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Sitting Down with Greg Gilbert

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
In his second season, Greg Gilbert led the Toronto Marlies to a 50-win regular season and a berth in the American Hockey League’s Western Conference finals.

A talented winger who toiled over 14 seasons with the New York Islanders, Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers and St. Louis Blues, Gilbert coached the Calgary Flames for all of one season and most of another and has also coached in Worchester (AHL) and Mississauga (OHL).'s Mike Ulmer spoke to Gilbert about finding his name in the newspapers, the decision to keep Justin Pogge on the bench through most of the playoffs and the rewards of puffing out your chest.

Mike Ulmer
: Thanks to the Marlies playoff run, you have been mentioned in stories as a potential NHL coach in waiting. How does that feel after two years in Toronto and three in the OHL with Mississauga?

Greg Gilbert: It’s nice to be recognized but there are lot of people who put a lot of work into what happens when a team has success. (Assistants) Joe Patterson and Jimmy Hughes did a great job with our guys and we came up with some good plans that helped our guys succeed. The players are the ones who go to war and do the job and put the wins up. I’ve got another year left on my contract with the Marlies and that is the extent of my plans right now.

Mike Ulmer
: How much of coaching is projecting the right air of confidence. In other words, how much theatre is in the job?

Greg Gilbert: I think you have to portray belief. You keep seeing the word believe all the time but whenever a coach is running around the bench and screaming and yelling, a lot of time that portrays to the players a lack of composure. The players will portray that in the way they play. The old saying is a team is a reflection of a coach and you have to calm, cool and collected back there. You have to be confident. You have to believe in the guys sitting in front of you who are going to get the job done. It doesn’t happen all the time but if you maintain that same persona, it rubs off on your team. They become more confident and they find ways to battle through situations that you’ve never faced before. You keep your chin up and you puff your chest out and you go and give it the best you can and a lot of times it works out.

But if you are going to project confidence, you also have to try to make the right decisions for your players.  You have to be patient, especially with younger players. You can’t throw them to the wolves. If they’re not ready and they fail, one of the toughest things for a coach to do is help somebody quickly regain their confidence.

Mike Ulmer
: That brings us to an interesting question. You were scrutinized for not playing Justin Pogge more. It was said you had a responsibility to play him. But what about the responsibility you had to the rest of the team?

Greg Gilbert: That’s exactly it. We’re not focused on one individual, we’re focused on 24 or 25 or 26, all the players we have with us. Justin is one player. He has come a long way and his day is going to come. My obligation is to help these guys become pros and learn how to play pro. Winning breeds winning. We had some success this year. If we can win here, they understand the situation on why things are done they way they are… either at the next level or here.

Mike Ulmer
: A lot of the Marlies are college players. They didn’t come through playoff runs in junior. Did you get a kick out of how much the players enjoyed it, how they grew their playoff mustaches and relished playing in the post-season?

Greg Gilbert: We had a lot of guys in the dressing room that really took it hard when we were eliminated. They were just enjoying the ride, the daily growth in intensity and expectations. Losing isn’t fun and it’s something they will remember next year.

Mike Ulmer: You have said you were the same guy walking out the door this year than you were walking in the door in the fall. But what about your development in your years since you left Calgary. What do you now know about coaching that you didn’t know when you left Calgary?

Greg Gilbert: When you’re going to work for an organization, you have to interview them as much as they interview you. You have to make decisions based on the support you are going to have. The toughest thing for a coach is to try to do the right things and the right things are not always the most popular things. It rubs some people the wrong way but it’s the right thing to do in the long run. As a coach your job is to develop that dressing room to be as tight a knit team and as committed as possible so when they go to war every night, they are pulling for each other. The little intangibles if you don’t create them or they are not allowed to be created, you won’t have too much success.

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