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All Star Coaches Talk

Randy Carlyle & Lindy Ruff were on an NHL tele-conference call today.

Q. It looks like the Rory Fitzpatrick thing may not happen now. Is that a relief for you? How would you handle a situation where a player is voted on to the team by fans? A lot of people have been criticizing that.
RANDY CARLYLE: Well, I’m a traditionalist. I had a plan that I don’t think I’d like to commit to or tell you guys actually about it. Rory Fitzpatrick and the situation, it would have been voted in. We would have had to make a decision as a coaching staff on how much he would have had to play or how much we would have played him. The bottom line is, if he does play, he’s been selected, and that’s the format that the league has provided. Depending on us, how much he would have played. That’s the only thing I can say about it. I don’t think the player shouldn’t be there because if the fans—if that’s the format that’s put in place, he deserves—he’s deserved of the votes, he gets the vote, he’s going to be there. How much he plays probably would have been a conference between Barry Trotz and myself.

Q. Randy Carlyle was asked about Rory Fitzpatrick, if he were to make the All-Star Game. He said that Rory wouldn’t likely receive a shift that often. What were your take be on that? How would you handle that situation if he did make the team?
LINDY RUFF: Well, I think obviously it’s a tough situation for Rory to be in. I think overall he handled the situation very well. The All-Star team is based usually on the players that have performed the best in the first half of the year. Rory’s situation, Rory is a great guy, a great competitor. The All-Star voting wasn’t meant to go that way. I guess if he was in, as a coach you would probably limit his ice time in lieu of the guys it was meant to be for.

The full transcript from both coaches…

Q. Can you offer maybe what your best memory would be from the four All-Star games that you played in?
RANDY CARLYLE: Well, I think looking back, I would have to say playing in the first one, getting the opportunity to play in the very first one, actually in the L.A. Forum. I can’t even remember the year it was, it was so long ago (laughter). I was a young player that hadn’t experienced any of the success stories that do happen in professional sports. It was kind of like an eye-opener to come out to the All-Star Game, specifically participate in it, get to know all the other players in the league. Specifically in L.A. I can remember meeting Charlene Tilton from Dallas. That was quite an event for a kid from Sudbury.

Q. Chris Pronger, obviously you knew a lot about him as a player. Since he’s arrived there, can you talk about what it’s been like for you to coach him, maybe things behind the scenes that we wouldn’t ordinarily know.
RANDY CARLYLE: Well, any time you have an opportunity to coach a player like Chris Pronger, obviously there’s really not a lot of coaching that does take place, per se, because of the status of the player. Obviously with us, we tried not to put a tremendous amount of pressure on Chris Pronger. He puts a tremendous amount of pressure on himself. For a coaching staff, we just try to direct him as little as possible and allowed him to get his feet wet, get comfortable with our group.

The pressure that comes with the trade, the acquisition of that player fitting into your system, at times that can be more difficult than it needs to be. We felt that it was necessary for us to give him his time and space and allow him to do the things that he does well.

Obviously, he’s made a huge impact on our blueline. There’s been a lot said about Pronger and Niedermayer. Obviously we feel there is some form of psyche that we have two of the top defensemen in the league able to play on our blueline. Our mandate is actually to have those two players play at least 50 to 55 minutes of the hockey game. That usually spells out one of them is going to be on ice at most times. We think that’s a huge advantage for us.

Q. Sort of a general perception around the league that Teemu Selanne, post lockout, has come back and been more of an all-around player, more aggressive. Do you think that’s true? What sort of impact has he had on your good group of young forwards?
RANDY CARLYLE: Well, I think that with Teemu, he always was a dynamic player. I think the most important thing in his return to Anaheim was the lockout. He definitely was a different athlete before the lockout. He took the year, had his knee reconstructed, his conditioning of his body was at a much higher level. He really made a commitment that he didn’t want to be labeled as having a poor year in his last or latter years of finishing up his career. He’s had an illustrious career.

He’s come in and really solidified our leadership core. There’s been a fit with Teemu Selanne. It goes back when we talked to him and entertained actually signing him. Our message to him was: The expectations, if it’s your turn to be first on the back-check, you got to be first on the back-check. If it’s your turn to be first on the forecheck, you’ll be first on the forecheck. If he did those things, made a commitment to be part of our leadership core, we would in turn give him his prime minutes.

