all those aspects are very important. But once the puck drops it's all between the ears. You're focused and engaged and you can deal with the adversity that comes your way during the course of the game, or deal with the success that comes your way during the course of the game. As I said earlier, just stay in the moment and stay focused. The body will respond.
GL: You paid your dues traveling the globe in order to play. How does that help you today in the NHL?
MR: I think it makes you appreciate how fortunate we are to be a part of this game. It can be taken away from us very quickly in certain situations. I think it makes you realize that there's a certain work ethic that goes along with being in this profession. There's a certain ability that's required to be a good teammate, whether you're a player or a part of a coaching staff. I think all those skills you learn as a player about accountability and things like that pay off in the coaching world as well.
GL: Who has influenced you?
MR: My first year in Italy I was 22 years old and Ran Flockhart was one of the imports on our team. He was 31 at the time and he was an old-school player. He was a guy who liked to have his beers after practice and after a game but come the next morning he was the hardest working guy on the ice in practice every day. He had a winning mentality. I think that's where I learned the most about what it takes to win and the sacrifices that are necessary to be a part of a winning team.
GL: What makes a good coach?
MR: I think a good coach obviously knows the game. He has to know the game. I think he needs to be a good communicator. I think he needs to be fair and honest. That doesn't mean that you have to be everybody's best friend, but I think a good coach treats all of his players equally and isn't afraid to be honest with them, even when it isn't what the player wants to hear.
Mike Rosati was named the Goaltending Coach for the Golden Knights during the 2019-20 season. Previously, he served in a similar role as the Goaltending Development Coach/scout for Vegas. Rosati joins the team after serving as the goaltending coach of the Barrie Colts in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). He was drafted by the New York Rangers in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft, won two Italian Hockey Championships and played on the Italian national team during the 1994 and 1998 Winter Olympics. He appeared in one NHL game and recorded 12 saves in a perfect outing for the Washington Capitals in 1998.
Gary Lawless: Why did you become a coach?
Steve Spott: Like a lot of young hockey players growing up in Canada, if given the opportunity to work at a hockey school in the summer, it was something we all liked to do. I was given an opportunity to attend the Seneca College Hockey School when I was a young player and then eventually became an instructor there. I enjoyed teaching. Teaching hockey skills and working with young players at that time. My eventual goal was to become a school teacher. I went to Colgate University on a scholarship and at Colgate I majored in education. From there, my goal was to become a teacher and hopefully one day a principal in the city of Toronto. Along that path, I was given an opportunity to coach minor hockey in Toronto and just thought it was the best of both worlds where I had a chance to both teach and stay in the game of hockey. That was really how I became a coach at a young age and learned to love not only the athletic side of it, but the teaching side at the same time.
GL: Why did you leave teaching to coach?
SS: Well I was living in my mom and dad's basement and had a good job working at a high school in Scarborough, just outside of Toronto. At the time I was coaching the Markham Waxers, head coach of a tier-2 junior-A team. Pete DeBoer and I became friends through Adam Graves. Adam and I were the best men at each other's weddings and he introduced me to a young man by the name of Pete DeBoer. They were playing in Windsor together in the Ontario Hockey League. That is where I met Pete, through Adam. At that time when I was coaching in Markham, Pete was the head coach and general manager of the Detroit Whalers, which became the Plymouth Whalers. He asked if I'd want to scout for him at that time, being a coach I had seen a lot of players that would be eligible for the OHL draft. I was scouting for Pete and that was my entry into the Ontario Hockey League. A year after that, I just finished my first year and Pete asked if I'd like to work full-time as a coach. It was awesome, I said absolutely and he said he had $15,000 in his budget. From there, I had to go talk to my mom and dad and let them know I was leaving teaching, a very secure and safe position with a pension. I let them know I was leaving to Detroit, Michigan for $15,000. The kicker to that was Pete gave me a company car. It was an easy decision, my mom and dad both told me I had to do it if it was something that was in my heart. I'll never forget that conversation with them where they gave me their blessing to give it a go. It is the best decision I've ever made professionally.
GL: Tell me about your path from an assistant in Plymouth to the top job with the Kitchener Rangers?
SS: Pete and I were lucky, we had some great teams in Plymouth and had an opportunity to have some success with the Whalers. We opened up the Compuware Sports Arena, which now houses the U.S. National Team Development Program. From there, we moved to the Kitchener Rangers and the Canadian side of the border. Kitchener is one of the storied franchises in Canadian junior hockey. It was an opportunity for Pete and I to come to Kitchener, move back to Canada and we had some success. We won the Memorial Cup in 2003 and then hosted it in 2008 when we lost in the finals to a very good Spokane team. After 2008, Pete decided it was time for him to move on and get on the coaching treadmill. He moved on to the Florida Panthers as a head coach and I had the opportunity to take over Kitchener as a head coach and general manager.
GL: You were an assistant coach in the OHL for nine years. Why did you stick with it?
SS: The one thing I can say about Pete and why so many guys like working with him is because he doesn't treat you like an assistant. He allows creativity, he doesn't micro-manage and he gives authority. I think now, working with Ryan Craig, Ryan McGill, Tommy Cruz and Mike Rosati, I think they all see that when we have our coaches meetings in the morning. Pete will tell us the type of drills he wants in practice and then he doesn't check up on us, instead he allows us to make decisions and gives us input. That's why this has always worked because he has never made me feel like an assistant. I know at the end of the day that it is his decision, but behind closed doors he is really, really good to his assistant coaches and makes you feel like you're really part of it.
GL: Tell me about becoming head coach of the Toronto Marlies in the AHL?
