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Renney focused on Rangers' long-term success

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers


Shortly before going into season-ending one-on-one meetings with each of his players, New York Rangers head coach Tom Renney spent an hour with members of the press on Monday at the Madison Square Garden Training Center.

Renney covered a wide range of topics involving the 2005-06 season, the team's playoff experience and the future of the organization. Here are selected quotes from the coach, arranged by subject.

RENNEY ON THE RANGERS' PLAYOFF EXPERIENCE

On what the playoffs meant to the team's development...
I think the experience has been tremendous. As long as you have an open mind and you're willing to learn from errors and mistakes, that can't help but be a good thing as long as we can translate that into more wins next year. The experience on the whole was good.

On the difference between the playoffs and regular season ...
I think it's an emotional level. It's a psychological level. You got to be careful that you don't fill yourself up with all kinds of self-gratification because you made the playoffs and you got so many points and all those types of things. You've got to take that for what it is, but now you've got to use that as a springboard to try to attach yourself with the emotional needs of playoff hockey. I think that might have been as much our difficulty as anything. Having to deal with a pretty good season, but also the Olympics and injuries and stuff like that, we were trying to conjure up what was required to be emotionally attached in the playoffs. But we were struggling with that. And the fact of the matter is we kind of deviated from our game at the same time, because we were doing things that were extraordinary to us. And I think that there's an emotional attachment that you've got to reach to play good, sound playoff hockey. And I don't know that we ever got to that point.

On the Game 1 loss in New Jersey by a 6-1 score ...
I don't want to say it (Game 1) didn't bother us, because obviously it did, but I don't think we looked at it as Game 6. I think we just looked at it as the first game of a series, and not being particularly happy with that, and recognizing that we made some glaring mistakes that cost us that game. I think the thing that had me as disappointed as anything is that -- and I don't want to make light of the fact that New Jersey played terrific hockey -- but we beat ourselves. We beat ourselves. We gave a great counter-attack team, and a very disciplined team, and a very organized team the opportunity to come right back at us because we handed it to them.

RENNEY ON THE RANGERS' LATE-SEASON INJURIES

On how the injuries affected his team ...
We had some tough luck with injuries and we were pretty much injury-free (until then). I think injuries had an impact on our game primarily but also on our team to a point. I say our game because we started to kind of lose ourselves a little bit with respect to how we have to play to have success. Given the nature of what we were trying to do with our lineup and keep it competitive and those types of things, and even in some cases sort of customize our game plan to try to be more effective, and maybe we didn't do that, quite honestly. So I think injuries had an effect on us.

RENNEY ON THE OLYMPIC BREAK

On how the Olympics came at a tough time for the Rangers ...
There are certain things you have no control over. I believe, for example, that the Olympics had something to do with our mental state, and I alluded to that well before the Olympics were going to take place. If I had a fear of anything, it would be where we would be psychologically coming back from the Olympics.

On whether the post-Olympic period was harder to manage ...
We were very calculated going in, in the first place. I thought we managed our team well from the point of view of paying attention to the schedule and making sure they knew what it was. We don't do punishing skates and we don't do punishing practices. We come to the rink every day with a purpose. And there's a reason for that. And we worked hard not to deviate from that because we thought it was sensible as it was and that we would gain in the long run what we required. And that was why I sort of asked myself those questions a little earlier. Did we kind of go over the top on that? I'd have to say no. With Henrik (Lundqvist), there isn't a time where I felt in retrospect that we should have pulled back or anything like that. The only thing I wish wouldn't have happened is eight games in February that I'd rather none of our guys had to play.

On whether the team's European players peaked at the Olympics ...
International competition really means a lot to every country, and I can boast that the same of the U.S. guys and the Canadian guys. It means a lot to them, there's no doubt about that. But I can tell you right now that 300 million people watch the World Championships in Europe, and they're on at the same time as the Stanley Cup playoffs. And there's not too many North Americans watching the World Championships. The World Championships and the Olympic games mean an awful lot to European players because they grow up within the culture of the national teams, playing for their countries. And when it comes to things like the Olympic Games, it's huge for them. It's absolutely huge for them. And to me, that is like the apex of your season in the middle of February to the end of February. From an emotional perspective, at least, it's very tough to overcome coming down the backstretch of your (NHL) season. And we had a fair number of guys that played.

RENNEY ON THE RANGERS' OVERALL 2005-06 PERFORMANCE

On what he would consider the ideal style of play ...
It's what you saw up until the Olympic break, but also with an ability to diversify. As a team trying to understand this concept of how we needed to play, we did a decent job of that up to a particular point in time, and I think the Olympic experience kind of stunted our growth to a degree. ... I would like to have been able to see our team play in the playoffs the way they played right before the Olympic break. I hate coming back to that Olympic break thing, but I think we were a team that was capable of playing well in the playoffs. As much as New Jersey played really, really well, I don't think we measured up to what we were. I would really like to know how that would have turned out. I hope we get a chance next year if we do everything right.

