The VICTORIOUS HOCKEY COMPANY’s Weekly Newsletter: FIRE AND GRIT
FYI- I will be at the NAHL Combine in Columbus this weekend. I you will be there as well and would like to have a discussion about you son playing in Juniors, I encourage you to reach out to me. I will make certain to set aside some time to speak with you.
Are you ready? You need to be. It takes a certain mindset and work ethic to win in the postseason. If anyone can truly comprehend this, it would have to be Coach Littler. With 26 years behind the bench, he is USA Hockey’s all time Tier 1 and Tier 2 winningest coach, with 836 regular season wins and a winning percentage of .635
Don’t believe me? Check out his stats:
Coach Littler's Super Stats
So, when Coach favors an article about gearing up to make a run in the postseason, I read it! He shared this one with me and true to form, it expresses what the big boys go through in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
FIRE, GRIT FROM MCDAVID AND DRAISAITL BODES WELL FOR OILERS IN PLAYOFFS
Mark Specto, April 23, 2021, Sportsnet.ca
EDMONTON — You can look at Leon Draisaitl’s interference penalty late in Wednesday’s loss — on which the Montreal Canadiens scored the decisive 3-1 goal — in a myriad of ways.
You could wonder how on earth a referee levies that call when the puck had barely left the stick of big Joel Edmundson when the heavy hit was delivered. You could ask why that call was even considered, nearly 50 minutes into a violent, truculent game where identical hits had peppered this playoff-style evening.
Or you could just sit back and admire how the reigning Hart Trophy winner — the second-leading scorer in the league today — seized the opportunity to paste the six-foot-four, 227-pound Edmundson through the end boards with 12:25 left in a 2-1 game.
He should be trying to even the score, right? Well, it turns out that’s exactly what he was doing.
After a night of being the nail most times, the hammer sometimes, Draisaitl identified the second-biggest Canadien (same height, two pounds lighter than Shea Weber), and punished him. Meanwhile, Connor McDavid, similarly abused through a two-game split with the Canadiens, gave as good as he got as well.
Through the two most physical games of the season for Edmonton, we caught a glimpse of what playoff hockey might look like for these Oilers and their two superstars. How they would respond when the whistles went away, when the obstruction was out like kids on a Halloween street, all dressed like little Jacques Lemaires.
Their response? Well, it made former Oilers coach Ken Hitchcock “proud.”
“The difference between the playoffs and the regular season is you can spend the whole regular season looking for space. In the playoffs you’ve got to fight for space,” began Hitchcock.
“If you get discouraged because you have to fight for space, if you get discouraged because it doesn’t happen overnight, or the other team has resilience on their side…
“If you lose energy because it’s really hard, then you’re going to have a tough time ever winning when it counts.”
Look, there isn’t a puck carrier in the game who won’t glance back at the zebra while he’s sliding along the ice, to see if the trip or hook was caught and a power play was forthcoming. But it’s how they deal with it when the striped arm isn’t raised that counts.
Brendan Morrison played with the Sedin twins from the day they were drafted by the Canucks in 2000 until he moved on to Anaheim in 2008. He watched as two cherubic Swedes evolved from struggling to understand the ways of the early 2000s NHL to two of the most resilient and mentally tough skill players the league has ever seen.
“Initially they didn’t know what to do about it. They didn’t do anything, really,” Morrison recalled of the abuse heaped on Henrik and Daniel. “But as they morphed into the players they became, there was some pushback. They never really ran guys, but they weren’t afraid to go into dirty areas and battle.”
The Sedins' mantra was to never turn the other cheek, never show frustration, and then bury you on the power play. They played on as if the abuse was not noticed — like Muhammad Ali smiling at Joe Frazier’s best punch.
“They frustrated guys they played against because they never, ever shied away from a battle. And it got under teams’ skins. ‘No matter what we do to these guys, they’re not going to back down!’” Morrison said. “And playing that physical style is exhausting. So after a while, when you’re doing that to a guy all night long and they’re not reacting to it all, then it becomes frustrating.
“And if you’re taking penalties? Their revenge was that they would sting you on the power play.”
That was the Oilers' fatal flaw this week, the ability to slow down Montreal’s borderline legal game by cashing in on the power play. Or getting a lead. Teams that check as hard as Montreal have to alter the game plan when they’re chasing goals.
Both games went down to the final 10 minutes as one-goal Canadiens leads, and with McDavid and Draisaitl each averaging about 27 minutes of ice time per game, they were the ones left out there to wage bloody battle against Montreal until the final buzzer sounded.
Oilers head coach Dave Tippett was asked specifically about McDavid after Monday’s 4-1 win.
“Your whole team has to be engaged in how you’re going to play, and Connor’s no different,”
he reasoned. “He was a real good player — both with the puck and without it on (Monday) night. If teams are going to be physical on him, he’s going to physically battle back. That’s where his game’s at. His game is really strong.”
Ditto for Draisaitl, who watched from the penalty box as Tyler Toffoli made the Wednesday game a 3-1 affair. The Oilers would eventually lose 4-3. That penalty stung.
“I thought that was a terrible call,” Morrison said. “But I liked the response from McDavid and Draisaitl. They didn’t let guys off the hook when they had a chance to finish their checks.
“Look, those guys can’t play that style every night. Not with the minutes they play. But to push back every once in a while to show that you’re not going to take that? I like it.”
Clearly, the league's top two scorers won’t be taking runs at opponents every night, like Morrison says. But simply knowing that Edmonton’s two best players can play that game when necessary bodes well for playoff success down the road.
Because the players? They know.
The players in Calgary watch a couple of their best guys go away in games like that, and it has a ripple effect. In Edmonton, the opposite has become true.
“The part I love about Edmonton right now is they’re not only fighting for space, but they’re excited about fighting for space. It’s a huge step,"
“It’s a step that, once you take it, it can carry for years. Years and years.”
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