SS: That's an interesting one because I had just signed a long-term extension in Kitchener. I had resolved myself to thinking that we would make Kitchener and Waterloo our home. Our kids were starting to get a little bit older. I spoke with Dave Nonis and Dave Poulin who, at the time, were working with the Toronto Maple Leafs. They expressed some interest in me going to Toronto and maybe taking over the Marlies of the AHL. Being born and raised in Toronto, when the Toronto Maple Leafs call, it's something that catches your attention. I spoke to my wife about it and it was an opportunity at that point for me to turn professional and it was a great year. The only hard part was I drove from Kitchener to Toronto every day back and forth and that was an hour and a half each way, plus there was weather to deal with come Christmas time. It was a hard year physically but professionally it was a great year. We lost in Game 7 of the Conference Finals to Willie Desjardins in Texas but it was a great year for me and, from there, Brendan Shanahan met with me and asked me to join Randy Carlyle's staff and that was my first opportunity to then become a coach in the National Hockey League.
GL: What coaching themes are common theme at all levels?
SS: I think there are two things. One is communication. It's the ability to reach people and reach your audience. Our audience is 23 athletes. Whether you're dealing with a 9-year-old boy or girl in regards to coaching or you're dealing with Mark Stone or Max Pacioretty, it's no different for us. You have to find ways to communicate to motivate people. You can do that sometimes with a team, but more than likely at this level, it's individually. How are you going to get to each player and maximize their potential? From there, it's the teaching aspect. You don't get to the National Hockey League unless you have a good grasp on how the game is played, a belief in a system and tactical knowledge on how to execute that system. I think for myself, the ability to communicate is essential and the ability to reach people is so, so important. Especially when you're coming from San Jose to Vegas, nobody would have guessed that would happen. For me and for Pete, we had make sure we were able to reach these players individually and build that foundation of trust from day one. At this point, it's thankfully worked out. It's been really good on and off the ice with the players. We had to build that trust and that came from communication.
GL: What is a coach's job?
SS: I think our number one job is really to eliminate excuses. That's what we do. When you look at the ownership in Vegas, the facilities that we have, the resources that we have, the fan support, the community support, the way we travel, it's second to none. For us, it's about eliminating excuses. We give every player in our locker room the opportunity to excel. It's up to them to do their homework which is in the weight room, eating right, training right and competing every night. That's all up to them. We just eliminate excuses and that's our biggest job. That comes through communication, watching individual video with individual players, watching team video, so that when we hit the ice at T-Mobile every player knows his responsibilities and there are no excuses. We've given them everything they need to be successful and that starts with our ownership, our management and goes to Pete and to us. For every player, there's no excuse. He knows what's needed to have an opportunity to win a Stanley Cup.
GL: What's it like to get fired?
SS: I've been through two of them now. Once in Toronto and San Jose. It's hard. I think professionally you know when things aren't going well, especially if you've been in a program for a number of years, that there could be a change made at some point. You hope to finish the season and maybe start fresh next year somewhere else, or at least have an opportunity to gather your thoughts. This was a unique one for Pete and I. We had never been let go in the middle of a season before, so for us it was a little bit different. I think when you get to a certain experience level as a coach you kind of prep your family that this could be inevitable, that there could be a change at some point, so if it does happen your wife and your children aren't too surprised. There's obviously some shock, there's some disbelief but they're prepped for that. And for us, I think once you become a father, I think you're trying to do everything you can to protect your own individual families when you go through that. We're hardened to it. We understand the nature of the entertainment business. We get it, so it's more than anything trying to protect our families and have them understand that dad's okay or for a wife that their husband is okay, and we're in a good state mentally. So I think that's the biggest part. When I got that call from Doug Wilson it's never easy. The only thing I can tell you is he phoned us, and to his credit he met with us individually, face-to-face that same day. We had great meeting and to this day Doug and I still have a relationship, as I do with Doug Jr. and Tim Burke and the staff in San Jose. They're good people, but we understand a change needed to be made. A new voice and we wish Bob Boughner and his staff nothing but the best moving forward, other than when they play against the Golden Knights next season.
GL: Who are your biggest influences?
SS: I've got a couple that have been really instrumental to me. Obviously, Pete's the obvious choice. I think Adam Graves is a guy that I've leaned on quite a bit. I think anybody that's come across Adam in this business knows the type of person that he is and the type of character that he exudes. He's won a couple Stanley Cups with Edmonton and with New York Rangers. He's just a guy I can lean on. He's been a captain and a leader on every team that he's played for. Now he's in management with the New York Rangers. He's a guy that I've leaned on quite a bit, especially when times are tough. He's a guy that can pick you up by the back of your pants and straighten you right back out. Adam would be a guy that I've leaned on heavily. Just different people, friends that you lean on outside of hockey, professional people that you lean on as well because they've obviously been a part of your life outside of hockey. Just getting some insight from some close friends outside of hockey. But inside the hockey world, Adam Graves and Pete DeBoer would be the two guys that I lean on most.
GL: What do you like best about coaching?
SS: I think it's being inside the fire. I wish every fan in Vegas could have the opportunity to walk out of that tunnel and onto that bench and understand what that building is like when you're standing behind that bench. It's the opportunity to play a small role in a game, to make change in a player's life. For me, it's the best of both worlds. It allows me to teach, it allows me to remain in education, but at the same time to work at the highest level in hockey possible in the National Hockey League and hopefully make a little bit of a change in a player's life. For me it's the opportunity to win a Stanley Cup. We've got a legitimate chance in Vegas and that excites me every time I go to the rink.
GL: What's it like to lose?
