Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Phil Davies on 11/16/10 at 10:34 PM ET
First off, thanks for taking the time to speak with Kuklaskorner.
1. As a player, you suited up for HC Alleghe of the Italian A League from 1974-1976. How did your experience playing in Italy prepare you for coaching the National Team?
The playing experience allowed me to learn the following: Italian hockey mentality, get to know the people running the league (some of the same people are still involved), become familiar with the areas where hockey is played in Italy and re-learn Italian.
2. In 1989-90, you won the Memorial Cup, while coaching the Oshawa Generals. What was the road to the championship like?
It was a great “ride” looking back on it. When you are immersed in the playoffs there is very little time to enjoy the experience. The coaching staff is too busy preparing for the next game, the next series, keeping the players focused & prepared, dealing with injuries and distractions. We had a great group of players that were committed to winning. The leadership on the team was outstanding Ian Frazer was a great captain he had a support group that was exceptional Grieve, Busillo, O’Hagan, Armstrong, Banika, Skalde, Donaldson, Lindros that all had been are became captains. This group made the difference and allowed the team to win the Memorial Cup.
3. Eric Lindros created a lot of controversy throughout his career by refusing to play for teams that drafted him; first the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL and later the Quebec Nordiques. Was LIndros difficult to coach when he played for you in Oshawa?
Eric Lindros was a pleasure to coach. He was totally committed to winning and being the best player he could be. Eric was the first player on the ice and the last player off the ice. He made everybody around him better. When your best player is also your hardest worker it makes the coaching much easier. The other distinguishing feature about Eric is that he gave credit to his teammates for his achievements and the team success. The only negative was the media. It became a distraction at times but we as a group learned to handle it.
4. What was it like coaching Team Canada at the 1992 World Junior Hockey Championships? Who were some of the future NHL stars on that squad?
The experience was positive unfortunately the outcome was not. But the experience made me better coach and person. Some of the players that played in the NHL were: Trevor Kidd, Daryl Sydor, Scott Niedermayer, Rickard Matvichuk, Karl Dyhuis, Martin Lapointe, Eric Lindros, Turner Stevenson, Patrick Poulin, Paul Kariya to name a few.
5. You have a lot of international hockey coaching experience for Team Canada and for Team Italy. What are the strongest traits that you bring to your job as Head Coach of Team Italy?
Structure, organization, work ethic, preparation and system of play. The key to our success has been the team philosophy of doing “whatever takes to be successful”. The players have bought in and their work ethic is second to none. We are not the most talented team but we will not be outworked.
6. What is the difference in coaching a National team as opposed to an Ontario Hockey League team?
Italian National Team the players are pros and are men. Our youngest player is 23 and our old is 38. Most of the players are married and have children. In the Ontario Hockey League the players are much younger, teenagers trying to make a carrier in hockey. In the OHL the players are between 15 & 20. Pros are much easier to coach.
7. Italy is currently ranked 16th in the world and will face off against Hungary, Japan, Netherlands, Korea and Spain in an attempt to qualify for the 2012 World Championships. As a coach, is it harder to prepare a team who is entering a tournament as a favourite or as a team that is considered a long shot?
We prepare in the same way. The difference between winning and losing at division 1 World Championships especially against the top teams in the pool is usually 1 goal. At the Elite Division of the World Championships our team spends more time without the puck. Therefore more emphasis is put on playing without the puck in each zone. Special teams become a big part of the game at both levels. Certainly at Division 1 level there is an expectation to win. While at the Elite level we are trying to survive. It is much more satisfying to win at any level.
8. The 2010 Italian World Hockey Championship Team consisted of ten players over the age of thirty. Do you envision the 2012 qualifying team being younger or is it vital to take the best players available in order to qualify?
We are trying to get younger but at the same time we want to win the division and go back to the Elite Division. The young players must be able to contribute to the team success.
9. Every National teams long range goal is the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. In general, what must Italy do to qualify for this tournament?
We were very close to qualifying for Vancouver. The key is to prepare our young players by giving them experience in International events (Euro Challenges, World championships & exhibition games).
But the most important contributing factor will be if Italian players are given the opportunity to play key roles on their club teams in the Italian league.
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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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