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Fun is the Name of the Game for Oilers New Assistant Coach Craig Ramsay

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers
Photo by Getty Images.

Craig Ramsay is all about having fun.

“The reason you played the game initially was because it was fun and the reason to stay in it is to have fun,” said the Edmonton Oilers newest assistant coach. “The most important thing for me was to go to an organization that understands the value of fun, whether it’s in practice, games or after games. It’s understanding that if you’re in this together and you’re a part of something then it’s fun. That’s what people miss when they get out of the game, when they first retire or when they just leave as a player. You don’t have that same opportunity to interact with the people on a daily basis and to have those fun nights and those big adventures. That’s what keeps me going.”

The Oilers announced on Tuesday that Ramsay will join the coaching staff, while Kelly Buchberger transitions into player personnel. Ramsay, 63, has over 40 years of NHL experience both as a player and coach.

“We were taking stock of what we thought the group needed or what we needed to enhance the group with and we got to a place where we were looking to make a change with our coaches,” Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins said. “When we started looking around to fill certain holes, the one guy I kept coming back to was Craig. That’s basically because Craig checks off a lot of boxes. If you’re looking for experience, he has that. If you’re looking for a guy who has run power plays and penalty kills he’s done that. He’s left a great stamp on the defence in Boston. He’s been a head coach, an associate coach, an assistant coach and he played for a long time as well.”

Throughout his time in the NHL, Ramsay has been motivated by the fun of the game and teaching others to relish that as well. That means playing the game with aggression, paying the price defensively and buying into a team concept.
Dallas Eakins returns to Edmonton in his second year as head coach. Photo by Getty Images.

With the Oilers, Ramsay’s duties will include taking the keys to the power play and collaborating with Eakins and Associate Coach Keith Acton on how to improve a PP unit that finished 21st in the league and 29th on the road. Ramsay will take the reins of the defence.

Eakins says Ramsay left his stamp on the Bruins defence when he coached there as an assistant from 2007-2010, before leaving to become the head coach of the Atlanta Thrashers. For Ramsay, coaching the defence is all about, you guessed it, fun.

“If you don’t have your defencemen in the rush and up offensively then you’re not going to score goals and you’re not going to be nearly as good defensively,” he said. “That’s the concept I want to bring. You can have some fun, you can get going up ice, you can be involved in the rush and then of course there’s a big price to be paid for that and that’s being good, sound defensively when you have to do that.”

Ramsay continued, “While we need to teach players, defencemen especially, how to play good in their own end, having good sticks, getting body position, it’s also about getting back to the puck fast, using your partner and the first play up, you’re following up. That means you’ve got a better gap and you’re having fun in the game. You’re not just passing it up and watching people play. You’re part of the whole concept of getting up and trying to score a goal. You have to follow up. It puts a lot more pressure on the players. It’s a more difficult game to play because you’ve got to skate and work but in the long run it’s a heck of a lot more fun. It’s fun for them, it’s fun for the coaching staff, I think it’s fun for the fans when they see their team trying to get up-ice pressure and trying to be involved in that way. The players are going to find out that Dallas, myself and Keith are going to push the players to be in great shape but most importantly to figure out the game and to understand the game.”

Photo by Getty Images.

“Once you make that first outlet pass and you see the rush going up ice, you’ve got to be a part of it. It’s not acceptable to say, ‘Hey, I’m a defenceman.’ You’re not just a checker, you’re not just a defenceman, you’re part of a team.”

Ramsay had options for his next career stop after finishing last season on the Florida Panthers coaching staff.

“There’s a lot of teams out there right now trying to fill coaching spots and obviously Craig would be right at the top of the list for many for a number of different reasons and we were able to nail him down,” Eakins said.

Although he was a hot commodity for teams looking to enhance their coaching staff, Ramsay chose the Oilers. It’s an organization where he feels a shared vision exists and there is an opportunity to capitalize on the pieces in place.

“I saw this as the best opportunity for me to grow, to stay busy in the business and stay involved with good people,” Ramsay said. “That was the key issue for me and it was fairly early when we talked, that I wanted to have some fun. I wanted to go to a place where we want to win, we want to grow, we need to be successful and we want that badly. But my thought is that if you’re not going out there and having fun being around the hockey business, if young players aren’t playing because they’re not having fun at it, they’re not going to give you the best effort. And I think as an organization they had such a good attitude about the things I was trying to say, I think we both felt good about it and then we just moved it forward from there.”

Eakins first contacted Ramsay and then after President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe, General Manager Craig MacTavish and Sr. Vice President of Hockey Operations Scott Howson met with the candidate, it became clear that he was their guy. He brings those aggressive coaching philosophies the Oilers want to build around.

“I think that’s why he’s so well-respected,” Eakins said. “He’s up-to-date, he’s a sought after coach and when we got into the talks, the thing that really struck me with him was how aggressive he likes to see the game played. That is something that we want to take another step at. It fits right in with my philosophy and the way we’re going. A lot of times when you pick up a much older coach, it’s that same-old defensive way of playing and that’s not the case with Craig. Craig wants to play an extremely aggressive game, an exciting game and if you’re watching the NHL playoffs that’s what is going on now.”

“That’s the concept we want to have as an organization,” Ramsay said. “We (want to) take these kids to where they’re great, offensive young talent and you’ve got to teach them how to play defence and the importance of understanding the defensive side of the game. We’re never wanting to take away from what makes them special and that’s the fun of the game. You can still play with an offensive mindset once you understand that if you’re good without the puck, you have it more. You get it back faster and you get to go up ice more. The key issue for young people is to get them to understand to pay the price without the puck and that means you have a lot more fun playing with it. When you’ve got young, skilled players sometimes they’re very used to just waiting and when they get it, they go. We’ve got to teach them to get the puck back faster, to put pressure on teams and then to attack them and get everybody to attack, not just a few.”

For Ramsay, it’s business as usual as he prepares to get back to work in the game he loves, hoping to share the fun of hockey with the talented young players on the Oilers roster.

“I’m pretty excited about the opportunity. I think one of the things is that Edmonton is a great hockey town, one of the most successful franchises in history so it’s a great place to go. I haven’t been north of the border in quite a while so I know it’s going to be a pretty big adjustment, but it’s a great opportunity for me to go into a young organization as far as the players are concerned. Having met people like Kevin, Craig and Scott, as well as Dallas, I had such a good meeting with them and I really felt good about this opportunity so I’m looking forward to the chance to help out.”

With the 2014-15 season around the corner, the newest face on the Oilers bench looks to bring experience, aggression and of course, fun.

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