SS: Coming from San Jose and now into Vegas, it's not accepted. That to me is what separates programs like that where losing is not accepted. It's not accepted from ownership, management or the players. The highs aren't too high, but the lows are very low when you lose. That to me is what tells you what type of program that you're in. In Vegas it simply isn't tolerated. We want to win every night and we feel we have an opportunity to win every night. When you lose a game or two, again it's not great. That's exactly what you want as a coach. You don't want your players getting comfortable in that environment.
GL: When did you get comfortable with yourself as a coach?
SS: I have to think for me it was going to the Stanley Cup Final. At that point, you kind of validate yourself individually. I think we all have to go through that because you go through highs and lows as a coach, you go through highs and lows as a player, you go through highs and lows when you're in media. There's good days and bad days. I think when there's no out of town scoreboard you realize, OK, what we're doing is right and it validates what you're doing. It validates your structure it validates your system. That's team related, but individually you can take a step back and say, you know what, yeah, we did a good job this year. I think that was a point for me personally where I felt that this is something that maybe at this point, I can validate what I've done and feel pretty good about what I've done.
GL: Have you ever thought about leaving coaching?
SS: Oh yeah. I would say in Toronto. I was fortunate, and again Brandon Shanahan and I have retained a great relationship, but there were some dark times in Toronto during that second half where we made a coaching change and it was hard going to the rink every day. You learn a lot about winning, but you learn a lot more about yourself when you go through stretches like that where there's adversity. There's adversity every day because you know better than anybody the media pressures in Toronto and the amount of media after practices and after games. That to me was a turning point. I knew if I could survive the mental anguish of that, and there were some low times in Toronto during that second half, then I could make this a go. But that would be the one point. And it's never about quitting, it was like oh my God, this was tough. That was probably a low point for me professionally was going through that second half after Randy Carlyle was let go.
Spott joins the Golden Knights after most recently serving under Pete DeBoer with the San Jose Sharks organization from 2015-19. In that time, Spott helped guide the Sharks to a record of 198-129-34 and an appearance in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. Prior to working with the Sharks, Spott spent the 2014-15 season as an assistant coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs. As a native of Toronto, he spent the previous two seasons with the Maple Leafs' American Hockey League (AHL) team, the Toronto Marlies. As head coach of the Marlies during the 2013-14 season, Spott led the team to a record of 45-25-2-4 and a Northern Division title. Before his time in Toronto, Spott coached in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) with both the Kitchener Rangers and the Plymouth Whalers. He spent four total seasons under DeBoer with the Whalers before they joined Kitchener in 2001. Spott spent his first seven seasons in Kitchener as an assistant under DeBoer. Following DeBoer's departure to the NHL in 2008, Spott was hired as both Kitchener's head coach and general manager. In five seasons as head coach, Spott helped the Rangers to a record of 187-121-32, including two appearances in the Western Conference Final. Internationally, Spott helped Team Canada win the gold medal as an assistant coach at the under-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament in the summer of 2008. He also won a silver medal as an assistant with Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships in 2010. In 2011, he led Canada to a gold medal as head coach of the under-18 team at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in the Czech Republic. Spott was also head coach of Team Canada during the 2013 World Junior Hockey Championships in Russia. Spott played hockey at Colgate University in New York from 1986-90. During his time at Colgate, he recorded 75 goals and 73 assists, for 148 points total.
Gary Lawless: Were you preparing to be a coach while you were still playing?
Ryan Craig: I was stay in the game and coach. It would've been around 2010, I went to Wilkes-Barre for the first time out of the Tampa organization since they drafted me. Went to Pittsburgh's organization and got to play for John Hynes and Alain Nasreddine. John Hynes was a first-year coach in the AHL and Nasreddine had just retired and taken up coaching and now he's the head coach of the New Jersey Devils. I think around then I started to get into it a little bit. That's when I started to keep my journal and it obviously grew from there as I went on. That is where I trace the bug back to, I started to think a little bit more about life after I was done playing. There was no specific reason, I had an opportunity in the Pittsburgh organization and everything was good, but I think I knew this was hopefully going to be a road I could take at some point.
GL: What is a coach's job?
RC: I think it's changed over the number of years and yet, for me, a coach is somebody who helps the athletes and the players prepare. It is somebody who supports those players and somebody that has to look out for those players. When I say look out, the sport that we're coaching it's not just one individual. There are nights when guys aren't going and have to be in different situations to succeed or taken out of situations for the team to succeed. There are hard decisions, there are easy decisions, but the one thing is the coach. A good coach is somebody who is honest and has the best interest of not only the individual, but the better of the overall team.
GL: Who are some coaches that have influenced you?
RC: As a pro, John Tortorella gave me an opportunity. I was a late draft pick, I had put my time in the minors and I was rewarded in coming up and I was able to play well in my opportunity given by him. For me, he was the guy that gave me my shot, but also he's the man that I still talk to today. We still catch up when we have the chance to see each other and was one of the guys when I was deciding to retire that I reached out to and talked to about coaching. For him, he had just won a Stanley Cup and wasn't going to change the way that he did things. He was going to push the guys harder than they ever had in Tampa. The way that he treated people, confrontation with him is OK and a part of being better. For me, he was the guy in pro that started to influence me. As I go through my pro career, I played for John Hynes, Jared Bednar, Brad Larsen, all guys that are coaching in the NHL now and have had success at the NHL level.
GL: What were your strengths and weaknesses when getting started?
