For those of us associated with the Washington Capitals, the last few days have been very long and trying days. Thursday especially was like that, and a few of us were called away from family and friends for several hours on a holiday because a guy that we liked a lot lost his job. And seeing what Glen Hanlon endured up close the last few days wasn’t easy for any of us either, but especially not for him or his players, staff, management and ownership.
I’m back home now at the end of a great Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends. It’s the end of a very long day with two more very long days looming directly ahead, and with the Caps’ next game less than 12 hours away. I’ve had some to digest all these goings on, and to listen again to the comments of George McPhee, Bruce Boudreau and a handful of Caps players. I should be sleeping but I’m not, so here are a few of the things and comments from today that are kicking around in my head about now. This post will seem disjointed, because that’s how my thoughts are.
I’ve been around here long enough that I date back to Jim Schoenfeld’s days as the team’s head coach. I can honestly say that this was the only coaching change I’ve been through were the players were sincerely pained and anguished over the loss of their leader. The players feel like they let Glen down. That’s understandable, but they have to move forward and they will.
“I’m disappointed,” said team captain Chris Clark. “I take a lot of the responsibility on myself as one of the older guys on the team not coming through for a great guy like Glennie is. I’m taking this really hard. Bruce is going to do a great job; I know it. And we’re going to respond. But it’s tough losing someone like that. [He was] part of our team and part of my life the last couple of years.”
Because of Hershey’s geographical proximity to my Baltimore home, I’ve also had the good fortune to get to know Bruce Boudreau pretty well over the last two and a half years. He’s a straight-shooting guy who has quite literally seen and coached and played in thousands and thousands of hockey games. I’ve watched somewhere upwards of 60 Boudreau-coached games over the last few years dating back to his days behind the Manchester bench, and he’s a very cagey coach who has a great feel for the game as it is unfolding.
Bruce is also a great guy with a million terrific stories, because he has played with and/or against and coached or coached against damn near everyone who ever laced them up professionally. The game of hockey is teeming with great people, as I am reminded every time I walk into an arena anywhere on the globe and am greeted by a familiar face. Bruce ranks right up there near the top, and don’t take it from me. Take it from two guys who know him much better, Tim Leone and John Walton.
As difficult as it was to have Glen leave, I am happy that Bruce is finally getting a chance that is overdue in my opinion.
Of course, the burning question (okay, one of many) on the minds of you all out there is: Can the guys in the room turn things around and salvage the season?
“We have to win that first game first and that’s all we’re going to concentrate on right now,” says Clark, “maybe just that first period against Philly.”
“We think we have the right people in the room,” says McPhee, “and we’d like to start winning games and get on a roll. But it has to start with a game [Friday]. We just didn’t have the feeling that we were going to have any chance to win the game [Friday] based on the way the last two games went. So we had to make the change. Hopefully it will be enough to inspire us to win [Friday].”
If you listen to our frequent podcasts on washingtoncaps.com, you know that I’ve been talking myself hoarse about the Capitals needing to put together a sustained winning streak to prove that they’re a viable playoff contender for weeks now. At this point, being a viable playoff contender doesn’t even enter into the equation any longer. They’ve got to put together a streak not unlike the one the Atlanta Thrashers are currently enjoying, merely to get back to break-even level. It’s been more than six years (Mar. 3-11, 2001) since the Caps have won as many as five straight, which is why I brought it up in the first place, back on Nov. 1. The Caps were 5-6 then.
The streak has to start with one, and my sense is that most of you don’t believe this team is capable of such a streak. I understand that thinking. It’s been a while since you’ve had that feeling of going to the rink night after night, believing the Caps would win each night regardless of the opposition. I remember that feeling, but I also remember the last time I had it. It was only about 18 months ago, as I was reminded on Thursday afternoon. More on that in a bit.
I also remembered a day almost four years ago when I was summoned to a similar gathering of press and cameras on the day that Hanlon was named to replace Bruce Cassidy as Caps coach. I remember being eager to speak to Matt Pettinger that day, because he had played for Hanlon in Portland and had good firsthand knowledge of him as a head coach.
Thursday, I sought out Brooks Laich for largely the same reasons. He didn’t let me down.
“I think Bouds is awesome,” says Laich. “He’s very passionate about hockey first and foremost, always watching hockey and learning. I think he’ll be great for us. He is an up-tempo guy; he wants us to move our feet. We’ve got a young group of guys in here and we can skate. He wants us to move our feet and move the puck quick, think on your feet and make hockey reads.
“First and foremost, he demands a lot of hard work, but also he’s a player’s coach and he wants guys to have fun. We might not be in the best situation right now, but we have a great opportunity here. We have a great bunch of guys here, we still believe in ourselves and we believe in Bouds. There might be a couple subtle changes but other than that we’ll just keep going forward and hopefully start his tenure off here with a win [Friday].”
“He’s very prepared. Even though he’s in Hershey, I still talk to him. He watches our games, he likes to follow players he has coached before and he likes to watch our team. I think that will be a great asset for him coming in here. Obviously what he has done in the AHL speaks for itself. His first two years in Hershey he wins a Cup and the next year takes them back to the finals. A lot of the players in here are very familiar with him, so I think it will be an easy transition for us.
“Our record doesn’t indicate the talent that we have in this room. For some reason we haven’t been able to put it together. Bouds comes in here, he brings a different attitude and maybe it’s a wakeup call for us. Glennie did a great job, and he deserved better than what we gave him, for sure. We have to realize that it’s a tough day today but also it’s a day of moving forward and Bouds is our guy.
“I think we had a great practice today and it starts tomorrow. We’ll see how we play tomorrow. Hopefully guys will have an extra jump in their step and respond to the change that has been made. One win could turn to two and then to three. Guys start getting their confidence back and it can really snowball. You look at Bouds’ track record and his teams do that. They get on rolls and they’re really tough to beat. The reference is when we got on a 10-game winning streak in the playoffs. You show up to the rink and you know what’s going to happen. Everyone has a jump in their step and they’re having fun. The main thing we have is trust in each other. It’s not going to be an easy thing to win eight games out of 10 or whatever, but if you look around here we’ve got a lot of hard-working guys, great leadership and I think we’re capable of it.”
That 10-game winning streak Laich referred to was unreal. Different heroes every night. Guys picking each other up. They’d find a way to win every night, and there was a swagger to that team. It was fun. You went to the rink, and you knew they’d win, you didn’t know how, but you couldn’t wait to watch. Norfolk, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and then two games against Portland. Worthy foes all, and they all fell.
If he can bring that feeling back to the District, he really is Bruce Almighty.