on May 16, 2013 at 11:51 AM
Going through our notes as Portland prepares for Saturday’s Memorial Cup game against Halifax, wondering where the Hawks would be right now if Mike Johnston had been hired to replace the fired Marc Crawford on the Los Angeles Kings in 2008.
The day after Johnston – one of three finalists – learned he wasn’t going to get the LA job, he got a call informing him a guy named Bill Gallacher wanted to talk.
Dept. of say what?: Travis Green said there was a definite learning curve when he arrived in Portland in 2008 with absolutely zero coaching experience.
“I remember the first game,’’ said Green, laughing, “and Mike (Johnston) says, ‘OK, you run the penalty kill meeting.’ I remember thinking to myself, ‘OK, how do I run a penalty-kill meeting?’ It was more or less sink or swim.’’
Green wanted to be a coach someday in the NHL (it may come sooner than later).
He said there was no better man to study than Johnston, who had extensive experience in the NHL and with Canadian national squads.
“I had four years of watching him, watching how he prepares the team, how he talks to the team,’’ said Green. “When all of this (the sanctions) happened, I think Mike was confident enough that I’d learned, that I was ready for the challenge.’’
Letting it fly: Green said there was more pressure being No. 1 guy on the bench (with assistant Kyle Gustafson alonside). And yes, it was pressure to not screw things up.
“Because of how good the team was,’’ he explained. “You want to make sure you’re pushing the right buttons and and a lot of what I was doing hadn’t been tried. … there was no trial run. I just had to go with what I felt was right at times.
“I’ve got to give our players credit. There were probably times where I did make mistakes and I probably got tongue-tied a lot of times but I still tried to get the message across to these guys.'’
No coach required? Taylor Peters said earlier this season – jokingly, I assume – that the Hawks were good enough, smart enough, and possessed enough veteran leadership to get themselves ready for games without any coaches.
There was a grain of truth to it.
“When you have a really good team, you have to be honest with them,’’ said Green. “Just say, hey you’ve got what it takes already and you know how to win. … I found that during certain times in the playoffs. There’s more coaching at the beginning of the playoffs. … and then sometimes, you’re (just) managing minds.’’
The younger Travis Green: Would have been a pain in the rear for his coaches. This we know, because Travis admits it. He said coaching has shown him what a headache he must have been for some of his coaches at Spokane and Medicine Hat, and his first years in the pros.
“When I was young, this age, I was very confident. Borderline cocky,’’ he said. “I probably didn’t give my coaches enough responsibility when I was this age and had to learn a lot of things the hard way. … when I went down the minors, I thought I was ready to play in the NHL right away. Even three to five years into my NHL career, it was still a big learning experience. The preparation, your compete, getting outside your comfort level to compete. I see a lot of those same tendencies in this guys.
“I think I’ve tried to coach with that in my mind. At times, you’re going to have to nurture a guy more, or you might have to really come down on a guy and call him out for how he’s behaving instead of sugar-coating it too much.’’
What Mike Johnston has taught TG: “I think PATIENCE is the big thing. I know when I first started with Mike, there were times when I was real antsy maybe for him to make a change or to come down on someone a little bit harder. … I think by nature I’m a bit of a hothead, and that was the No. 1 thing I really learned over my time with Mike, is being patient.’’
Green marvels at how skillfully Johnston handles a team. “Running a meeting, breaking down game tapes – which can be really tedious – Mike is so good at that stuff,’’ said Green. “He can do it in his sleep. … so that’s what I had to learn from him. Game prep, getting a team prepared, how to approach the team, how to speak to the team. … Mike’s world-renowned for giving presentations and he’s a tough act to follow. People want him to fly over to Europe to give presentations. … I give our guys credit because a lot of them, (Mike) is all they knew. They had a guy speaking to them daily who was probably as good or better than 90 percent of the coaches in the NHL when it comes to speaking in front of people.
“Now they’ve got a guy coming in who was probably a little brasher. A little different.’’
About that Hawks on remote-control thing: Peters said on second thought, it wouldn’t have been a good idea to just let the players coach themselves.
Taylor Peters said Green's firm hand was often needed to keep a rambunctious team from "running off the rails''
“You’ve got to have a pretty tight rein on these guys to keep the ship going straight,’’ said the Dallas Stars signee. “Not that we have a lot of egos but we have a pretty energetic, excited group and we can get running off the rails pretty easily. I think (Travis) has done a fantastic job of kind of keeping our focus on the mission at hand.’’
The MMA influence: What does renowned MMA fighter Matt “The Law’’ Lindland have to do with the Portland Winterhawks, and their amazing ability to remain calm during crazy moments in the playoffs?
Let Johnston explain.
“We have a (credo) here, that when we enter the playoffs, if we’ve prepared well enough throughout the season, then there’s no reason to be nervous. Because we’ve done everything we can in practice, everything we can in meetings, everything we can in off-ice training to prepare for all of the moments we’re going to face (in the post-season).’’
When the Hawks had their breakthrough 2009-10 season under the new ownership, following that 19-win nightmare in 2008-09, Johnston brought in a special guest speaker to talk with the players before they started their first-round series against Spokane.
Matt Lindland, the MMA star. “We had a theme, “Don’t Tap Out’’ and I wanted him to just talk about the battle (ahead),’’ said Johnston. “But one of his messages was – and it really stuck with me – was that somebody (in an MMA fight) could break your arm, or choke you, and one of our guys asked Matt, ‘aren’t you afraid?’ and Matt said, ‘no, I’m not afraid because all of my work has been done. Nothing’s going to happen. … if you do everything the right way, there’s nothing to be nervous about.
“That stayed with us,’’ said Johnston, an eye-witness to the early stages of the “Evil Empire’’ as a kid named Ty Rattie poked home the game-winning goal in overtime in Game 7.
“Our group,’’ said Johnston. "was ready. They were ready the last two years. They were ready this year. They were ready to win a championship.’’
- Paul Buker