This is part 2 of Wednesday's interview I had with Carolina Hurricanes Head Coach Paul Maurice. In this segment, there was at least one thing the coach made very certain: This season's training camp will not be the country club it was last year.
"We believe that the young players coming into camp to compete for jobs will see our emphasis on their compete level. We'll have drills, like having two players go for a puck. The guy who comes up with the puck is the guy we want."
Buckle up boys, it's going to be a bumpy ride this training camp. The rest of the interview is after the jump.
You have a much younger team now than you did last season. Is there a different coaching philosophy you use when you lead a younger team versus one that's full of older veterans?
You get more involved with a younger team. Not just with their on ice performance, but you watch them closer to see how they are navigating through their first year in the National Hockey League. There is so much more to what goes into this besides just putting the equipment on. It's diet, it's friendships in the locker room. It's where do you go when your game is not good? Which coach do you talk to? When players become NHL'ers, it's like anything else. They're going to get a lot of advice from a lot of people, friends, agents, family members. So you need to make sure you put in place the right map for them as to how to handle things when things go wrong. The easiest thing for them sometimes, is when they step on the ice. They know what to do then. But all the other things they have to deal with is new. So as head coach, there is some of it that you can control, like making sure they have good communication lines through the coaching staff, but you also need to rely on the Staals of the world. The older players who are running that room. Their ability to pick a young player up who is struggling a little bit, and then push the right button. Whether he needs a kick in the pants or a hug, whatever it is. Get him back in the fold. When you have a crusty old veteran who the coach has been chewing into and he's grumbling for two days, you don't worry about it. You know he's dealing with it. But with the younger players, you need to watch them more closely.
When do you decide to put your system into place and how do you decide what system is best for the team?
Day one. And then we make adjustments as we go. But our systems are almost secondary in some ways. Everybody has them. We all run systems. But for us, the thing we are talking about from day one is our compete level. We're going to have those kind of drills and that kind of training camp. We believe that the young players coming into camp to compete for jobs will see our emphasis on their compete level. We'll have drills like having two players go for a puck. The guy who comes up with the puck is the guy we want. We can't afford to sit back so we have to be going forward, but we have to be smart. We have to find a way to be smart, but at a very high energy level. What kind of team will we have? We are setting that from day one. We will compete our butts off every single night. These new guys have not defined themselves as players yet. So they are not coming in here saying that for the last 12 years I've been a perimeter guy moving the puck around, whatever it is, and that's my game and the game I'll play. So we're going to take a big chunk of these guys and help define their game for them. That's our big challenge, but that is also our big opportunity. Can we get our hockey team to compete at a level that any adversity or excuses that people may want to use are taken away? Just go out and compete as hard as you can.
Several vets who were a big part of the locker room are gone. Are you concerned at all about a lack of veteran presence in the room?
Not concerned at all, no. You discover new personalities that come out in these situations. Chad LaRose obviously is a great character in the room and he'll probably get a little more floor time. (chuckles) Then some new guys will emerge. There are characters in there we don't even know about. For instance Sutter has a pretty good sense of humor. He keeps it quiet, but he's got a good one. You're going to see guys emerge in that group and I'm not worried about that at all. But "Staaler" is the big boy in that locker room and when he needs to say something, everybody listens. Timmy Gleason has a snarl and everybody listens to him. So we have enough leaders and I do think we have enough character. And I'm looking forward to getting to know some of these guys that I don't know because every hockey team has it's group of guys and that's the fun part.
You have a couple more offensive minded defensemen than you had last season. Do you give them a green light to go whenever they feel they can go or are there certain times you want them to jump up into a play and certain times they should not?
We want them going all the time. We want them moving up the ice and attacking at every opportunity. But what we want to be careful about is how much risk do you want to build into it, along with what they are comfortable doing? You know, Jay Harrison is going to move the puck as fast as he can. Tim Gleason as well. But you want a player like Jamie McBain to cut the back of the net and bring it up the middle of the ice. And Joni Pitkanen, for me, has developed offensively. He picks his spots very, very well. He gets caught every once in awhile, but we're not closing that down. We're not going to take the four or five good opportunities away from him, because of the one that comes back against him. So we are going to be very open-minded with our back end about how aggressive they can be offensively. And it's also important as to how they function as a group. How much risk do you want to put in your game, as a group? So if you have one or two guys who are going all the time, you're not grabbing that third or fourth defenseman and saying, you have to start stepping in more. We'll manage it as a group and be as offensive minded as we can be.
Sergei Samsonov is a very skilled player who had ups and downs last season and played on several different lines, including the fourth line. Where do you see Samsonov fitting in this season and do you have a vision of your fourth line yet?
I would prefer Sammy play on our first two lines because he has that kind of offensive talent. One advantage he has is that he can play with anybody, at anytime and that's why he gets moved as much as he does. As far as the fourth line, I really don't know. We have to leave that open for camp. Patty Dwyer played some third line center for us last year and we won a bunch of games with him there. So we have to give him that opportunity on our third line. We have Bowman, Boychuk, and Tlusty who all saw time here. Then we have Nash and Skinner, and Dalpe and some other guys. And Jerome Samson had a great year last year in the minors. I almost hate to throw out names because there are a number of players coming in who are going to get a chance. I'm not sure how that fourth line sorts itself out and in fact, it might be more veteran players there again if the younger players are producing more.
You're losing one of the top face off guys in the league. Who do you see being the go-to guy in the face off circle this year?
That's an excellent question. When I look at things that we've lost, I'm not worried about a lot of things, but I am worried about that. Eric Staal has not broken that 50% mark yet and he has to. Clearly that is something that Sutter will have to do, and do well. With our three returning centers in Staal, Sutter, and Dwyer, two of them are not over the 50% mark. It affects your penalty kill, it really affects all aspects of your game. It's one of the things we have to work on in training camp. We'll be dropping a lot of pucks because we have to get them better.