RC: The thing I had going for me was insight to some stuff that coaches had to do or decisions or those kinds of things. Last few years of pro working with Jared Bednar and his staff, being his captain I was the go-between for there and Cleveland for the last few years. The one thing I really had going for myself was that I had the player perspective with Vegas being such a unique situation. I had moved teams before. Just three months before I had been sitting in the dressing room and not in the coaches office. I knew how I wanted to be treated or respected by a coach and I think I had that going for me. I had some really good mentors I had played for. I maybe knew what I wanted to say or do, but you don't become comfortable with that stuff until you get a chance to present it in practice. It's one thing to stand up in front of people or put together a meeting or even to be on the bench and make those decisions on the fly. When people say that you get better with age or with time, I think it's true. If you talk to guys that have been doing this for a long time, they'll laugh about some of the experiences they went through 25 years ago as a coach and I'm only in year three. So I know I'm going to look back on some of these things when I've grown. I can see already in the three years things that I've changed. Whether it's learning from Turk (Gerard Gallant) and Mike Kelly, or Ryan McGill as a constant, to now with Pete (DeBoer) and Steve (Spott).
GL: Do you watch what other coaches are doing and try to learn from them?
RC: I think you have to be. Keeping your eyes and ears open is one of the best things I've learned. If I keep my mouth closed and my eyes and ears open it goes a long way for myself. There are different situations every day. If you go back through our two-plus years, the first month was totally different from the second month and the third month and the 24th month. Now you see year-to-year things are totally different because of different situations. You may have the same group but things evolve. People change, you have different responsibilities and different people you're working with. One thing I see is the easiest thing you can do is just control what you can control. It's the same as being a player but if you stick to who you are, players are going to see you for who you are. If you're the guy who doesn't scream and yell and that's not in your DNA, you can't just flip a switch and be that way. There are times when emotion gets going but if you're that calm presence, that what you've got to be. If you're the fiery guy that's going to go a different route, that's fine too. That thing about the staffs we've had with the Vegas Golden Knights is they've all been cohesive, everybody has worked together and we've all shared a piece of the overall pie.
GL: What do you like about coaching?
RC: Winning. Other than the obvious, it's the competition and things like that and seeing players succeed. I was an older guy in the American Hockey League where I was 34 or 35-years-old playing with guys who were 18 or 19. My son was closer to their age than I was. To see some of those guys, and I do still cross paths with them, I feel like I got a little bit of a head start as their captain and dealing with things in the AHL like a coach. Now I've become a coach and I see the work. It might be just finding the one thing you can show a player that he can improve on whether it's skill-wise or putting them in a position to succeed. To see those guys achieve their goals you know they've worked hard for and shown a lot of determination is something that's really good. The one thing that I haven't lost is I still feel like I have a team. Some people say that they talk to guys who retire and are away from the game that you don't have the same camaraderie as when you were in the dressing room with 23 guys. Well now it's the six of us in the coaches room and it's an extension of that dressing room but I'm as close as I can be to being on the ice.
GL: Is coaching the closest thing to playing?
RC: 100 percent. I'm as close as you can get. I'm in the action. I'm on the bench and I can hear what's going on. Your stomach still gets those knots you feel at a certain time in the game or before the game even though it's out of your hands to a certain extent. You can't directly impact what happens on the ice but there are certain ways where you can help. The biggest thing is being part of the solution of winning.
GL: What makes a good coach?
RC: Honesty and integrity. In this day and age, you have to have somewhat of a personal relationship with your players and with different guys on different levels. I think being a coach is being a leader. Part of being a good leader is not worrying about who gets the credit. You're not worried about who says what or who is delivering the message. The message is for the good of the team. I've had the privilege to work with some really good coaches here in the first two-plus years. Nothing has been about them. Nothing is about me or I, it's about the team. It's about what's best for our team whether that's in the coaches room or throughout the whole building. It's about our group and that group is as big as you want it be. For us as coaches, it's about who will directly have an impact on the game. You see some of the decisions whether they're about practice, travel or rest recovery or in-game adjustments that are made, they're all in the best interest of the group. There aren't always easy decisions, but as a player, you always want it to be black and white. The gray area is where you get into trouble.
GL: Is losing as a coach is worse than losing as a player?
RC: Days aren't as good the next day or that night. I think because the coach's job is to try and solve the problem. Winning solves a lot of problems. When you lose as a player, you hope that your coach is going to go through it and put you in a situation where you can succeed. As a player, your job is to now get ready for the next game, get ready for the next practice, do what you can do whether it's taking care of yourself that night, rehab, whatever it is. As a coach, that buzzer goes and your mind instantly flips to how to we get better, how do we fix this, how do we improve this, what do we work on. I think it's mentally and physically the mental part where it's I've got to figure this out because I have a message to deliver as the leader of my team the next day to our players. It's funny because, you would know from the media, how that message is delivered at 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. the next morning is exactly how it comes out at 12:30 the next afternoon as well.
GL: How do you try to give your players an edge on the competition?
RC: There are certain players that you want to try and show them stuff and you try to get most of it at least done before game day because game day is game day. You don't want to overload them with videos, but the way our schedule has gone especially lately is you play a game and then you have the day off, you're away from the rink and you don't want to bug them. You might only have one clip to show them. I'll find them and it's a quick clip and I'll ask them to come see me. I think players generally like that because you're not just showing them stuff to show them. I'm showing them something that one is going to make them better, and two is something we can expose them on hopefully the night before and we want to make sure everyone is on the right page.
