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'Bag skates' making early rounds across NHL

by John Kreiser
Add Ottawa's Cory Clouston to this year's list of NHL coaches who decided the best way to get his team's attention was the dreaded "bag skate."

With the Senators off to a disappointing 1-4-1 start, Clouston put his troops through a tough practice Wednesday that ended with a bag skate -- a series of repetitive skating drills and sprints in which there's nary a puck to be found.

If you've ever watched "Miracle," you might know bag skates as "Herbies" -- think of Team USA coach Herb Brooks yelling "again" as his players did skating drills and you'll get the idea. A bag skate was also part of the plot in "D2: The Mighty Ducks," when Gordon Bombay, the character played by Emilio Estevez, grinds his young players through skating drills after a bad game.

Bag skates aren't fun; but the concept worked for Brooks, who led the "Miracle on Ice" team to the gold medal at the 1980 Winter Olympics. (The fictional Mighty Ducks also won their tournament.) But they're not a guarantee of victory: Montreal and Toronto each had one early last season after poor starts and kept losing.

However, the "Herbies" worked for Team USA. According to 2010 U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Dr. George Nagobads, who was the 1980 team's physician, the U.S. won its next game, 9-0.

Clouston can only hope for a smidgen of the same success. His team has struggled badly in the early going, especially on defense. The Senators' lone victory came last Thursday against the Carolina Hurricanes, who looked sluggish playing their first game on this side of the Atlantic after two games in Finland.

"We needed to get back to the drawing board," he said after Wednesday's workout. "We're not so good that we can just play haphazard. We have to rely on simple structured hockey ... We have guys that care and now we have to make sure that intensity and that caring is channeled in the right direction. If you just work hard, it's not going to be good enough. You have to work hard and you have to work smart and you have to work within that system."

Will it work for the Senators? We won't know until Friday night, when the Senators visit Buffalo.

The best known bag skate remains the one Brooks put his '80 team through, but Nagobads said it wasn't nearly as bad as "Miracle" made it out to be.

"It wasn't true, what they were saying," said Nagobads. "It wasn't that hard. It was not that hard. It was hard enough, but not that hard. First of all, it wasn't Craig (Patrick, assistant coach), who blew the whistle. Craig and myself we were standing by in about the second row there of the stands, and Herb was the one who blew the whistle and let them go up and down, you know, and after it has been close to two minutes, I said, Craig, I'm gonna go down and talk to Herb, because tomorrow we have another game again. Craig said 'That's good thinking, do it, Doc.' So I went down there, and I said, 'Herbie, come on, we have a game tomorrow. And he turned to me, he said, 'Doc, I know what I'm doing.' But he did not let them go much longer. Maybe a couple of times up and down and that was it."

Clouston joined Minnesota's Todd Richards and Columbus' Scott Arniel in using the bag skate early in the season.

Arniel, whose team was awful in its home opener Friday night, a 5-2 loss to Chicago, before rebounding with a 3-2 win Saturday at Minnesota, had a bagger of 10 minutes or so at the end of practice Tuesday -- a day before the Jackets hosted Anaheim.

Arniel said he considered running the drill last week, while the club got re-acclimated after its two-game trip to Stockholm as part of the Compuware NHL Premiere series, but decided against it. With a three-day break between games, he settled for Tuesday.

"We haven't really had a chance to do this," Arniel told the Columbus Dispatch. "Last week I was debating on doing it, because coming back home from Sweden I wasn't sure if that would tire us back out even more. I felt like this was a good time with yesterday off."

Looks like he was right -- the Jackets beat Anaheim 3-1 on Wednesday.

Richards let his team have it after a poor effort in the 3-2 home loss to Columbus on Saturday. Three-time Stanley Cup winner John Madden told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune afterward that he'd never had a bag skate as long or as exhausting as the one conducted by Richards.
"Message sent, message received," Madden said.

For one night, at least, Richards' message was received -- the Wild went out Tuesday and destroyed Vancouver 6-2.

"It should be fun for the coach to see he still has the respect of the guys," said forward Guillaume Latendresse, one of six Wild players who scored. "Sometimes you might be nervous about that when the season doesn't go the way you want off the bat. But guys responded well."

Richards' response: a day off Wednesday before Thursday's game at Edmonton.

"Coming into the game I was curious as to what we were going to get," Richards said, "and the players, to me, made a statement and responded to the challenge we as coaches threw at them."
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