|With Cory Clouston behind the bench, the Senators have compiled a 50-32-8 record in the 12 months since he was hired Feb. 2, 2009 (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
Time flies, as the old saying goes, when you're having fun.
There might not be another team in the National Hockey League enjoying life more than the Ottawa Senators these days. A nine-game winning streak has propelled them into a solid playoff position and, not coincidentally, led to talk that Cory Clouston belongs in the discussion for the Jack Adams Trophy as the NHL's coach of the year.
While Clouston deftly waves away such talk – "this has nothing to do with me," he said when a reporter tried last week to put the credit for the team's hot streak on his shoulders – there can be no questioning the impact the native of Viking, Alta., has had on the organization since his hiring exactly one year ago.
On Feb. 1, 2009, the Senators flew home from Washington as a dejected group following a 7-4 beating at the hands of Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals. At 17-24-7, their playoff hopes were all but dead and general manager Bryan Murray decided a coaching change was necessary to inject some new life into his team.
Out the door went Craig Hartsburg and in came Clouston, a previously unheralded coach who had begun to make some inroads in turning around the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League. It took three games for the Senators to get Clouston his first win but they haven't looked back since, posting an impressive 50-32-8 record under his direction.
The word most often used to describe the turnaround under Clouston? Structure.
"The consistency, for the most part, has been there with effort. We don’t always win but we play hard, we play well and I think just the intangibles ... we’ve shown a lot of character throughout the time that I’ve been here. The guys have been nothing but professional and have wanted to put the team first." - Cory Clouston
"(Clouston) has come in and given us a good plan and motivated us individually and as a group to be better and we’ve done that," said Senators centre Mike Fisher. "I think he’s got a lot of good qualities. We all understand the game plan and he communicates it very easily. It’s not complicated and I think at times in the past, we’ve tried to change things up and we just never really followed it and couldn’t get a sense of what we needed to do.
"Cory is very direct and done a good job of motivating us."
Not surprisingly, Clouston is quick to credit the players with buying into his program. He demands hard work first and foremost from his charges and their 40-year-old coach said he sees plenty of evidence of that every day.
"The consistency, for the most part, has been there with effort," said Clouston. "We don’t always win but we play hard, we play well and I think just the intangibles ... we’ve shown a lot of character throughout the time that I’ve been here. The guys have been nothing but professional and have wanted to put the team first."
To hear Fisher tell it, Clouston has been an inspiration for that team-first mentality.
"We’ve definitely come a long way as a team and as a group, and Cory’s done a great job of getting us together," said Fisher. "We’ve really made it not about ‘me’ and ‘I,’ but about ‘us.’ That’s how we’re going to have success and that’s what we’ve done lately. We’ve still got a lot of work to do and we know we can get much better. We want to be successful in the playoffs and that’s our true test."
"I think he’s got a lot of good qualities. We all understand the game plan and he communicates it very easily. It’s not complicated and I think at times in the past, we’ve tried to change things up and we just never really followed it and couldn’t get a sense of what we needed to do. Cory is very direct and done a good job of motivating us." - Mike Fisher
Said goaltender Brian Elliott: "It's a team that really cares about every game. When you're out there playing like every game is your last game, it's pretty fun."
They've also prospered despite a rash of injuries that severely depleted the Senators' roster for the better part of the month. But Clouston and Co. rode it out, maintained their hold on a playoff positioned, then strengthened it with a franchise-record winning streak.
"I don’t think you show your character when times are good," said Clouston. "You show your character when you do have injuries or when you’re struggling. It’s easy when things are going well to say you’ve got character. You truly see it when times are tough and this organization has gone through some tough times over the last year. But the way we’ve responded, I’ve been very pleased and very happy and proud of the guys."
The intense Clouston might not always drive to the rink with a smile on his face but there's no question he's found a comfort zone at Scotiabank Place.
"The guys have been great to work with," he said. "I look forward to coming here every day. I have a very good coaching staff and they’re fun to work with. We’ve got the team moving in the right direction. We just have to keep it going."