He has not disappointed us in any category. The new rules I think are another issue that have allowed a player with that speed and skill set to, again, show those or display those night in, night out. He’s a dynamic player, an extremely gifted scorer, and he’s fit into our group as one of our leaders. I don’t think we can really ask any more of the individual.

Q. (Ryan) Getzlaf and (Corey) Perry, you seem to be breaking them in at your own pace. Getzlaf is getting more minutes than Perry, but put a lot of points for the minutes they play. What is your feeling on that? And what do you feel as a coach in the All-Star Game? How is it different than when you’re a player?
RANDY CARLYLE: Well, first with Getzlaf and Perry, we’ve tried to make a conscious effort of trying to provide them with more minutes against higher-level opposition. Last year we basically tried to protect them in a sense where they didn’t have to play against the top two lines of the other teams we were playing against. This year we felt it was time to start to give them more minutes and play them against higher-level lines.

We’ve had some issues as far as finding the proper winger to play with them. With our hockey club, we find we’re better suited to go in twos, then have the interchangeable part be a left or right winger depending on the line situation and the opposition we’re playing up against. Specifically since the injuries to Todd Marchant, it’s kind of given us an opportunity to do a little bit more experimenting.

Getzlaf plays a little bit more in his minutes because he does play penalty killing. Corey Perry doesn’t play the penalty killing yet, but he plays the second power-play unit.

I think as we go forward into the second half of the season, their minutes are going to continue to rise because we think we’ve found a little bit of a fit with Chris Kunitz there. If we take Chris from there, we’re searching for a left winger to play with McDonald and Selanne.

As far as playing versus coaching, the showcase of the players’ skills, I don’t know if I had any skill to showcase when I played. We had fun. It’s an event that you enjoy the camaraderie there. I would predict it would be very similar. The only thing is, it’s a little older and a lot less hair.

Q. You were many years in Manitoba as a coach for the Moose. Were you always convinced you were going to get a head coaching shot?
RANDY CARLYLE: No, I don’t think you could ever say you’d be convinced of that. I think when I made the change to go to Washington as an assistant, I thought it was imperative that I do that to give me an opportunity to get back into the NHL only from the standpoint of not having been there as an assistant in seven or eight years, how much the NHL had changed, the dynamics of it, the players, the attitude, the whole lifestyle of the new NHL player, I thought it was important to get back to it at some point.

I wasn’t happy with the role I was given or taken on in Manitoba. I’d left the coaching, I went to the president’s chair, general manager’s chair. I really didn’t enjoy the job for the time that I was in it. I said I had to get back in coaching, and I wasn’t going to be afforded that opportunity in Manitoba. I sought out other opportunities. I found an opportunity in Washington. Thankful to George McPhee, Ted Leonsis and especially Butch, Bruce Cassidy, was the head coach at the time. I knew him from the IHL days, coached in Grand Rapids, I coached in Manitoba. We actually coached in the IHL All-Star Game together. That was our first exposure together. I had a strong relationship with his general manager in Bob McNamara. Seemed like a good fit. Big step.

I spent 18 years in Manitoba, in one place. Nine years as a player, another nine years in management of some form. There’s strong ties there. But it was a big move. It was a step. Obviously now the way things have worked out, it was a step that was—a decision that was wisely thought through. It was difficult for myself and my family, but we couldn’t be more excited with our opportunity here now.

Q. Brian Burke many times said (Marc) Crawford was his best hire in Vancouver. He told us your hiring was similar in Anaheim. Talk about your relationship with him.
RANDY CARLYLE: With Burkey, it’s pretty black and white. Not a lot of gray areas. We seem to be able to understand that. Obviously with Brian, he has a strong personality, he provides leadership. With any good organization, you have to have strong leadership at the top. We’re fairly transparent. I’m very fortunate that Brian has went out and provided us with the players that we have here. There’s not a lot of, as I said, gray areas. We know where one another stands. We communicate on a regular basis on which direction we’re going to go in. There’s a lot of things that are similar in Brian through the course of his time in Vancouver and now transferring that on here into Anaheim.

