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Coyotes' Tippett to coach 1,000th NHL game

'Hockey lifer' will become 24th coach to reach League milestone

by Jerry Brown @FrozenRubber / Correspondent

GLENDALE, Ariz. - Arizona Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson is in his sixth NHL season, and as he comes into his own as a star in the League, the defenseman understands part of his success is grounded in stability.

 He has played in one city, for one franchise and for one head coach who he respects, admires and learns from every day: Dave Tippett.

Tuesday, Tippett will become the 24th coach in NHL history to reach 1,000 games when the Coyotes play against the Los Angeles Kings at Gila River Arena. Ekman Larsson will play his 390th NHL game, all of them for Tippett - and he wouldn't have it any other way.

"A lot of players want to come here because of 'Tip,'" Ekman-Larsson said. "I've been here for six years with him and I really like the way he is around the dressing room and the players. He respects everybody. It doesn't matter if you're 18 or 39, he respects you and treats you the same way as everybody else."

As with his 500th NHL win earlier this season, Tippett would just as soon Game No. 1,000 pass with little mention or fanfare. He avoids the spotlight and would rather spend the time in front of the laptop preparing for the next opponent.

But there is nothing the self-described "hockey lifer," who played in more than 700 NHL games as a gritty forward before immediately starting his next career as a player-coach in the minors, would rather do.

"When you get on the bench it's the closest thing you can get to being a player, and you're involved in the game," he said.

The Coyotes reached their greatest heights under Tippett, winning their first division title and reaching the Western Conference final for the first time in franchise history in 2011-12. But even when the Coyotes lost 58 games last season, there was less talk of a coaching change than a concern Tippett might want to look elsewhere.

Video: LAK@ARI: Ekman-Larsson rips one-timer on Domi's feed

A season later, that has changed. The Coyotes have more youth, more skill and a lot more wins. They have already matched last season's win total (24) at the All-Star Break and hold a playoff spot as the stretch run begins.

"The whole year last year was a slap in the face telling us we've got to get going the right way," Tippett said. "But every experience makes you better. I'd never been through anything like last [season] … I don't ever want to go through it again, either … but some parts of it you look back and realize you learned a lot about yourself and how you react in certain situations. And you learn you never want to go back there."
At 54, Tippett is young for a coach with his long resume. But he has been around long enough to see a lot of changes in the game and understand what it takes to stay in front of the curve. The Dallas Stars team Tippett led to a division title in his first season in 2002-03 wouldn't be as successful in today's game.

"Coaching is coaching," he said, "but you have to evolve with the personalities and the times as far as the game goes. Young players have a bigger role in the game. Social media. And if you don't evolve with it, you're going to be behind.

"You look at where the game was - hooking, holding, when you got the lead you weren't giving it up. When I was in Dallas, we were a big, strong team and if you get one goal you could bank on it. But the game is faster and the skill level in the game continues to rise with the young players and the talent they have."

The one constant is the way Tippett treats his players. Honest. Fair. But always with the goal of improvement.

"He's an amazing coach and a good guy, personally," Coyotes defenseman Connor Murphy said. "You leave conversations with him feeling better, and I think it's important to have that confidence knowing that your coach is on your side."

Tippett has had a lot of influences on his coaching style. He played for Scotty Bowman, Dave King and Terry Simpson, and spent much of his playing career in Hartford, counting among his teammates Joel Quenneville. Ron Francis and Kevin Dineen, who all later became NHL head coaches.

"We had a core group of guys who were just hockey players," he said. "We would stand together at the blackboard before games and figure out what we were going to do."

But now Tippett realizes the big picture of what it took to be a coach.

"I thought I was a pretty smart player and played in situations where you needed to be smart," he said, "but I didn't have a clue [when it came to coaching]. Being a player is all about what you do. When you are a coach, it's about 23 players, and that's a much bigger task. The hours, the commitment to the team is a whole different thing, but it's a challenge I embrace."

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