What Makes a Championship Team?
A great question to ask with any current or past championship team is what made them great. The responses would vary depending on who you asked. Former players or coaches on a championship team may say one thing and their peers another. Fan reactions to that question would vary too.
Having been on a Stanley Cup team and an NCAA Championship team I can only speak about my experience, and for all the others, merely speculate. But fundamentally, I truly believe there are two things that are needed to become a championship team.
First and foremost is leadership. Leaders are consistent with their play both in games and especially in practice. Bob Gainey was our captain in Montreal when we won the cup in 1986. He was consistently the first guy on the ice at every practice. He did a stick handling drill standing still on the ice that you learned in minor hockey - but he did it every day. He later became the general manager of the Stars and led the team to the Cup finals. Now he is back in Montreal and has that team well on their way.
Once when I was trying to get a player/friend a contract in the NHL, I called the Dallas Stars main office number and the voice said, “Dallas Stars, may I help you?” I recognized his voice and said, “Bob, is that you?” He said, “Hey Males, how are you?” I asked him why he was answering the phones and he told me that someone had to do it and that a few people were on vacation. That right there sums up Bob Gainey and his leadership.
Second to leadership is team defense. I believe that all great teams, even the old Edmonton Oilers, needed to “buy in” to playing great team defense. I also believe if you master that part of the game you become a much better offensive team. If you build on that part of the game and teach the importance of playing great defense, the team begins to trust in each other shift after shift. They begin to see that in every situation on the ice, defensively, all five players and the goalie are in sync and in the right defensive position. Mistakes are made in the game, but great teams react and cover the quickest because they are all thinking defense first.
Over the past 10 years or so you would see a shift in some teams when the Cup Finals were over. Depending on the team that won it, you would see other teams trying to copy or find the missing ingredient they left out compared to those in the Finals. Great leaders, as well as great team defenses, cannot be copied or duplicated. You can trade for a player here or a player there, but overall those two things have to be born and bred inside of each player and each team.
The championship teams I played with had those two things in common. Bob Gainey was not our only leader. In fact, each player spent time being a leader at some point in time during that playoff run. However, team defense was a common denominator that everyone believed in and bought in to. Oh by the way, we had a pretty good first year goalie in Patrick Roy!
For the Seagate Technology In The Crease, I'm David Maley.