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Thread: No pressure, all you have to do is win

  1. #1

    Post No pressure, all you have to do is win

    By Gare Joyce

    You are Dan Lambert, the coach of the Kelowna Rockets, one of the top-ranked teams in the CHL. And, now in the second week of the New Year your best forward has skated in one practice and one game with the club and is still figuring out everybody’s name. Your best defenceman is going to skate with his teammates for the first time. What’s a coach to do?

    Every coach wishes he had problems like yours. But, yeah, you know there are problems along with all that promise.

    Your Rockets came out of the trade deadline with a windfall of talent, adding arguably one of the top two centres in the league, Leon Draisaitl, and one of the top pair of defencemen in the loop, Josh Morrissey.

    The former is fresh from a stint with the Edmonton Oilers even though he thought he needed another year of seasoning in Prince Albert—that’s what he told teams at last year’s NHL combine. The latter is fresh from an impressive run with the gold-medal winning Canadian team at the world junior championships.

    Maybe another already championship-calibre junior team in the past has scooped a couple of shiny talents like Draisaitl and Morrissey in mid-season trading—the QMJHL has had major shuffling in the run-up to league championships and the Memorial Cups going back to yore. Still, on deadline, it’s safe to say that no shift of talent between a league heavyweight and a second-division club out-strips the trades engineered by Rockets’ GM Bruce Hamilton.

    As coach, you can’t say that you are just going to work them into the lineup bit by bit. This isn’t a landscaping job. You’re dealing with tectonic shifts.

    One day, you’re introducing yourself before practice—“Leon, I’m Dan Lambert,” you say. A day later you’re sending him over the boards in a game against Medicine Hat. You had an idea what he can do even though your team didn’t see him last season because he was off at the world juniors when your Rockets played P.A. You did a crash video course in the days before the Medicine Hat game. Your cold-eyed assessment: “The problem isn’t Leon adjusting. He’s a player with an amazing hockey sense. The problem is with the other players…”

    Yes, that team that has been the top-ranked squad all season.

    “… the other players aren’t used to playing with a guy that talented. It’s adjustment for them to be ready because Leon sees things others don’t and he can make passes through traffic that others can’t. So our players have to be ready for the puck because it could be coming almost anytime. It’s only one game but I think there’s a temptation for the other players to watch Leon or wait for him to take over.”

    How it will play out with Morrissey is still a question mark. You were going onto the ice with him for his practice as soon as you are done talking to a reporter. You list the skills that Morrissey has to offer—great skating, a cannon shot and a physical element that he showed to a devastating effect a couple of times at the world juniors. But the payoff doesn’t show up on any single drill or shift.

    “Josh has had a chance to play for winners,” you say. “Not just at world juniors either. Last spring he had a chance to play for a team that made the Calder Cup finals. And that’s what our team needs. Someone with experience winning. We’ve had very good teams the past couple of years but we didn’t get over the top. We have a leadership group of players but now we’re adding to that a mature character young man like Leon and someone whose won at higher level.”

    Coaches all over wish they were you, Dan Lambert, and had your problems. They know what your problems are: not Draisaitl or Morrissey; not Nick Merkley and Rourke Chartier, your front-line forwards who had been at the top of your roster before Prince Albert’s fire sale; not Madison Bowey, your defenceman who also came back from the world juniors with a gold medal. No, your problem is keeping everyone else happy, the middle and bottom third of roster, kids whose minutes will shrink just because of the abundance of fresh talent you’ve acquired. “You want to be able to avoid jealousy,” you say. “You hope that you’re going to put everyone who was here [before the dealing with Prince Albert] in a better position for success out there.”

    You know that the presence of Draisaitl and Morrissey will allow your team to continue to roll even in the face of absences due to injury; an inevitability.

    You’re Dan Lambert and you have the best team in junior hockey and the most improved one to boot. Now all you have to do is win.

  2. #2


    I have had the pleasure to meet Dan Lambert. Kelowna didn't waste any time appointing him when the head coach position opened up. He stepped right in and from day one he handled the responsibility of being head coach really well. As the above article states, he is aware of the turmoil of trade deadlines and how kids, who have been loyal to their team and given their best over a long period of time, react when newly acquired players walk into the dressing room. Old schoolers will say "it is what it is", well, it's not! Numerous years of councelling athletes taught me that if a coach is respected by his players , they will put up with a lot. Dan obviously has this kind of respect. Watch him on the bench, the only times I see him raise his voice is when he questions calls by the referees. He is respected because he treats his players with respect. This is a big problem in the league. I read comments elsewhere on this blog about players not performing to their ability or not caring if they win or lose. Does anybody really believe these kids don't care about the outcome of games? if fans pick up this so called "mindset" of players, it is because there is something wrong in the dressing room. Dan Lambert has a championship team, whether they actually win or lose the cup we'll have to see. But at the end of the day I'm sure all those players would've enjoyed the experience.

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