|Cory Clouston brings an intense but prepared attitude to the bench as the new head coach of the Ottawa Senators. It's his first NHL coaching job (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
Cory Clouston admits he’s not exactly an overnight success story.
The road to his current head coaching position with the Ottawa Senators has been lengthier than some of the longest bus rides he’s taken along the way. But he’ll tell you just about every mile of it provided plenty of valuable education.
It’s those lessons, Clouston said, that played a major role in helping him achieve a life-long dream of making it to the National Hockey League.
“It’s a goal that you set when you first start (into hockey) and you’re this tall as a player,” said Clouston, 39, while holding his hand just above waist level. “It didn’t happen for me as a player but it was obviously a goal for me as a coach. And it didn’t just happen overnight.
“Look at guys like (Detroit Red Wings coach) Mike Babcock and Ken Hitchcock (bench boss for the Columbus Blue Jackets) … they paid their dues. It took them 15 years, 20 years to get to where they’re at now. It’s no different for me. I think it’s been 15 years now that I’ve been doing this for a living at every different level and I believe it’s made me a better coach. It’s prepared me for this level.”
Clouston was halfway into his second season as coach of the Senators’ American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y., when his life changed in sudden, dramatic fashion. Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray relieved Craig Hartsburg of his duties on Sunday night and put the call into Clouston, offering him the job.
The native of Viking, Alta. – yes, the same Alberta small town that produced the Sutter brothers – couldn’t make the drive to Ottawa quick enough.
“I think the four-hour drive up here allowed it to sink in,” he said. “It kind of prepared me for what I had to do in practice.”
Preparation has been a key word for Clouston since he got his coaching start as an assistant with the Powell River Paper Kings of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League. Even 15 years later, the former University of Alberta player remains a self-described “student of the game.”
“I think it’s important that I’m prepared, that I know the game well,” said Clouston, whose first head coaching job came with the Grande Prairie Storm of the Alberta Junior Hockey League in 1995-96. “I’m sticky for details. I want things done a specific way. But I’m also open to listening and learning. I think the players themselves can provide input. They’re the ones on the ice.”
Talk to any of the current Senators who played for him in Binghamton and they describe Clouston, a two-time Western Hockey League coach of the year with the Kootenay Ice, as a driven, focused individual.
“I think he’s just an intense guy,” said Senators forward Nick Foligno
. “If you talk to him, (you see) he’s very knowledgeable about the game and he’s intense and he wants to win.”
Added forward Peter Regin
: “He’s an energy guy and he brings that into the teams that he’s coaching. He’s hard on guys and makes everybody work hard.”
Clouston quickly deflects any suggestion that he’s a “players’ coach.” But he also strives to treat everyone he coaches with respect.
"I'm sticky for details. I want things done a specific way. But I'm also open to listening and learning. I think the players themselves can provide input. They're the ones on the ice." - Cory Clouston
“The biggest thing is that, over time, (the Senators players) will see that I care about them,” he said. “It’s no different than being a parent. Sometimes, you have to have tough love. But as long as you show them that you’re trying to help them out, as long as they can see that it’s for their own good … you’re not always going to see eye to eye and sometimes players need a kick in the (butt). But they also need to be told they’re doing things right as well.
“It’s very important that you balance that out. I do think I’m fair and the bottom line is, I do care about the players that I coach. First and foremost, you’ve got to see them as people and then as hockey players as well.”
Clouston inherited a team with a 17-24-7 record and watched the Senators drop a 1-0 decision to the Los Angeles Kings in his NHL coaching debut on Tuesday night. The Eastern Conference playoffs are 15 points away, a veritable mountain to climb with only 33 games left to play. But rest assured that the Senators have a coach who’s going to do his level best to initiate a turnaround.
“As long as they realize that what you’re preaching will make them a better team and give them an opportunity to succeed, I think that’s what’s important,” said Clouston.