Shortly after Brad Shaw was named the Islanders interim head coach, I had a chance to sit down with him and get his thoughts on his new position and coaching in general. Here is our conversation:
CK: What was your initial reaction to being offered the head coach's job?
BS: It was definitely something that I was interested in. I wanted to make sure that it was going to be the right fit for where I'd like to go. It's 40 games that I get to run a hockey team at the highest level possible. When I started coaching seven years ago, it was your dream, your goal. But you never like it to happen this way, at the cost of somebody else and somebody who's a great man like Steve Stirling who has been a mentor and given you a great chance. It's always a tough thing, but at the same time, we need to do something here.
CK: Do you have a coaching philosophy?
BS: I like our guys to get better every day. Another phrase that I really like to use is "unmatched work ethic." It means our goal is to outwork the other team as often as we can, as regularly as we can, all over the ice. It gives an identity to your team. But getting better everyday is something, too. I've been at the developmental level almost all of my coaching career and some of it translates up at this level as well. Individually we can still get better and certainly as a team we can play better and learn to use each other better. When you do that, you go from day one to day 200 and you've made some huge strides. If you can keep your progress headed in the right direction, it gives you a positive energy level and a reason to be out there every day. We're trying to get better every day. You're doing it in your life, in your relationships, as a parent or whatever you are in life. We're all trying to get better everyday and sometimes we lose sight of that. So I try and use that for myself and then I translate it over to the team. It's something that I really think applies and I think it helps.
CK: Which coaches had the most influence on you over your career?
BS: I played for Brian Kilrea in juniors, and he's won over a thousand games now and is in the hockey Hall of Fame. I was always amazed how simple his practices were they were all fairly the same. I was there three years but I didn't really recognize the importance of what he was doing until I went on to another coach and every day everything was different. He was a great communicator and he really knew how to talk to young players. I really enjoyed my three years there.
I had Larry Pleau early on in my professional career in Binghamton, New York, for a couple of years. He was another great man in the game. I really respected a lot of the things he asked us to do as players. It was always based on team play and consistency. You're measured every day and let's make sure we bring it every day. Tom Webster was my first pro coach and he was a very hotheaded guy. I had him for about 45 games and he must've broken five sticks over the glass in practice when he wasn't happy with the way things were going, so that was a bit of an eye opener. I had Doug Jarvis his very first year coaching, down in the minors. It was very interesting to see a guy come right out of playing to a head coach's job. It was eye opening for me because I always thought coaching wasn't that hard. Not that he struggled, but he had a much tougher time than we all assumed he'd have. I had (former Islander property) Bryan Lefley over in Italy for a full year. He's another great man who respected his players and got respect back. He had played the game at a very high level and so did his brother Chuck, so he understood a lot about the game. All these guys that I played for I learned a lot from.
I also learned a lot from Mike Babcock. I had the opportunity to follow him around the year they went to the Stanley Cup finals with Anaheim against New Jersey. The best experience was seeing the pressure involved at that juncture. When you're playing games into the conference finals and then the Stanley Cup finals, the intensity and the pressure that is around there is palpable. I was just sort of soaking it up and trying to absorb as much of it as I could. That was a great experience and I really think Mike is a great coach. He gets a lot out of his players. He has in his mind a picture of what the team is supposed to look like. I think that was maybe one of the best things I took from him. Have an idea of what the game is supposed to look like from start to finish, in every aspect, and you should be able to picture it. He did a great job of that, working with video. His big thing in training camp was building a foundation. The foundation is what gets you through the tough times. If that foundation isn't there, there's no real leveling off point for you. Within a game or within a tough stretch of the season, it's that foundation that gets you through it. I think he did an outstanding job of establishing that, and throughout the season making sure that it was kept in place and worked from. They would then layer things on top of that. It's another great example. I think you pick up a little bit of knowledge from every coach that you have.
CK: How will things work behind the bench now with your assistants?
BS: Dan Bylsma will run the defense. He did that for me in Cincinnati last year and we have a good working relationship. Jack Capuano will be on the bench now too. Sergei Nemchinov will see his role increased. He's a guy that brings instant respect and will help our penalty kill and other different areas of the team.
CK: How does your relationship with the players change as you go from an assistant coach to the head coach?
BS: When I walked in this morning, Ricky (DiPietro) said to me - "Oh yeah, you're going to be all serious now, he's already changed." But that's kind of a natural thing. I don't think I can goof around as much now. Assistant coaches have a pretty good time. It's a job where you need to keep guys loose, keep communication lines open and you need to have that rapport. As a head coach, you have to make sure that everybody is buying in and is on the same page. You just don't have the luxury of being guy's buddies anymore. You need to be the coach. I don't want their friendship, I want their respect, and that's going to be what I'm trying to earn here.