Ryan Craig is in his third year as an assistant coach for the Vegas Golden Knights. The Abbotsford, BC native joined the Golden Knights after most recently playing for the Cleveland Monsters of the American Hockey League, an affiliate of the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets. In the 2016-17 season Craig served as captain of the team and skated in 71 games, combining goals (11) and assists (11) for a total of 22 points. He also had a total of 25 penalty minutes this during the 2016-17 season. In the 2015-16 season Craig played for the Lake Erie Monsters, where he skated in 60 games, registering 20 points with 9 goals and 11 assists and totaling 38 penalty minutes. In addition, in the 2015-16 season the Monsters were the AHL Calder Cup champions. Craig spent a total of 11 seasons in the AHL and was the captain of his team for nine of those years. He skated in 711 AHL games and tallied a total of 360 points on 172 goals and 188 assists and recorded 554 penalty minutes. From 2010-2012 Craig captained the AHL's Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins until signing a one-year AHL contract with the Springfield Falcons, where he was also named captain in his first season with the club. The British Columbia native also spent time playing with various teams in the NHL. Craig was selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 8th round (255th overall) in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. Craig debuted in his first NHL game with Tampa Bay in the 2005-06 season. Craig played with Tampa Bay four more seasons, from 2006-2010, before signing with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the 2010-2011 season. In 2013-14 Craig signed with Columbus where he played in 2 regular season games. Over Craig's entire NHL, career he registered 63 total points, combining 32 goals with 31 assists as well as 148 penalty minutes in 198 games. Craig has earned several awards throughout his years in professional hockey including: the CHL and WHL Humanitarian of the Year in 2002-03, the ECHL Player of the Week in 2003-04 and AHL Calder Cup champion in 2015-16. He and his wife, Jaydee, have a son, Carson, and two daughters, Kylie and Camryn.
Gary Lawless: Why did you become a coach?
Ryan McGill: I became a coach because when I retired in 1995, I was young at 26 and I wanted to stay in the game. I'm not even sure if I knew how to coach or if I knew what I was doing. The one good thing about me getting into coaching was I had the opportunity to grow as a coach. I had a family that believed in me and knew I was going to work hard.
GL: What is the job of a coach?
RM: You're a teacher, a mentor and a leader. The difference between a leader and a boss, as you know, is that as a leader you have to get better and show your group that you're trying to get better as a coach so that they can become better as well. Making sure you're doing everything in your power to teach. I think you have to make them understand that you're human.
GL: How have you changed as a coach?
RM: You have to evolve as the game evolves. I've learned to become more understanding of the personalities on the human side of the hockey player more so than when I was a younger coach and always trying to drill systems and identity into them. Once you can change and understand that it's just as important to develop a good relationship with each individual, it gets them to overachieve on a daily basis.
GL: Do you have to approach each player in a different way?
RM: That's the best thing about coaching in the NHL, you have to develop a relationship with each individual. You figure out the best way for them to learn. For example, Brayden McNabb is very teachable verbally, whereas someone like Zach Whitecloud needs to see it. You can have a 30-second conversation with Brayden, and he can recount everything you've talked about and moving forward he understands what you need out of him. A younger player in Zach is very intelligent and understands what you're saying, but he has to see it as well. There are just different avenues. That's the best thing about being here with this group, each player is so much fun to be around because they all need different things, all want to provide different things, and all want to communicate in their own way. That is the beauty of what I do, dealing with all of those guys individually. They are all unique in their own way.
GL: Tell me about some coaches who have influenced you and how?
RM: Dave Siciliano - my very first coach I ever worked with. He showed me and developed me in the importance of being organized on a daily basis. Making sure that before the kids get there you have all your ducks in a row and you're prepared because when they get there, anything can happen.
Brent Sutter - work ethic. Making sure that you come to the rink every day no matter what the situation is. When you get on the ice, you can always be in control of your work ethic.
Scott Allen - detail. Really sharp in details and individual player details and player development. Just a real honest, straight-shooting person.
Dave Lowry - a lot of offensive instincts in the game. How to pick apart other teams' defensive schemes or opportunities to outscore the opponent. He's really good in the offensive zone and some out-of-the-box stuff to create more offense.
GL: How much money did you make in your first coaching job?
RM: $10,000. All I wanted was the opportunity and in exchange for that, Ed Chynoweth gave me a chance to grow.
GL: Who has influenced your career?
RM: Ed has been the most instrumental person in my coaching career. It turned not only into a mentorship, but it turned into a friendship and business partner. Just a real, good relationship. Obviously my dad too. There are a lot of people who influenced me. I played with Craig MacTavish for one year and he was a big influence because you could just watch how he could command a room and include everybody. He took that into coaching, so my relationship with him was from playing, but as you watch how he coached it was very similar.
GL: What it's like being fired or not renewed?
RM: It's disheartening because you always think you're trying to do the right thing and there's always different reasons whether it was - well, for whatever reason, it doesn't matter. It's disheartening at the time but the hardest thing is you have such good passion for the game that you want to get right back at it right away but there's that confidence level that you kind of have to dig out of the ground again because you felt like you've lost all of your confidence because you've been let go, or you've been told they're not going to renew your contract and you start reaching out to all the people you know. They tell you not to worry about it or they tell you to keep moving forward but it's not the easiest thing to do. The biggest thing is when you get that next opportunity, you're always better for it.
GL: You've had to move around in your coaching career. What's that like?
RM: The Omaha, Quad Cities, Calgary thing was one organization, so that was interesting because it was a time where you have kids that are young and it's really stressful on a family when you're moving every two years, and you're not moving because you've been fired. You're moving because they couldn't afford to keep the team in the town. I think that was probably the most stressful six or seven years of my life as far as trying to provide for your family. But at the same time there were lots of people inside that organization that were tremendous when we had to move and were really supportive, so that was good. There's a lot of those places where I coached where I still keep in touch with those people because they mean an awful lot to me.
GL: What makes a good coach?
RM: Type A personality, that also has the ability to absorb, listen and really understand that there isn't one way to skin a cat. I never have the same day twice.
GL: What would you be if you weren't a coach?
RM: I don't know. I'm not good at anything, plus, I don't have an education. Honestly, had I not got this job when I first started one year out of the game, I think I probably would have gone back to school and taken some sort of educational pathway. When I look back at that I think that's probably what I would have done and probably would have tried to stay in the game because I felt that at that time I loved the game and had so much passion for it that I wanted to stay in it. I probably would be doing something inside the game.
