Greg Gilbert is the face behind the hottest team in the American Hockey League.
The second-year Marlies coach has the club at the top of the league standing thanks to a 7-0-0-1 start.
The Marlies have done it with balanced scoring and despite the callups of Anton Stralman, Jiri Tlusty and Simon Gamache. Defenceman Derrick Walser was named CCM/AHL Player of the Month. Veteran goalie Scott Clemenson is 5-0 and highly touted sophomore Justin Pogge has fashioned a 2.27 average.
Mapleleafs.com's Mike Ulmer caught up with Greg Gilbert in Scranton, N.J. and asked him about the Marlies, his three Stanley Cups and the passion to coach.
Ulmer: The Marlies have yet to lose after eight games. What have you been doing right?
Greg Gilbert: We’ve had a lot of guys going at the same time and we’ve played a pretty solid team game from the goaltending on out. Both Pogues and Clem have been outstanding for us and it helps to have experience at the back end. They move the puck well and see the ice well. Our forwards have been very committed to playing both sides of the puck.
Ulmer: David Ling 13 points, Derrick Walser has 12. This has to be a pleasant surprise. Gilbert: These guys are going to bring that element. I’m pleased that the scoring is not just coming from Ling and Walzer but also Alex Foster, Brent Aubin and Michel Leveille. That’s what you want, a team capable of finishing off, not only in the back but in the front.
Ulmer:The Marlies were a young team last year and didn’t make the playoffs. Did you need guys to take their knocks last year to have them ready to go this year?
Gilbert: Absolutely. We had a fair amount of young guys and it’s a big process for them. A lot of guys were coming out of junior and college. The pro game is totally different from the style of play they came from. It takes time. It’s not something that comes overnight. You can’t speed up the learning process and their ability to grasp it.
Ulmer: You scored 31 goals with the New York Islanders in 1983-1984. Who did you play with? Gilbert: I started the year with Duane Sutter and Brent Sutter, maybe Butch Goring in the middle there too. Around Christmas, I was moved in with Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy. Boss and Trots, those guys were so easy to play with. They were both detail-oriented players, they knew what to do with the puck. They knew how to recognize situations and where to go.
Ulmer: Bill Torrey, the GM of the Islanders always said what made Bossy so special was that there were times in the game, at the end of periods for example, where players weren’t thinking about scoring. The thing about Bossy was that he always thought about scoring.
Gilbert: Absolutely. He was so focused with his shot. In practice, he’d be driving down the wall, taking shots a stride or two from the blue line. Every shot would be short side post or far side post. Even the in-close goals, the puck was there and gone in a second. Wherever he was on the ice, he knew exactly where the goal was. The one thing a lot of people didn’t know about him was that he was so committed to his responsibilities without the puck. He and Trots were the ultimate two-way hockey players.
Ulmer: Which of the three Stanley Cups do you value the most?
Gilbert: The first Cup, in 1982, I was learning and watching. I didn’t get a ring but go my name on the Cup. The first real one was the fourth one the Islanders won in 1983. That ranks up with the won I won with the Rangers in 1994. It was such an enjoyable year. You knew every game, you could win. Everybody knew what their roles were and how to win.
Ulmer: You played for Mike Keenan with the Blackhawks, Rangers and Blues. What’s the wildest Mike Keenan story you have?
Gilbert: To be honest, there are so many. One, we were in St. Louis and he was disappointed with our performance. He came in and booted this ice box. I don’t know whether he thought it was empty but it was full of ice and his foot just folded over. He didn’t miss a beat and just kept giving us the business. That’s the way he was. He kept pushing us to be the best we could. It’s unfortunate we couldn’t win a championship for him in Chicago. It was an outstanding opportunity.
Ulmer: You paid your dues as a coach and a player. The love of the game may be always there. I’m sure the love of the bus isn’t always. Is it hard to keep yourself motivated in the minors?
Gilbert: Not at all. You focus day to day. I enjoy coaching. There are times you go home frustrated, you start to think maybe about getting out of the game and doing something else. But you’re always drawn back. I enjoy teaching these guys through the experiences I had. Hopefully, they’ll get to the next level for the Maple Leafs and stay there a long time.