When Steve Yzerman was named Vice-President and General Manager, it became clear that he and owner Jeff Vinik shared the same philosophical beliefs about how to achieve success. At that time, I suspected that Yzerman would seek a head coach who possessed similar characteristics.
One of the first questions Guy Boucher was asked during Thursday’s press conference in which he was introduced as the Lightning’s head coach was what appealed to him about the Tampa Bay job. (It was reported that he was up for other NHL positions and was offered the Columbus post). Boucher spoke about the special and unique opportunity to work with Yzerman. Additionally, he mentioned the organization’s “values”. He, like his new GM and owner, has strong convictions about how things need to be run. All three men exude many of the same qualities – they are driven, hard-working, diligent, intelligent, and show respect to those around them.
To that end, when Boucher was asked about whether he’d implement his innovative aggressive system that worked so well in Hamilton, he replied that he is more concerned about coaching players, not coaching a system. He adapts the system to fit the personnel he’s got, not the other way around. Make no mistake, Boucher is clear about the fact that he likes an up-tempo, fast game, but he’s willing to be flexible. The things about which he is unwavering, however, are first, his concern for his players as individuals and second, a standard that his troops must not just be “hard-working”, but “relentless”. (What Lightning fan doesn’t like hearing that?)
It’s true that Boucher has never before coached an NHL game. But there is a reason that he was so eagerly sought by a number of NHL clubs. People in the game know that he’s talented and will be successful at the highest level, just as he’s been a winner at every other level. Yzerman was asked if he had any reservations about the hire and, with a smile, he said, “None.” He added about Boucher: “He’s 38. It’s not as if he’s 21.” In other words, Boucher has been coaching for a while and is very good at it.
It’s hard not to come away with that same first impression. During a smaller session with some reporters after the press conference, Boucher admitted that he is continuously learning about the game and hopes to keep learning every day. “I like to stay up late because I want to learn and you can’t learn when you’re asleep,” he said with a grin. This is a man who is always on the lookout for an edge. He’s the sort of coach you want behind your bench. And now the Bolts have him behind theirs.
Congratulations to the Chicago Blackhawks and their fans, who are celebrating the team’s first Stanley Cup since 1961. How did they beat the Flyers? To me, the series came down to Games Five and Six. In those two contests, we saw the “real” Blackhawks – after playing somewhat tentatively throughout the first four games, Chicago took the play to Philly for most of those final two matchups. Let’s give some credit to Flyers for keeping Chicago off-balance through Game Four. Philadelphia looked especially good in Games Two, Three and Four – only Antti Niemi’s netminding in the third period of Game Two kept the Flyers from winning all three of those games. Perhaps, too, the ‘Hawks were affected early in the series by the fact that they were expected to win even though most of their players had never before even been in a Stanley Cup Final. Whatever the reason, the last two games had a decidedly different feel than the first four.
Chicago likes to play a puck-possession game. The ‘Hawks executed that part of their game exceptionally well throughout most of Games Five and Six. It helped them jump out to a 3-0 first period lead in Game Five and allowed them to stay on the attack and rebuild their lead when Philly kept narrowing the margin. Game Six went to overtime and the Flyers had a couple of great chances to win it – Niemi robbed Jeff Carter late in regulation and the Flyers had some looks during the first couple of shifts in overtime. But Chicago outplayed the Flyers for the bulk of that game, including one 10-minute stretch from the second period into the third in which they held Philadelphia without a shot. The Flyers got some momentum in the third and made a push that culminated in Scott Hartnell’s tying goal with 3:59 left. Still, Chicago outshot the Flyers, 41-24, for the game and frankly deserved to win.
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