Gord Stellick is host of The Big Show, the popular afternoon radio program on the FAN 590. The former general manager of the Maple Leafs is also a hockey commentator on numerous local and national television shows.
TORONTO -- One of the first rules for survival of a coach of a professional sports team is that if you are going to be a .500 team, try to perfect at home and winless on the road, not the other way around.
While there was not just one reason for the firing of Ken Hitchcock as the head coach of the Dallas Stars last Friday, the fact his team had a respectable 14-8-2-1 record on the road failed to offset their .500 record (9-9-4-3) at home.
Owners (like Tom Hicks in Dallas) attend most home games while catching very few on the road. They entertain their close friends and business associates at home games. Ticket sales and advertising opportunities are gleaned exclusively from home games. If you are going to be an ordinary team - be less than ordinary on the road and be respectable at home.
For the Toronto Maple Leafs, this has not been a problem during Pat Quinn's reign as the coach of the Leafs. Air Canada Centre has become a difficult stop for NHL opponents as Quinn's Leafs have made the most of home-ice advantage.
It's on the road where the Leafs have faltered since Christmas, sliding from first place in the Eastern Conference standings. This past week a 6-I win in Calgary got things off to a great start and then the Leafs suffered decisive losses in Vancouver (6-1) on Friday and Edmonton (4-1) on Saturday.
| Robert Reichel knows how much easier travel is in the East. |
Graig Abel Photography
Any of the oft-heard excuses of travel and fatigue being a factor in the losses have no validity as the Leafs had two complete off-days in Vancouver after their win in Calgary. Travel nowadays is a piece of cake thanks to charter flights.
I liked Alexander Mogilny's response to a Scott Russell's (of CBC) question after their 2-1 win over the Boston Bruins that concluded a five-game, nine-day road trip. Russell wondered about the physical toll such a road trip takes on the blue and white. Mogilny was quick to dismiss such a notion, pointing out that after playing with a Western Conference team (Vancouver) the travel schedule of an Eastern Conference team paled by comparison.
I had the opportunity to travel with the Leafs for 10 years as a member of the organization (1979-1989) and for six years as a member of the media (1991 -1997). It's interesting what has changed over that period. In the early years we traveled in virtual anonymity while in the American cities. It was like being on a trip with a group of college friends. The team was recognized when in Canadian cities but the players could still go for walks around the hotel, eat in the coffee shop and go shopping without little bother.
It was right around the start of the 1990s decade that I began to notice the changes on the road. It began with the era of the serious and lucrative business in sports collectibles, particularly autographed collectibles.