New coach Herb Brooks is giving Pittsburgh a revitalizing treatment
If you'd closed your eyes toward the end of the Penguins' practice last Friday, you would have heard a noise that sounded like the distant churning of ocean waters. When you opened your eyes, however, you wouldn't have found a conch shell at your ear. Instead you would have seen a sea of Penguins swooshing en masse around the rink. The long sprints came at the end of a 75-minute practice, yet the players skated hard, and when they finished, they were smiling. "Herbie has us skating all the time, all over the ice, in practice and in games," says forward Robert Lang. "There's much more movement than there used to be. That's fun for us."
Herbie is Herb Brooks, who will be forever remembered as the coach of the gold-medal-winning 1980 U.S. Olympic team. His latest venture behind the bench began on Dec. 9 when, at age 62 and 6� years removed from his last NHL coaching job, he replaced the fired Kevin Constantine as Pittsburgh's coach. Brooks, who went 190-198-61 over six seasons guiding the Rangers, the North Stars and the Devils in the '80s and early '90s, had been a Penguins scout. General manager Craig Patrick gave him the coaching reins to breathe life into a club that was in danger of falling out of the playoff picture and had grown weary of Constantine's rigid, highly analytical methods.
At week's end Pittsburgh had gone 4-1 under Brooks while averaging nearly four goals a game, about a goal more than it was scoring under Constantine. With a record of 12-15-3-4 the team was back in contention for a postseason spot. "I want speed and creativity," says Brooks. "I want to give this game to the players so we can be an exciting club."
With the world's best player, right wing Jaromir Jagr, and a crew of finesse forwards, including Alexei Kovalev and Martin Straka, the Penguins suit Brooks's style. While Constantine emphasized discipline and defensive responsibility and restricted players from roaming, Brooks encourages them to bolt to the puck and gamble in ways that, according to defenseman Darius Kasparaitis, "get our emotions going."
Until the poor start this year Constantine had been successful in two seasons as Pittsburgh's coach, and last year he guided the financially bankrupt Penguins to a 38-30-14 record and a first-round playoff upset of the Devils. Pittsburgh was subsequently rescued from insolvency in September by Mario Lemieux. Now, though his regime has barely begun, Brooks is already dreaming of something that had been unthinkable since the days when Lemieux was sharpening his skates instead of his pencils. "Can we win the Stanley Cup?" says Brooks. "Sure we can. I believe that."
That shouldn't come as a surprise. As we know, Brooks believes in miracles.
Trevor Kidd Injury
Don't Dump SuperSkills
After Panthers goalie Trevor Kidd dislocated his right shoulder making a save during Florida's Super-Skills competition on Dec. 13, several teammates grumbled that taking part in the NHL-mandated exhibition was a needless risk. The Panthers were understandably shocked to learn that Kidd, who was 13-4-2 with a league-best .930 save percentage, will be sidelined for at least two months.
SuperSkills, however, is an excellent event that's also endorsed by the NHL Players' Association, and the NHL is right to make it compulsory for all teams. The competition showcases shooting and skating talents for fans who might not be able to afford a ticket to a game. The Panthers' event, which was attended by about 5,000 people, was free; when a club charges an entry fee, the proceeds go to charity. The exhibition is no more risky than practices and less hazardous than preseason games. Though Kidd's injury was unfortunate, Super-Skills is a good idea for increasing the league's visibility.