GL: What's it like to lose?
RM: When you talk about winning and losing, there's been lots of time in my career of coaching and it gets down to where I've lost lots of game sevens and I've won a couple game sevens. The ones you lose, it's gut wrenching because you see the group that you have, whether it's the junior level or the pro level, you see how much effort and how much mental toughness they put into it. Those are the toughest ones because you're the one that has to walk in that room and look at them and see how hurt they are because that means everything to them, which means everything to the coach to. But it's more gut wrenching to see your group who you've coached with all year, to see them disappointed and mad and pissed off and just crushed when you lose those types of things. When you win, I'll tell you what it's so gratifying when you win those series or when you win those championships and you're really happy for your group but you still have a little bit of - I don't know what the word is, but you still have that feeling when you look across to the other room and you see that dejection because you've been in that position before. That's the biggest thing about respecting to win. You have so much respect for winning because you've been in those situations when you lose.
GL: You've had to pay your dues. It's a tough thing, but is it a good thing?
RM: I think it just develops your mental toughness and your ability to get through any type of situation that you're in and I think you have to have some elasticity to what you're doing because it's not always going to be black and white. It's going to be some gray area. When you go into all those places and work with a tremendous amount of different people, it just gives you that much more experience to deal with people as you move forward.
Ryan McGill is in his third season with the Golden Knights and joined the team after most recently serving as the head coach of the Ontario Hockey League's Owen Sound Attack. He led the Attack to an overall record of 49-15-4 for a franchise-best 102 points during the 2016-17 season, which was good for the second-most points in the league. Over his two years with the club, McGill compiled a record of 81-42-10-5 and helped guide the team to its first conference final berth since the Attack won the J. Ross Robertson Cup in 2010-11 and was named both the OHL and Canadian Hockey League's Coach of the Year in 2016-17. Prior to coaching the Attack, McGill spent time as the head coach of the Western Hockey League's Kootenay Ice. It was his second stint with the Ice, as he was team's head coach from 1998-2002 and led them to a Memorial Cup title in 2002. In 2009, McGill was named an assistant coach for the Calgary Flames after four years as the head coach of the Flames' American Hockey League primary affiliate team in Quad City and Omaha. He was also the head coach of the AHL's Hartford Wolf Pack from 2003-05. The Sherwood Park, Alberta native played in 151 NHL games between 1991-95 before his career was cut short by injury. McGill scored four goals and recorded 15 assists for 19 points and 391 penalty minutes in those 151 games. He suited up for the Chicago Blackhawks (1991-92), Philadelphia Flyers (1992-95) and the Edmonton Oilers (1994-95). He was selected by Chicago in the second round (29th overall) of the 1987 NHL Draft. McGill made his NHL debut for the Blackhawks during the 1991-92 season.
Gary Lawless: Why did you become a coach?
Pete DeBoer: I never intended on becoming a coach. As a player, everyone wants to play in the NHL. I was fortunate enough when I got drafted to junior to go to Windsor where I was surrounded by some great people. Adam Graves, Paul Maurice was our captain, Jim Rutherford was our general manager and Tommy Webster was our coach. All of them ended up having years of NHL experience. It was the first time that I really thought coaching would be a cool job. Tommy Webster, I enjoyed how he coached and the relationships he had with the players. I enjoyed watching Jimmy Rutherford work in the GM chair. It really started to become a reality in my mind when Paul Maurice jumped from being our captain right into being our assistant coach in the same year when we ran out of over-age spots. I watched him and saw how much he enjoyed it and kept that in the back of my mind. Three years later after I finished my first and only professional contract, that's when the opportunity with Paul came up to coach and I jumped at it.
GL: Tell me about getting your law degree while coaching?
PD: I was pursuing a U.S. and a Canadian law degree at the same time while I was an assistant coach with Paul. It was a full workload. Looking back on it, it's one of those things where you wonder how you did it. I think Paul was really flexible in his ask on the commitment level from me. I didn't miss anything, but I sure didn't put in the time that my assistant coaches do now. I'm sure my mark suffered a little bit too, I don't think I was at the top of my class, but I managed to juggle it all.
GL: What did that period teach you about yourself?
PD: I think like any junior hockey player, I was a pretty average student. In high school you're just getting by with your full focus on hockey. When I got to law school, I had confidence issues over if I could do it. I was never an A+ student and it never came naturally to me. I had to work for it. What it showed me was that when I threw myself 100 percent into my studies, I actually became a pretty decent student. It just opened up a whole new world. I had been in the hockey world my whole life. It's a great world, but it's a very small, isolated world. When you get plopped into law school, the demographics, different people, different ages and even the male/female perspective was all new to me because I was 24/7 hockey up until that point. That was enlightening and I learned a lot from my law degree that I use every day in my coaching career.
GL: How do you use your degree in coaching?
PD: When I started coaching and when I was playing, at that time you had a lot of the old-school coaches. They were very demanding and it was their way or the highway with no questions asked. This is how we're doing it and get it done. I think the game has evolved and modern players evolved. You have to build a case a lot like a lawyer does on why you want them to do this. What is good for them personally, what is good for the team and how this is going to move the group forward if you'll do this for us. You're making those cases every day with video, analytics and statistics, conversations and personal relationships and trying to push people into uncomfortable areas in order to move the group forward. As the game has grown, I've used my law degree in that regard even more.
GL: What is a coach's job today?
