Choice matters for Mike Keenan, Noah Welch and Team Canada
Flames control freak Mike Keenan should delegate more decisions
Noah Welch of the Panthers donated his brain to concussion research
Steve Yzerman was a fine choice to head Team Canada...so far
The Calgary Herald ran a poll the other day on whether Flames coach Mike Keenan should allow captain Jarome Iginla, who has fought in both games that his team has managed to take points, to continue to drop the gloves.
If the Flames don't shake off the lethargy of their 1-3-1 start, a future Herald poll might pose the question: How long will Keenan have the chance to ask Iginla anything?
The stumbling start isn't only on Keenan, of course. The Flames, who often seem to work their way into a season, have suffered from indifferent goaltending by Miikka Kiprusoff and occasionally shoddy defensive work in front of him. It's the sort of thing that should have Keenan pulling out what remains of his hair.
Keenan is an old-school coach, the only one -- to the best of our knowledge -- who orchestrates every change, forwards and defense. Maybe the time has come for him to delegate more, to turn over a portion of those responsibilities to one of his assistants. All coaches do, even the ones who run the snappiest game.
In his last NHL coaching job, in Detroit, Scotty Bowman entrusted Dave Lewis to change defensemen (while always maintaining a veto). In fact for almost three decades -- give yourself a hand for knowing that Al Arbour's 1980 New York Islanders were the last Stanley Cup-winner without an assistant coach -- it has become routine for an assistant to help run the bench.
In an effort to exploit matchups, the foundation of coaching in the modern NHL, Keenan could lean on associate coach Jim Playfair, whom he replaced as the head coach at the start of the 2007-08 season. Yes, Keenan likes things done his way -- "A control freak," sniffed one veteran NHL player -- but certainly he could have the best of both worlds if he were more willing to cede some of the direct responsibility.
For a team that began the season looking like it could elbow its way into the Western Conference elite, it is an idea worth exploring.
Using his head
In February 2007, Noah Welch was sent flying head-over-teakettle by a legal hip check when he was playing for the Penguins farm team in Wilkes-Barre, PA. He never lost consciousness, and he skate on spaghetti legs back to the bench, but the defenseman had sustained his first, and only, concussion. He had some of the usual side effects -- nausea and dizziness -- but also suffered from a mild depression, which was either the result of the shearing of the axons in his brain or a subsequent trade to the Florida Panthers organization and an assignment to Rochester, where he began living in a hotel room whose cable box was on the fritz.
Welch needed three weeks before he started feeling more like himself, a period that was marked by a setback when he exercised on a stationary bike too soon. The incident fostered an interest in one of hockey's most serious, and difficult-to-treat, injuries. Welch did, after all, go to Harvard, so he recently became the only NHL player to donate his brain (eventually, of course) to the Sports Legacy Institute.
As part of the program, operated in conjunction with the Boston University School of Medicine, Welch will undergo occasional neuro-psychiatric tests. His decision to join 18 former professional athletes in donating their brains for scientific research was a no-br... was easy. Welch also has checked off the organ donor box on his driver's license.
"I'm a Christian," he said. "When I die, my body will stay here and, hopefully, my spirit goes to heaven."
The bulk of the athletes in the Sports Legacy Institute program, designed by Welch's college friend, Chris Nowinski, are former football players. (Cindy Parlow, who played on the U.S. national women's soccer team, is also among the donors.) While Welch thinks the problem is more acute in football, he recognizes the seriousness of the concussions in his sport.
"The thing is, if you're an athlete, you want to get back," Welch told SI.com. "If you hurt your shoulder, say, you might not be 100 percent honest with your trainer because you're anxious to get back in the lineup. It can't work that way with concussions. Players have to be 100 percent up front about it and shouldn't be rushing back if they are still having symptoms."
Why Stevie Y
Hockey Canada, which usually gets things right, did so again last Saturday by naming Steve Yzerman as executive director of its 2010 Men's Olympic Hockey Team. If it seems a trifle odd that Detroit general manager Ken Holland will be working for Yzerman, a Red Wings vice-president, instead of the other way around -- Holland is an adviser, along with Oilers president Kevin Lowe and Blues assistant GM Doug Armstrong -- consider that the Vancouver 2010 job is different than the standard-issue NHL GM's position.
Like an NHL GM's job, the Olympics includes player evaluation, team building and coach hiring, but there are no trades, no player development issues, no salary caps and no long-term repercussions -- unless, of course, Canada doesn't win. If Team Canada should play for the gold medal in 2010, it will be the most significant game on Canadian ice in the history of the sport. (Game 8 of the Summit Series in 1972 was played in Moscow; nothing in a Canada Cup, World Cup or Rendez-Vous 87 can approach the momentousness of an Olympic gold on home ice, especially with this likely being the last time NHL players are involved in the Games, at least in the foreseeable future.)
Yzerman, who played on basically one leg in 2002 when Canada took the gold medal in Salt Lake City, inherently grasps that. He also knows that his country needs an injection of speed and youth. At the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Canada tried to win the 2004 Canada Cup for a second time with a too-slow defense and a group of forwards who were still rusty from the 2004-05 lockout. Of course, we really won't know if Yzerman was the right choice until after the gold medal game -- assuming Canada gets that far.
As Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson says, there is only one color medal that his country has its eyes on.