On how the coaching staff sought to improve the team ...
We certainly tried through most of the year to diversify our scoring and get secondary scoring. Petr Sykora was an acquisition for that. Sandis Ozolinsh was an acquisition to help us with that, naturally. I also think we were hoping that, as much as they are what they are, our third and fourth lines might be able to help us a little bit more. I think they might be able to do that in the future. ... Ottawa, for example, has got (Antoine) Vermette and (Chris) Neil -- guys that were on the ground floor when they were developing themselves as players and weren't contributing a whole lot offensively. Now they're pretty significant contributors to a terrific offense in the National Hockey League, and I'd like to see us get to that point with our third and fourth lines.

On how the coaching staff handled the final weeks of the season ...
I wondered if down the stretch we had pushed too hard. If we had demanded too much day in and day out to the point where they'd hit the wall and they couldn't cope with the responsibility of having been a pretty good team to that point in time and being in the weight room every day and being on the ice every day and being in the classroom every day. That's a bit of an exaggeration, but just to the point where we really saturated these guys with as much knowledge and what we thought was important to them as we possibly could. I asked myself: 'Did we go overboard with that?' The other day, I would have had to say no, not at all, because we were pretty calculated on how we treated all of that. At the same time, you have to ask yourself what happened. What were they able to cope with and why did we get the wheels a little wobbly?

On the coaching staff's overall performance ...
I thought we were really, really thorough and calculated and I thought we did a real good job with our standard this year. That's certainly one of the things I learned in my last NHL coaching experience -- the give and take of an NHL season and the requirements on your athletes in terms of work-to-rest ratio. I thought we were a really fit team, and that's pretty much why we made it through the regular season, until right near the end, injury free. I don't think I would change much about what we did from a fitness point of view or the demands placed on our players both on and off the ice. I think if you asked a player they'd say that they really appreciated the way we scheduled things for them this year and gave them the opportunity to be at their best on most nights.

RENNEY ON THE TEAM'S NO. 1 GOALTENDER AND TOP SCORER

On Henrik Lundqvist's future in the NHL ...
Henrik Lundqvist will be as great as he wants to be, and he wants to be the best goaltender in the National Hockey League. And that's good enough for me. He's going to be a great goaltender in this league for awhile. ... We feel really good about our goaltending based on Henrik's first year, naturally, and the age that he's at means he's at the front end of a goalie's career. This is a solid young goaltender.

On having a player like Jaromir Jagr on his team ...
You want to expose young people to this level of excellence as much as you possibly can. You want people that can touch this guy and can be a part of this guy's life because he's special. The bottom line is to cognizant of it and not try to kid yourself into a young guy playing when he's not ready. At the same time, if we believe that if this is the type of person that can grow and improve throughout the course of the year to the point where he's made a regular contribution, then we've got to be prepared to do that. At the same time, we want to make sure that these guys do come into a culture of winning, of doing things right, of seeing the type of success that's necessary. It's based on all of that. So a player will be here when he's ready to be here. And that's the bottom line. But you do want your players to be exposed to a guy like Jaromir as much as possible because he sets himself apart in so many ways.

On whether Jagr might be named captain for next year ...
I don't know about that. I want to really have a good chat with him about that. Because he would not have made the comments that he made at the beginning of the year about the captaincy had he not meant that. He has his own reasons and I want to make sure that I'm very clear on them. ... But there comes a point in time where leadership is absolutely essential to get your way through tough times during the season. There's no question about that. And that can't come from me. It can't come from the coaches, it's got to come from within. And if that's a shared objective, so be it, and it can fall on the shoulders of one man, that's fine too as long as that person is capable, willing and able.

RENNEY ON PROSPECTS AND THE FUTURE

On whether the team will promote youngsters for next year ...
We hope so, but we won't fast-track anybody. We won't force-feed this process to an individual that's not ready for it, naturally. And I think the one thing that we want to be careful of, too, is that as we add people to this team over time, they have to be the right type of person. For me, at least, and I know for Glen (Sather) and Donnie (Maloney) and the rest of the organization, there's a certain way you can prepare people for the NHL level and have success with it, and I want to make sure we continue to identify with that too. ... I think you bring young players into the lineup when it's most appropriate.

On developing young players for long-term success ...
We've got to stay very true to the philosophy here and make sure that good young players in our organization get every opportunity to make this team next year and in subsequent years and in subsequent years to that. As they get that opportunity and those experiences, we will galvanize this group to the point where we'll be a playoff contender year in and year out. I want to be in the playoffs next year and I certainly want to last longer than four games. I want to get past the first round and all that kind of stuff. I would like nothing more than to win the Stanley Cup and that's our objective next year. Clearly. Can we do it within the framework of our philosophy and with the players that we anticipate we'll have here? You never say never. And this year is a pretty good indication of what you can achieve when you put your mind to it, recognizing that we need to have learned what we required during these last few weeks.

On the Rangers' top priorities going forward ...
We had 100 points and 44 wins, and that's all nice. It sounds pretty sexy, but it really is only a start. As I've said before, we could even be younger next year, and I don't know how many points that garners you at the end of the year and where that puts you in terms of playoff status. But the most important thing is that we're continuing to develop this team for the long run and develop a culture that will in fact stand the test of time. If we do that properly, we should certainly look forward to playing in the playoffs.
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