Published November 20, 2014
What do coaching and substitute teaching have in common?
You never quite know what the reaction of the "kids" is going to be. Will they be well-behaved students and buy into the plan, or will chaos reign as the group looks to take advantage.
Both the Flyers' Peter Laviolette and Blackhawks' Joel Quenneville went through the experience. Quenneville at the start of the 2008-09 season when he took over from Denis Savard and Laviolette this season when he replaced John Stevens. Both men had the unenviable task of taking over for popular coaches.
For the Flyers, the struggles experienced under Stevens continued initially as he instituted a new system of play.
"One of the chores you have as a coach to get everybody on the same page and have your team play with an identity," Laviolette said. "And it didn't happen right away for us. It took a little bit of time. Ultimately the players get the credit because they're the ones that drive the machine. It's their work ethic, their power, their execution, their passion for the game, those are all things that win hockey games.
"When you get a team that plays with an identity and they play on the same page and most importantly I think they play it together you can be successful."
Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger realizes the situation was not easy for Laviolette.
"Anytime you change coaches, it's a fresh face, a fresh voice," Pronger said. "You know, sometimes you need a change to spark players, spark a team. It's never an easy decision.
"I'm sure Homer (Paul Holmgren) had a tough decision to make, and I'm sure at times questioned it. But it certainly was the right move. And the first few weeks with Peter were tough. Obviously, with us learning a new system and us being in a funk and not playing very well, I'm sure it wasn't easy. There were a lot of a sleepless nights, I'm sure. But once we started kind of turning that corner, understand the system, buy into the system, buy into what Peter was selling, you started to see the team kind of take shape and players start to take form and play better.
"And, ultimately, as the season went along, we started to get better and better," Pronger said. "And once the Playoffs rolled around, we had been through so much and understood what we needed to do night in, night out, to be successful, that you're kind of seeing the rewards now."
"Peter's system is very aggressive, and it almost took us a month, maybe two months, to figure it out, where you're doing things second nature and you don't have to think about it very much," Mike Richards said. "And you're just pretty much playing instead of thinking it. But once we got it down, it's obviously an effective system. It's pressure all over the ice. And you need to be in great shape to do it. So since he's taken over, he's got us in a lot better shape and obviously playing a system that we have success with."
Quenneville relied on his assistant coaches to help make the transition. Savard had been every popular with his players, so there almost was a mourning process as the transition was made.
"I think right off the bat we have a great staff around us to work with, and Havi (Mike Haviland) and Torch (John Torchetti) have been around the players, having some time with these guys in the Minors. A lot of the guys grew up together as well. It was a fortunate situation to walk into.
"I think as a former player and as a coach, you still think you want to treat people the same," Quenneville said. "I think the same approach that you have as a person. And I think that communicating with them is something we try to do. We try to keep them informed. We try to keep them abreast of what's expected of them. As a group of coaches, I think we all work together as far as making, I don't want to say life easy, but we want to make sure we try to get the best out of all of them and try to create a winning environment and a fun environment to be around."
Quenneville also said he benefitted from taking over a very talented team.
"I thought there was a lot of skill and pace to our team which is great as a coach to have that type of an asset in today's game," he said. "I thought our defense is very mobile and agile, and I think that complemented where we're at today.
"I just think there was a lot of great ingredients to work with. The players really worked well together. I think last year's lessons of what happened during the Playoffs and at the end of the Playoffs is something they've applied this year. I think that's a big reason where we're at today."
Goalie - PHI
GAA: 1.45 | SVP: 0.948
Silver or gold? -- Chris Pronger isn't going to trade his Stanley Cup ring won with Anaheim in 2007 or his Olympic gold medals for anything, but if one experience stands out, he says it's the Cup.
"I think the Stanley Cup, just because of the longevity of the season," Pronger said. "The length of time, from the time training camp starts, all the way through to the end of the year to Final; it's almost 10 months and summer months are training and preparing for that season, it's a whole calendar year.
"And it takes a lot of effort and a lot of mental and physical pain, turmoil and all the rest of that stuff to get it done. The Playoffs become a whole other entity and battle of attrition, and there're injuries and momentum swings, and all the rest of that."
Happy memories -- Joel Quenneville played in over 800 NHL games and said competing at the old Chicago Stadium, which used to stand adjacent to the United Center, was a favored place to play.
"It was always my favorite place to play in the League," Quenneville said. "Had a lot of personality walking up the stairs, the anthem, the enthusiasm in the building. It was a very tight quarters in the corners and not a lot of space. The game had a lot of pace to it and had a lot of intensity to it.
"It wasn't that long ago, but it's amazing the memories of playing in that building," he continued. "I think a lot had to do with the crowd, the enthusiasm and the fans."