Originally from Quebec, and after spending some time coaching in Ontario, how have you adjusted to life here in sunny Florida?
I don’t know if it’s an adjustment. It’s more of just a delivery from the cold. Really, it’s been outstanding. People have been so nice, our neighborhood is terrific, my kids and my wife love it, and the weather might have an effect on it, but really, it’s the people who really have an effect on it.
As it relates to players, and considering the NHL is a very fluid business, how have you stayed fresh in your coaching philosophy in today’s ever-changing game?
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I think this game rejuvenates itself every three years, so if you don’t keep up with it, you’re past date pretty quick. Every summer and during the year I try to talk to as many coaches as possible, and as funny as it sounds, even my opposing coaches. I also have my circle of mentors that I always go back to. I did that this summer and I’m doing it again now with some time on my hands.
Despite your short tenure as an NHL head coach, you are known for your innovative approach and out-of-the-box way of thinking. Where does that stem from and what type of advantage does it provide as far as where the mental side of the game is concerned?
I just think hockey is like a table. To stand straight, it needs four legs of equal size. We often focus on the physical part, then there’s the systems and the tactical part, you got the technical part, but there’s also the mental part. I’ve always thought it was the biggest part, and important to always search for tools. We use them and we make theory practical for players. It certainly makes a huge difference in my approach. Whether it’s considered innovative or not, I don’t really care, I use it to get an edge. There could be things that existed 50 years ago, but I think I’ve got my own way of doing things and it’s based on my view and a ton of other views that I kind of molded all into one package.
In your opinion, what was your “welcome back to reality moment” after taking the Lightning all the way to within one game of the Stanley Cup Final in just your first season behind the bench? What did you learn from it?
I learned that it’s hard to get over. I think myself, our players, our staff, we’ll always look back on those last six minutes in Boston and think that if we just scored that one goal it would have been us. Looking back on it, we created hope for ourselves and our players, our fans, and those throughout our organization. If it’s possible once, I think it can be done again and the next time it can be better. It was nothing negative. It always has to be something positive and something we can draw from. That’s what we’re trying to do right now. Last year we tried to stay patient with our plan even though we knew it would be a little bit more difficult, but I don’t think anyone panicked through adversity and that’s why I think this year things are going to pay off.
It is well-known that you are a big history buff, specifically military history. So what has history taught you that you can apply to hockey when coaching behind the bench?
Obviously preparation. You prepare your group and prepare against what your opponent might do, but I think in the end, sticking to your own plan of attack is probably the best plan. Very often we give in too much to the opponent and it takes us away from our strengths. You have to go with your strengths and become an expert at it rather than open up in other ways that other people have had success with.
The organization has made significant strides on the ice, with the fans and in the community since the arrival of Jeff Vinik, Tod Leiweke, Steve Yzerman and yourself. Being that all of this has happened in just a short two-year period, what do you attribute a lot of that success to?
Leadership. Everything rises and falls on leadership. I think Mr. Vinik has something really terrific going, and he hired the right people who have tremendous leadership. What it does is it makes everything grow so fast. When you have leadership, everything grows exponentially and when you don’t, everything stagnates. I think the speed at which things are going here is directly related to the quality of leadership at the top.
The system you brought to Tampa Bay is described as innovative. How difficult was that to impart on a team that for the most part, was unfamiliar with it, and were you surprised they adapted to it so quickly?
I think coming in there were 12 players or so who weren’t on the team in the previous year, and we has new coaches, a new staff, and new approach and a new everything. I think everybody was scared and thought that it was going to take us a long time. And I’ll be honest, I think we were all a little scared of how long it would take to be on the same page. The willingness was there, but usually those things take a long time. I think everyone pulled real hard in training camp to be ready when the game started and we focused on the most important stuff rather than the specific details of a complex system. We put it in the simplest expression what we wanted from the players, and I think they bought in quick for two reasons. One, Steve Yzerman gathered good people and really did his homework on who we’re bringing in, and two, everyone was right for success and they all wanted it so bad. They felt a sense of fresh air and they let their sails be taken by it.
Rumor has it that you are very knowledgeable about fruit plants. Can you tell us about those?
I wouldn’t say knowledgeable, but I love it. I love vegetation. If I go to a plantation or somewhere where I can get plants and trees then I’m like a woman in a lipstick store. I can’t get enough of it. So, yeah, at home we have a whole bunch of bushes and flowers, but you can’t tell the players that.
You also have an incredible work ethic, as evidenced by staying until the early hours of the morning after games. How do you juggle your responsibilities as coach and still have time to spend with your family?
Well if I don’t, my wife will tell me pretty quick. She’s got a terrific way of making me understand things before it gets to be too late, and I need that. Focus is good, but sometimes I go way beyond it and she reminds me that I need to eat and stuff like that. Usually though we’re pretty good about it. She’s been with me 15 years now so she knows it’s coming and she sees the trends. She’s very helpful and making me understand it before things happen and prevention. Our kids are so dynamic and it’s pretty apparent when they need me and when they don’t, but it’s been a juggling act since the beginning. Being a parent is basically a seven-days-a-week job.