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Who was your favourite and least favourite coach? You know - the one that rides you all game, but you know it's just his style or even the guy who can't shut up? Also, has a player or coach ever caught you with some saying that you couldn't reply to? Not swearing per se, but just a, "I can't believe you said that" quote?
G.H. McJannet, CD1
All participants bring their unique style and individual personality to every game. Relative to coaches, I found it was important to try and figure out quickly what they responded to in order to establish a good working relationship. Quite often, if a need arose, I would go directly to the coach to deliver a message rather than through the team captain. Two of the very best coaches that I observed during my 30-year NHL career were Scotty Bowman and Al Arbour. Both were extremely disciplined and astute. I respected all of the coaches that I encountered and accepted their unique styles and often efforts to gain an advantage for the next call. Often, it would become a game within the game itself. Here are few of the personalities I dealt with.
Glen Sather was the guy with the best wit behind the bench I have ever seen. He was a master at taking the pressure off his players by keeping it loose. In 1985, the Oilers won the Stanley Cup against Mike Keenan and his Philadelphia Flyers. Toward the end the regular season, I worked the Oilers game in Chicago Stadium. The Oilers were getting trounced and the score hit double digits. Glen didn't want his team to carry a spanking of this sort with them into the playoffs. Frustration had set in and Kevin Lowe demonstrated this when he broke a stick over a Blackhawk with a couple of minutes left in the game.
After assessing the penalty, I noticed Glen and his entire team standing up on the players' bench with their sticks up confronting a Hawks fan. The last thing I wanted was to have players scale the glass and an incident with the fans. I rushed over and hollered at Glen and got his attention. Like a maestro conducting a symphony orchestra, he waved the percussion section to sit. All the players took their seats. I asked Glen if he wanted me to get some additional security over to protect his players and remove the 'obnoxious' fan?" (I just wanted the game over without having to write a report.) Glen replied, "No Kerry, everything's all right now. That @#$%* said the penalty you called against Kevin Lowe was @#$%* but we stuck up for you!" I laughed, Glen laughed but more importantly all his players laughed. The ice was broken; the embarrassment of a humiliating loss was derailed.
His players called him "Iron Mike" for good reason. I got along great with Mike Keenan. As a matter of fact, when he left the Philadelphia Flyers and moved to Chicago in 1988, he had a great house for sale near the Flyers Skate Zone (practice rink) in Voorhees, NJ. My wife Kathy and I were relocating with our six children to the United States from our hometown of Sarnia, Ontario. We had decided that the Philadelphia market was most suitable to our list of needs and Mike's house was perfect for us. (NHL President, John Ziegler didn't think much of the purchase but that's another story)
So we made the transaction and moved into Keenan's old house. A few years passed as well as a few teams and several houses later for Mike until he ended up in Boston for the 2000-01 season. It was just before the playoffs and we were operating in the two-referee system. I was the back referee and Iron Mike was yelling at my young referee partner as play stopped. I raced over to the Bruins bench, stuck my finger in the coaches face and yelled, "Mike, that @#$%* house you sold me, the roof is leaking." The most innocent look appeared on Keenan's face as he backed up with his hand up and palms open and said, "Kerry, honest, I thought I got it fixed!"
All the players on the bench started to laugh. I knew by the look on Mike's face that he wasn't kidding and I backed away scratching my helmetless head. Two weeks later, we had a heavy rain and water started pouring down the chimney of the double sided fireplace. Upon inspection of the roof, Mike had applied excessive amounts of black roofing tar to the flashing which had finally let go. C'mon, Coach!
The coach that unloaded on me with the most foul, vile, offensive language ever was Marc Crawford. It happened when he was a rookie coach with the Quebec Nordiques late in the 1994-95 season in a game in Florida. 'Crow' won the Jack Adams Award as Coach of the Year but that night, he really ruffled my feathers and caused me to issue him a "career warning."
The frustration that Crawford felt as his team was heading in the wrong direction just prior to the playoffs erupted with a minute and a half left in the game. His Nordiques lost to Tampa 5-2 the night before and were about to go down to the Panthers by a score of 4-2 after giving up three goals in the first 10 minutes of the game on just seven shots at Jocelyn Thibault.
Rookie Peter Forsberg had just taken a penalty and Crawford waited me out at the bench before putting his players on the ice. I approached the bench knowing full well some form of verbal attack was forthcoming. I remained stoic as the Crow flew off the handle. When he was finished, I told him it was the most unprofessional dialogue I had ever heard and not one player on his bench believed what they had just heard but that he and I would save it for another day. What I needed from him right now was to put four players on the ice and I needed them now, PLEASE.
As calm and professional as I remained on the outside, I was burning up on the inside. I was still fuming as I removed my skates in the dressing room after the game when a knock on the door interrupted me. Opening the door, I found Crawford standing before me with his head down asking if he could apologize. I quickly invited Marc into our dressing room, shared with linesmen Ray Scapinello and Greg Devorski. I invited Marc to have a beer, which he accepted. We shared a beer and had open dialogue relative to what had taken place and the frustration he felt for the direction that his team was heading at this crucial time of the season.
I accepted Marc's sincere apology and made a pact with him before Scapinello and Devorski as my witnesses. I told Marc that I didn't hold a grudge but that I was issuing him a "career warning" which meant that if he ever swore at me again from the bench, he would immediately receive a bench penalty. Crow agreed and we shook hands to cement the deal.
About one year later at the same time of the season, the Colorado Avalanche (formerly the Nordiques) and I met up in Anaheim. Midway through the third period, I had assessed a holding penalty to Sylvain Lefebvre and then a cross-checking penalty to Craig Wolanin. Paul Kariya scored 13 seconds later to put the Ducks ahead by a score of 2-1. From the Colorado bench, I heard the distinctive high-pitched voice of Marc Crawford yell, "Kerry, what the fuh-." Those were the only syllables he got out of his mouth as I wheeled around and signaled a bench minor. Crow just hung his head knowing that a deal was a deal.