PD: A coach's job has always been the same, it's just how you get there. The coach's job is to take a group of men or women and first take an evaluation or an inventory of what kind of group you have and what their strengths and weaknesses are. Try to maximize their strengths, minimize their weaknesses and get them to play as a team for as long as possible. That's always been what coaching is about. How you get there now has changed drastically. Just in the last two years, with the use of analytics and the information you can give players individually. It's not the coach telling you to do something because he sees it, it's here are the numbers and we need to get this fixed. There is just a lot more to it. Not that it's easier than it was, but if you're willing to look at all of the resources you have available, I think the job can be even easier than it was years ago.
GL: What have you taken from other coaches along the way?
PD: That has been a huge part of my development as a coach, surrounding myself with good people. Taking what they do well, implementing it and adding it to what I do and believe in. That's what coaches do, that's how a guy like Paul Maurice survives for decades. He keeps evolving and getting better. I learned lessons the hard way. I've always tried to hire good assistant coaches, but the times that I've taken my foot off the gas and leaned more towards loyalty or friendship, as opposed to getting the best person, I frankly have been burned. I've learned that lesson that you get the best people you can around you and work with them. The other thing that has been the biggest benefit in my coaching career, has been my involvement with Hockey Canada. I was involved with the U-18 team when Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau were under-18 so that is a long time ago. That was my first team. Over the years, did World Juniors, World Championships, and got a chance over all those years to listen to Dave King and Tom Renney speak. Got a chance to work with Brent Sutter, Craig MacTavish, Dave Tippett and Ken Hitchcock. Every time you get an opportunity to do that, you become a better coach because you take something from them. That was probably the biggest thing I did. Every year that we missed the playoffs in the NHL, which was my first three years in Florida, I stepped up and got involved with the World Championship team and got myself around those types of guys. Learned from them and from some of the other players in the league to make myself better. There is a sacrifice to that, you have to tell your family after a tough season that you're going overseas for a month. They understood the professional development opportunity of making yourself better and making yourself more relevant.
GL: Tell me about the leap from Kitchener in the OHL to Florida in the NHL?
PD: They were tough years. You don't see guys go right out of junior to the NHL very often. I think Brent [Sutter] opened the door for a group of us at the time. I believe Craig Hartsburg jumped after me at a different point from junior to coach Ottawa. I think Brent opened the door that guys at that level could have success. I think I jumped in and I hadn't coached in the NHL before so I didn't know which doors to walk into at each rink. I had been dealing with junior players which is a different athlete. Their parents drop them off and you're responsible for them 24 hours a day from the time they're 17 until they're 20 at a critical time. You have to be a disciplinarian because if they're out running the streets or getting in trouble, you're personally responsible. In the pro game, there's an expectation that those guys show up and they're professional and they do all their work at the rink. What they do on their own, they're going home to their wives and their kids. You don't have to worry about their school and their homework and their girlfriend and things like that. It was different coaching for me. I had to learn it and evolve quickly. In the Florida situation, it was compounded by the fact that I took the job with a great owner in a guy named Mr. Cohen who had pumped a lot of money and was committed to spending to the cap, a great GM in Jacques Martin who had been a head coach. I was looking forward to learning under him. Within a year, all of that changed. The ownership changed, Jacques Martin left to coach Montreal and my next two years and a bit we had two ownership groups, two more GMs after that. It was eye-opening for me after having the stability of working in Kitchener for seven years and running my own show and working in Plymouth for seven years and running the show there. It was eye-opening but then Lou Lamoriello came along and saved me that summer when I got fired in Florida. I really found out how an NHL team should be run.
GL: Lou Lamiorello called the summer after you got fired in Florida and another door opened. Tell us about that process?
PD: I was very fortunate because Lou was the only call I got that summer. I didn't have a great negotiating position. We had obviously played the Devils because they were in our conference with Florida. Lou insinuated that he always felt that when our talent level dropped when we unloaded and didn't play anywhere near the salary cap as far as man power, our teams were always prepared and played hard. I think that was the reason he gave me a look. I went through a really extensive interview process with him. He had a lot of options. He could have gone a lot of different ways with more experienced guys with better track records. He gave me a shot and I like to think that we rewarded him. We went into that season and they had had a tough year before and missed the playoffs and then we went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. It was a great experience for me and I owe a lot to him for giving a guy who wasn't in a great position an opportunity and looking deeper than just my record and looking at how hard and how prepared our teams were.
GL: You've worked with excellent hockey people in the GM position with Jacques Martin, Lou Lamoriello, Doug Wilson, George McPhee and Kelly McCrimmon. How important is a smart and effective GM for a head coach?
PD: It's everything. I think the coaches at the NHL level are all great. Everyone has strengths, everyone has weaknesses. When you line them all up, the difference between us is very minimal. I think it's situational, it's players and it's the leadership from the top. Are they going to second-guess everything you do? Or are they going to buy into what you're doing and support you when times get tough? I think that's probably the common denominator of all of those guys. I think that's the one thing they all have in common. They all have different personalities and ways of going about it but, when they hire somebody, they give them the room, the confidence and the support when times get tough to do their job and stay in the foxhole with them. I've been really lucky that way. I like to think it's karma but, after a few years in Florida with some pretty lean teams, I got in some really fortunate situations in New Jersey with a good veteran group. Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk and Bryce Salvador were still there. Martin Brodeur was at the end of his career but still had game left. I was really fortunate to have a good team there. When I got to San Jose, everyone said the window was closing on that group but those guys still had a lot left in the tank. We played a lot of hard playoff games the four years I was there.
GL: Has your coaching style changed over the years?