Q. It was Brian Burke who actually bounced you out of the Manitoba job and brought Stan (Smyl) to coach that team. Turns around, gives you your first NHL job. Do you find that a bit ironic at all? What changed? Why weren’t you good enough to coach Manitoba but you were good enough to coach the Ducks in the NHL?
RANDY CARLYLE: That’s a question you’d have to ask to Brian. There was a commitment made to Stan, he was the coach of their hockey club. In order for the Manitoba franchise to become a part of the American Hockey League, they needed to have an affiliate. That was a negotiation that went on between Brian Burke and Mark Chipman. I participated in it. We thought this thing through. I felt that I would be standing in the way of the Manitoba Moose becoming part of the American Hockey League, part of the Vancouver Canucks affiliation.

Those things happen in business at times. I knew that I could always go back to coaching in my mind, and I thought I’d give this a try. Having thought about it over the course of probably three or four months with Mark Chipman and Brian, we were going to go in that direction.

I didn’t look at it as a snub. I looked at it in order for the Vancouver Canucks and the Manitoba Moose to have a relationship or build a relationship, I would have to assume another role. I took that role on not begrudgingly at that time. Just I found I didn’t enjoy it.

When I got back into the coaching, I went to Washington for the two years. There was an opportunity to go back to Manitoba. I chose that. Those are the things that—the twists and turns that coaches go through, decisions you make. Sometimes they work out for the better, and sometimes they don’t. This one seemed to have worked out for the better.

Q. It looks like the Rory Fitzpatrick thing may not happen now. Is that a relief for you? How would you handle a situation where a player is voted on to the team by fans? A lot of people have been criticizing that.
RANDY CARLYLE: Well, I’m a traditionalist. I had a plan that I don’t think I’d like to commit to or tell you guys actually about it. Rory Fitzpatrick and the situation, it would have been voted in. We would have had to make a decision as a coaching staff on how much he would have had to play or how much we would have played him. The bottom line is, if he does play, he’s been selected, and that’s the format that the league has provided. Depending on us, how much he would have played. That’s the only thing I can say about it. I don’t think the player shouldn’t be there because if the fans—if that’s the format that’s put in place, he deserves—he’s deserved of the votes, he gets the vote, he’s going to be there. How much he plays probably would have been a conference between Barry Trotz and myself.

Q. You must have played a lot of shifts against Lindy Ruff over the years. Both retired in ‘93. What do you remember? Any good stories, scraps?
RANDY CARLYLE: I think back when Lindy played and I played, he was in Buffalo, I was in Pittsburgh for the start of my career. We were somewhat rivals in the sense Buffalo was a bus ride. That was the only team we bused to, Pittsburgh. There was lots of camaraderie that went on on-ice. The competitiveness of both sides was at the forefront.
Lindy Ruff, as a player he was a competitive individual that went out and worked hard, committed to his team night in, night out. Obviously in his coaching aspect of it, he’s done a tremendous job in Buffalo. Just look forward to at some point talking about it. We’ve got a mutual friend that has a strong relationship of him in Mike Foligno. I played with Mike in junior and played a little bit with him in summer hockey. There was always that Buffalo mentality. Being with the Pittsburgh Penguins at the time, it was one of those things we were competitive, but there was an understanding we respected one another.

Q. His team is pretty high-flying. Your team scores quite a few goals as well. Do either of your teams reflect the kind of players you were or is there a lot of each of you in your teams or have times changed too much?
RANDY CARLYLE: I think times have changed. The one thing, it’s your responsibility as a coach, again, to always provide the player with the opportunity or the environment to have success. There’s no kidding, you know, the coaches, the X’s and O’s don’t change dramatically. It’s the quality of players and the level of competitiveness that your players and team plays to. That’s the most important thing, day in, day out, there’s a common goal, and they do play as a group.
We’re playing a team sport. The individuals that do have success, it’s because of their teammates. We’re no different as coaches. The reason that we’re being recognized is because your players went out and committed to a game plan that you’ve been able to put in place, and your staff has worked extremely hard. That starts at management. If you don’t have the quality players, it’s going to be difficult to be competitive.

______________________________________________________________________

Q. Did you play in any All-Star games? If you did, what are your memories?
LINDY RUFF: The answer is no, I never played in an All-Star Game. Don’t have a lot of memories.

