Sixteen games into their 2001-02 campaign, the LA Kings sat in the basement of the Pacific Division with a 4-9-1-2 record. They had already dropped an unbelievable nine one-goal games.
Infamously, then-head coach Andy Murray "passed out pen and paper after practice and asked each player to complete the following sentence: 'When I play my best hockey, I...'
"'Unbelievable,' muttered one [player], shaking his head. Another player, asked if he'd ever penned such a document for a coach, replied, 'Never.'" (Crowe, Jerry. "Players Could Write a Book About Troubles." Los Angeles Times, November 10, 2001.)
At least, that's the story we know.
But Murray, who is currently helming Western Michigan, begs to differ.
"The beat writer at the time … one of our players was sarcastic with him and kind of joked about it. I know the player, I won't mention his name.
"And of course, the reporter writes it the next day that the guys didn't like it. The player came and apologized to me.
"It was a way bigger deal for this one journalist than it was for anybody else on our team. He didn't think hockey players should do that. That was his opinion.
"I talked to the journalist after he wrote it. He said, 'Yeah, I get it now.'
"But after you write it, it gets out there. And guys are looking for something to be critical of. I had some chuckles about that.
"I was slammed in the papers for a couple days."
Murray didn't name Crowe, but the LA Times reporter contends, "I don't remember anything about it, to tell you the truth. That was a long time ago."
Murray insists, "Nobody that I know of on the team took it as a negative.
"There was no negative connotation to it at all. In fact, it was a positive experience."
Apparently, his homework assignment was neither essay nor even written.
"We didn't even ask the guys to write it out. We just asked them to think about it.
"A lot of guys put a lot of thought into it. Other guys, we sat, and we just talked about it [a few days later]."
And what was the reason for this seemingly unusual exercise?
"First and foremost, it's nothing new. (New England Patriots general manager and head coach) Bill Belichick is known for doing [such things] all the time, and it's seen as a great thing [from him].
"It was just: What do you do when you're playing well? What does a Rob Blake do when he's playing well?
"It's not necessarily for some of [the stars], because they've got a pretty good grasp of things.
"But sometimes, you've got some young guys who don't realize the kind of player they are. They try to be somebody they're not. And when they do that, they get themselves in trouble.
"The bottom line is when somebody's not performing the way that he wants or you want, you need them to take a look at it.
"So many times, coaches try to make players into players they're not. And they spend so much time working on their weaknesses, that they don't give them enough credit for their strengths.
"To me, I prefer to focus on what players do well rather than what they can't do. To get them to do what they do well is tough enough.
"That exercise to me is: What are your strengths?"
So, for all the hoopla over "When I play my best hockey, I..." Los Angeles did turn in its best hockey after Murray's assignment.
The Kings finished the regular season on a 36-18-10-2 tear, before bowing to the defending Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche in a thrilling seven-game first round.
Did doing homework somehow inspire LA?
"No," acknowledged Murray quickly. "I think it was just good players."
Special thanks to Rich Hammond for his insight.
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Sheng Peng is a freelance hockey writer based out of Los Angeles, California. He covers the LA Kings and Ontario Reign for HockeyBuzz. His work has also appeared on VICE Sports, The Hockey News, and SB Nation's Jewels from the Crown.