Arizona Rubber

Arizona’s and New Mexico’s Authoritative Voice of Ice and Inline Hockey

Coyotes an optimistic bunch with rebuild in full swing

 

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As if the transition from assistant coach to the ultimate decision-maker on the ice was not difficult enough, the opening weeks of the NHL season for Arizona Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet had to be excruciating.

Ditto for his players.

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While the Coyotes were the last team to win a game this season, their 2-12-1 start through the opening 15 games severely challenged the players’ ability to stay positive and work through adversity. That’s probably easier said than done, and through the opening weeks of despair and disappointment, players, in general, and Tocchet, in particular, managed to remain optimistic.

Great teams rise through overcoming difficulties, and the Coyotes’ first month of the season represented the height of their perseverance.

“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves,” said defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, who won three Stanley Cups with the Chicago Blackhawks. “We just have to work hard, and good things will happen. The only way to get out of this is hard work. You have to stay positive and find ways to get it done. When a team goes through what we did, you have to find some way to stay positive and then build on those steps.”

With definite steps comes confidence, and that’s one element of player’s game that needs to be sharp.

Perhaps the most difficult consequence is to accept losing. This early-season free fall cost goalie Louis Domingue his place on the roster. In the middle of the late October road trip, the Coyotes placed Domingue on waivers, and that was after they acquired netminder Scott Wedgewood from the New Jersey Devils.

All of which pushed the Coyotes into the NHL record book, and they dropped their initial 11 games of the season. That tied Arizona with the 1943-44 New York Rangers as the only clubs in league history to lose their first 11 games to start a season. Though they managed only one win for their initial seven home games, the key is to remain upbeat and develop good habits.

That said, coaches at any level clearly hold players accountable. That may be on the ice, in training, communication among their peers and taking ownership.

“Once we coach and explain what players need to do, then what?” asked Tocchet. “To the players, what are you going to do about it? It’s up to you, and how you accept accountability.”

At the start of their hockey lives, players are presented with a set of options and perhaps foremost is the development of good habits. That takes the form of accepting coaching, cultivating elements of teamwork and developing a high creed of sportsmanship.

Above all, players need to stay positive and work through adverse conditions.

That’s especially true these days for the Coyotes, who not only need to find ways to win, but also combat the NHL’s brutal schedule.

For the first 2 ½ months of the season, the Coyotes play just eight of 36 games at Gila River Arena. That clearly conceded Tocchet’s ability to hold practices and implement teaching.

When a coach’s ability to teach is taken or comprised, especially for a young team like the Coyotes, disaster is bound to occur. This could be an important reason for the Coyotes early-season slide. At the same time, it’s up to the players to take responsibility and develop strong play on the ice to help overcome these obstacles.

At the youth level, and where coaching may not be as sophisticated as in the NHL, the advice is simply to keep it simple.

“Just make sure you have fun with it,” said Coyotes defenseman Jason Demers. “That’s the main thing when you’re young. You have to love the game, and have fun with it. You can’t get stressed. Just enjoy the game because it is a game.”

Brendan Perlini photo/Norm Hall

— Mark Brown

(Dec. 5, 2017)