Growing up outside of Edmonton in the pre-Gretzky days while rooting for the vaunted Montreal Canadiens, Craig Berube probably never envisioned this.
But now, as he approaches the start of his first training camp and first full season as coach of the Flyers, he’s determined to make his presence felt.And look out anybody who doesn’t fall in line.
“The mentality of our team’s got to change,” declared Berube last week, preparing to put his personal stamp on a team he says was doomed last year by inconsistency and lack of discipline once he took over from Peter Laviolette. “For the 20-30 minutes you’re out on the ice you better give me everything you’ve got.They’re all expected to be in great shape. Being in good shape’s not good enoughBut it’s definitely exciting. I’m looking forward to camp, getting back on the ice with the guys and getting them moving.”
From the time the Flyers dropped a 2-1 Game 7 decision to a Rangers club that would go on to the Stanley Cup Final, the 48-year-old Berube has been busy planning for this moment. He’s taken notes and studied various coaching philosophies, while plotting with new G.M. Ron Hextall — his old teammate — how to make this franchise better.
In the process he’s come to the conclusion the groundwork has already been laid. Now it’s time for some of these guys to grow up.
“I thought we let it slip away, to be honest with you,’’ he said, looking back on that Rangers’ series. “There’s no reason we couldn’t have beaten the Rangers.It’s a missed opportunity and we gotta make sure that this year coming in here that we don’t let that happen.But I think we’ve got great young players and we’re going in the right direction.”
It’s up to Berube to make sure they stay on course. With essentially the same team back — the exceptions being R.J. Umberger replacing Scott Hartnell and Michael Del Zotto filling in while Kimmo Timonen recovers from career threatening blood clots in his leg and both lungs — the key will be how much his young players improve.
That, and perhaps Vinny Lecavalier rediscovering his game, presuming Hextall doesn’t yet unload him to clear needed salary cap space.
“He just needs to change his own game a little bit,” said Berube of the 34-year-old Lecavalier, who’s been shopped all over the League, with no takers due to his remaining four-year, $18 million contract. “We talked about that after the season and he’s willing to do that.I’m willing to bend a little bit here too, but he has to buy into the team.”
That will quickly become a universal Berube theme.
“We’re a team first. That’s our philosophy,” said Berube. “Nobody’s bigger than the team.You’re playing for the Flyers. That’s the bottom line. I’m really big on that. Don’t come to practice and cruise around. Come to work every day, be intense and be competitive in practice and in games.”
It all begins in about three weeks when Craig Berube, known to all as “Chief’” because of his First Nations Indian heritage, starts setting the tone on the newest era of Flyers hockey.
If nothing else, it should be fun.