PD: I think it's grown as far as my philosophy as a coach. The times I've won, we've always been a four-line, six-defense team. I haven't won with teams where I haven't been able to play my fourth line or put guys on the ice that dressed for one or two shifts each night. The really successful teams I've had, everybody's been a part of it and everyone has felt like an important piece. They're not all playing 15 or 16 minutes a night, but they felt important enough that their contribution was helping us win. I think I learned that when I was one of those players. I was a third or fourth line guy and I thought my coaches in junior and even in pro, the ones we had success with, they found a way to make everyone feel like they were contributing to the success. I think that's critical in your deployment of players. I also think that's critical in building a staff. Why hire somebody if you're not going to trust what they do? I've asked George and Kelly to trust me in what I'm doing and I try and pass that on to people underneath me.
GL: Does getting fired get easier?
PD: I'll tell you what gets easier, it gets easier on the family. I remember the first two times I got fired, in Florida my kids were all in grade school and in New Jersey two of my kids were in high school. Those are tough conversations. They're tough because the kids know their time in that area is probably ending and they're going to have to make new friends because a move is inevitable. But it's also tough because they read the media, they see the social media, they see what the fans say. Let's be honest, we sign up for it, but it can be a cruel business sometimes. As coaches we have thick skins, but a lot of times it's hard to ask an 11 or 12-year-old girl to have thick skin, or your son who's in grade six or seven. Those were tough firings. I think as my kids have gotten older, they understand it, they've gotten more independent in what they're doing in their own lives that it doesn't affect them as much. It's not as tough but it's still hard. I remember sitting with Doug Wilson when he fired me in San Jose. It's hard because you invest everything into the group and the job you're doing and basically - I heard Brad Treliving use the quote, it's like running a 100-meter sprint in an 80-meter gym. You run into a wall and you wake up the next morning and you have nowhere to go, you're not invested anymore, and they've moved forward and you're sitting there with nothing to do. It is still hard, but it's not nearly as hard as it was the first two times with young kids.
GL: What makes a good coach?
PD: I think it's different, honestly I remember coaching against Brian Kilrea in junior hockey. Legendary coach, hall of famer, won all kinds of Memorial Cups and championships there. I think if you asked him technically or watched him run a practice you probably would say, he's okay. And this is one of the best coaches of all time. I've seen other guys technically be able to run a practice but can't relate to the group. I think it takes a combination of everything. I think different guys can get there with different strengths and not everyone is the perfect coach. Sherry Bassin had a great saying: 'If you can be liked and respected at the same time it's great, but if you have to pick one you want to pick respected.' There's very few guys that can sit in the dressing room and laugh and joke with the players and still hold them accountable and do all those other things. I think Kilrea was one of those guys, but if you don't have that ability, and many of us don't, then you've got to earn their respect that you're trying to move the team forward with their best interests in mind every night by trying to outwork the other coaches that you're coaching against. I think that's our philosophy.
GL: Winning and losing is a big part of a coach's life. What's it like to live on that edge?
PD: It's terrible, but it's also the greatest feeling on Earth. That's the juice that we all do this for. When it all comes together and your team plays a great game, you've played a part in that, you walk off and there's no better feeling. Having a group of men execute and move around the ice as a unit and play selflessly there is no better feeling. When you don't, there's no worse feeling, because you feel personally responsible and you immediately start looking for solutions. I think what I've learned over the years is the next morning it's really important to wipe the slate clean and start fresh with some type of positive perspective. There're always things you have to get better at and fix. We always re-watch the game back the next morning. I never do it the night of the game because the emotions are still too high. 99.9 percent of the time when we re-watch it, we're never as good as we thought we were walking off the bench, and we're never as bad as we thought we were walking off the bench. That exercise always gives me a little perspective the next day.
Pete DeBoer was named the second head coach in Vegas Golden Knights franchise history on January 15, 2020. He currently owns a career NHL coaching record of 430-334-113, as well as 46 playoff victories following stints with San Jose, New Jersey and Florida. He was named the eighth coach in San Jose Sharks franchise history on May 28, 2015. With San Jose, DeBoer guided the Sharks to a 198-129-34 record over five seasons, including a trip to the first Stanley Cup appearance in team history in 2016. Prior to joining San Jose, DeBoer coached the New Jersey Devils for three and a half seasons, posting a 114-93-41 record and leading the Devils to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. DeBoer finished his coaching tenure with the Devils as the second-winningest coach in New Jersey franchise history behind Jacques Lemaire (276). DeBoer spent three seasons prior to his stint with the Devils as head coach of the Florida Panthers, compiling a 103-107-36 mark behind the Panthers' bench. Before coaching in the NHL, DeBoer was one of the most distinguished coaches in the Ontario Hockey League's history. He spent 13 seasons coaching with Detroit, Plymouth and Kitchener in the OHL, including winning a Memorial Cup Championship in 2003 and the OHL Championship in 2003 and 2008 with Kitchener. A two-time winner of the OHL Coach of the Year Award in 1999 and 2000 with Plymouth, he was also named the Canadian Hockey League's Coach of the Year in 2000. During his time in the OHL, he led his team to the league's best overall record four times (1998-99, 1999-2000, 2002-03, 2007- 08) and is one of only eight coaches in OHL history to reach the 500+ win mark. He ranks eighth on the OHL all-time coaches win list (539) and 12th in games coached (878). Internationally, DeBoer has frequently been selected to represent his native Canada, including serving as an assistant coach for the Canadian World Championship squad in 2015 (gold medal), 2014 and 2010. Additionally, he was a member of the coaching staff for Canada's World Junior Championship team in 2005 (gold medal) and 1998. He also served on the Team Canada coaching staff for the 2007 Canada-Russia Super Series. A center in his playing career, DeBoer was selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 12th round (237th overall) of the 1988 NHL Entry Draft and played professionally for two seasons with the International Hockey League's Milwaukee Admirals.