Q. What will you take from going there as a coach? Will you let guys do what they want to do? Does the coach have any bearing on what goes on in an All-Star Game?
LINDY RUFF: I think my last experience coaching, I’m 0-1 now in All-Star games. We’re going to have to put a little bit of a game plan together, try to win this one.

Q. Probably play the same way your own team plays?
LINDY RUFF: Yeah, hopefully. That has been a recipe for success so far. No, I think a very lightly structured game. I think the competitiveness in the players will really take over.

Q. Randy Carlyle was asked about Rory Fitzpatrick, if he were to make the All-Star Game. He said that Rory wouldn’t likely receive a shift that often. What were your take be on that? How would you handle that situation if he did make the team?
LINDY RUFF: Well, I think obviously it’s a tough situation for Rory to be in. I think overall he handled the situation very well. The All-Star team is based usually on the players that have performed the best in the first half of the year. Rory’s situation, Rory is a great guy, a great competitor. The All-Star voting wasn’t meant to go that way. I guess if he was in, as a coach you would probably limit his ice time in lieu of the guys it was meant to be for.

Q. What do you recall playing against Randy as a player? Any memorable nights?
LINDY RUFF: No. You know what, I don’t. I really don’t. I have respect for Randy. I thought he was a good competitor. He’s a very intense coach. You know, I know of him. We’re not friends or anything, but he’s certainly done an exceptional job this year with Anaheim.

Q. What is the difference when you go a long-time NHL player who leaves the game figuring he knows a lot about it to coaching in the league for several years? How much different is your outlook on the average hockey game today than it was when you were a 13-year veteran?
LINDY RUFF: My outlook has changed greatly from the playing days to the coaching days because I just have tremendous respect for the conditioning of today’s athlete and how good a skater they all are, how well-prepared they are from my playing days, where workouts were most times optional. Your conditioning program wasn’t near the level that these guys are at. To watch these guys perform at an elite level night after night, sometimes four games in six nights, I think it’s a tremendous feat for a lot of players. That part of the game has really changed.

Q. So many people salute you for the job you’ve done. Long-standing coach in the NHL. Had your ups and downs. Must feel pretty good right now, your team has picked up where you left off last year. To know that the coaching fraternity eats them up and spits them out, yet you’re still there after all these years, what does that mean to you?
LINDY RUFF: I take a lot of pride in the fact I’ve been able to survive, go on. If you look at our team now, how it’s changed to the level we play at now to maybe the level we were at four, five years ago, really as a coach just trying to utilize the strengths, what you have for players, utilize their strengths.

Obviously our team is built with a lot of skilled offensive players. We’re trying to play to that strength. I think the players the last couple years have had a lot of fun playing. It’s showed in our game. I’m taking a lot of pride in the fact I’m still here. I realize going through bankruptcy, new ownership, part of the fact I’m still here is you got to have a little bit of luck involved. I feel, I’ve said it before, the right owner probably got the team, liked what he saw, decided to really keep things in place. I think there’s lots of examples when new management or new ownership comes in, they want to start clean. They didn’t. I think that was a pretty gutsy move on their part.

Q. From an on-ice standpoint, your team has picked off where they left off last year. Not all teams that had the playoff success you did last year are able to do that. Why has your group been able to pick up where they left off?
LINDY RUFF: I think the players deserve a lot of credit for staying focused throughout the summer and coming into camp in tremendous shape, realizing that we really didn’t accomplish what we wanted to accomplish. That was to win the Stanley Cup. I think you’re always concerned with a short off-season, where the players will be asked when they come back to camp the next year. But our focus was very good, training camp was very good. We were able to pick up right where we left off. A lot of that credit lies on where the players’ heads are, where their bodies were at when it came to coming back to camp.

Q. The Presidents’ Trophy, is that something you shoot for, something you look at? How important would that be for the Sabres to win it?
LINDY RUFF: Well, I think it’s a great goal. Is it important? In the big scheme of things, it’s not what we’re after. I think we’re on our way to try to win the Cup. If the Presidents’ Trophy gets in the way, I’m okay with that. It’s not something that we focus on. Really we focus on some of the areas that are going to allow us to be better, be effective in the playoffs. If we get there, we get there. It’s really not our ultimate goal.

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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