|Mike Fisher (12) and Nick Foligno both say they're enthused about what Cory Clouston has brought to the Senators and are happy they'll have him back as their head coach for the next two seasons (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
Just two months ago, he stood in their dressing for the first time as a relative unknown, facing a group of players in dire need of a shot of confidence.
Cory Clouston, as it turned out, supplied exactly what the Ottawa Senators needed. No wonder they felt an extra jolt of enthusiasm about a brighter future after hearing the news earlier today that Clouston has been hired to be their coach for the next two seasons.
"I think we're all excited," centre Mike Fisher said. "It's no secret he's been a big part of our turnaround and he's done a great job. He definitely deserves it. We've turned it around and we're feeling good about it and he's been a big part of it."
Added forward Nick Foligno
: "He came in and did a great job. He (installed) a system that works for everyone. I think that's what this team needed. He gave us a system that works in everyone's favour. I think the guys are happy he's staying and we're going to continue to work hard for him."
Some would suggest Clouston is the
reason the Senators have become a much more formidable force since he took over the team's coaching reins on Feb. 2. Under Clouston's direction, the Senators have gone 19-10-3, run off a franchise-record nine-game home winning streak and been more than a match for the National Hockey League's top teams on most nights. But the coach made it clear that success story has been anything but a one-man show.
"That's a credit to the players," Clouston said when asked how they've been able to buy into his more aggressive style of play so quickly and so well. "They're a good group of guys, they work hard and they wanted to win. And they wanted to be given the opportunity and the right circumstances and the right environment to do that in.
"I've said it all along. They're the ones who go out there and work hard every night. They're the ones who practise hard every night. They've done exactly what we've wanted them to do."
Even though his team's season will end this week without a shot at the Stanley Cup playoffs, Clouston believes he has a group that compete at that level. Most importantly, he added, the players now know it themselves.
"You can't win every game in this league. You'd be too arrogant to think that it's going to happen," he said. "But overall, our guys feel confident that any night we compete hard and play our game for 60 minutes... they believe in themselves and that's the biggest thing. It's a good atmosphere, a good environment."
Winning doesn't exactly hurt, either, and the Senators are doing that more often than not as their season winds to a conclusion. It's a far cry from the struggling 17-24-7 group they were under former coach Craig Hartsburg. At that point, said Fisher, "we were looking for answers and couldn't figure out what we were as a team."
"As soon as (Clouston) came in, he instilled confidence in us and he believed in us," he added. "We're playing with a lot more enthusiasm now and playing together as a team. Everything is just coming together and he's been able to push the right buttons. He coaches us really well on the bench and he's been able to motivate us."
Said Foligno: "Things were looking grim when (Clouston) showed up but he really turned it around with the help of all the coaches, not just him. They all brought a great attitude to the rink and it kind of worked its way down through our locker room. The guys are having a lot more fun coming to the rink now and everyone's really enjoying it."
"As soon as (Clouston) came in, he instilled confidence in us and he believed in us. We're playing with a lot more enthusiasm now and playing together as a team. Everything is just coming together and he's been able to push the right buttons. He's coaches us really well on the bench and he's been able to motivate us." - Mike Fisher
Foligno and several of the younger players on the team previously played under Clouston with the American Hockey League's Binghamton Senators, the team he coached for about a season and a half before getting the call to the capital. But Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson
knew little about the 39-year-old native of Viking, Alta. Count him among the believers now.
"I hadn't heard much about him, other than he made the team down there (in Binghamton) more accountable and a tougher team to play against," said Alfredsson. "That's what he's done up here as well. Pretty much every game, we've been in it since he came in. We find a way to battle back.
"It's been very refreshing for us as players (to have) someone come in with a lot of confidence and believing in what he does. We all know how hard he works, how much he cares about the game and loves the game. He's been a great fit for us."
A fit they'll gladly take – along with a renewed dose of hope – into a new season in the fall.
"He's come in here and brought a lot of energy and passion for the game and it's rubbed off on us," goaltender Alex Auld
said of Clouston. "We're not where we'd like to be at the end of this season but now I think we see a lot of positives and a lot of progress and a lot of good things looking forward."