March 3rd, 2024

Keeping account: How NHL teams work to maintain high standards on and off the ice

By Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press on December 20, 2023.

Boston Bruins players Derek Forbort (28), Danton Heinen (43) and Charlie Coyle (13) congratulate teammate Brad Marchand (63) after Marchand scored a goal during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023, in Boston. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Mary Schwalm

Brad Marchand doesn’t have to say a word when a new player walks into the Boston Bruins’ locker room.

The standard and expectation was set long ago.

It started with former captain Zdeno Chara and continued when the torch was passed to Patrice Bergeron. The ‘C’ was then handed down to Marchand when the latter retired this summer.

Every player is held to account – top-line forward or seventh defenceman – regardless of where they fit in the team’s hierarchy.

“It’s known that’s how it works,” Marchand explained. “It’s not something you need to teach. Guys come in and just follow suit.

“And they’re excited about it.”

Teams across sports often talk about “accountability” – holding each other to a universal standard on and off the playing surface – being a crucial part of success.

The NHL is no different.

“No one’s above the team,” Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid explained. “Keeping guys accountable within the room, some of that’s very important and something that we talk a lot about.”

Even the slightest slip can result in a tumble down the standings or seal a team’s fate.

“Everybody needs to be on the same page and all pulling on the same rope,” McDavid added. “You can only do that by holding guys accountable.”

Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares said leaders in the locker room setting the tone with their own habits is key.

“So when you speak there’s a lot of truth and honesty behind it,” he said. “Going out there and being very consistent on a daily basis, and living with very strong values. Hopefully guys can see that. You step up in certain situations when needed.”

Tavares said accountability is not just policing each other, but also about encouragement and support.

“We’re playing the game at a very high level,” he said. “It’s as competitive as it’s ever been. We’re all trying to do something special together. Bringing everyone in the fight, and knowing when we need to push (or put) your arm around somebody.”

Vancouver Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet said players holding each out to account is vital from a messaging perspective.

“You have to, as a coach, develop those players in the room to make themselves accountable,” he said. “It’s hard for the coach to always be in their ear. I give the players a lot of credit. They know how to handle stuff when things are going a little bit haywire.

“Makes the job easier for the coaches.”

Florida Panthers bench boss Paul Maurice said the first step is making sure the standard is clear.

“If they don’t understand it, they’ll never get to it,” he said. “We spend all of our time trying to get a pretty good idea of what the hell we’re trying to do.

“My job is to articulate a standard and theirs is to enforce it. They’ve got to imbue it. They’ve got to go out there and show that standard because that’s where the trust is built between the players.”

Tocchet said Canucks star Elias Pettersson actually came into his office and apologized for a performance he didn’t feel was above board earlier this season.

“Gotta love guys that do that,” said the veteran of 18 NHL campaigns on the ice. “I don’t have to go search for him. He’s coming to me, telling me he’s not playing well.”

Marchand said the competitive environment that comes with daily accountability has helped the Bruins stay sharp and be a playoff team 14 of the last 16 seasons.

“A lot of credit to the guys in the past,” he said. “It’s our goal every day to try to uphold that. We’ll continue to carry it on. The last thing you want to do is be the group that doesn’t uphold that standard. We strive for it every day.

“We’re not perfect every day, but we try.”

SENS IN SCHOOL

The Ottawa Senators blew a three-goal, third-period lead in Wednesday’s 4-3 loss to the Arizona Coyotes – their first outing since D.J. Smith was fired earlier this week.

Interim head coach Jacques Martin, who was behind Ottawa’s bench from 1996 to 2004, said getting the team’s defensive game in order will take time.

“It’s going to be a process,” the 71-year-old told reporters in Tempe, Ariz. “We have different areas that we need to be better at.”

The Senators have lost five straight in regulation and are 3-9-0 over their last 12 games to sit last in the Eastern Conference at 11-16-0. Ottawa visits the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday.

“It’s not going to happen all in one day,” Martin said. “What I want to see is a progression.”

-With files from Tyler Griffin in Toronto

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 20, 2023.

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