Lindy Ruff, in his first season behind the Dallas Stars bench, has produced one of the most impactful coaching performances of the 2013-14 campaign, yet, he won't be taking home a second Jack Adams. That Coach of the Year award is going to go to Patrick Roy or Mike Babcock (both of whom would be very deserving), but if I were voting, Ruff would get my check mark. (Hey wait, what am I saying, we broadcasters do get the ballot for this)
Along with countless little adjustments, periodic reracking of the team when it hit a ditch, and mature/tireless handling of the media, he (along with his staff of James Patrick, Curt Fraser, Mike Valley and Kelly Forbes) should get major appreciation for these five things:
1. Team Identity
2. Mental Toughness Building
3. The Rich Peverley Incident
4. Style of Play
5. Guiding the Stars back into the Playoffs
When Ruff was hired in the summer the first thing he looked to repair and improve was the Stars suicidal tendency to take volumes of cynical minor penalties. At the same time he wanted them playing with the puck more which would equate to more power play opportunities. Ruff demanded an attitude adjustment. Eighty-two games later only the Kings have enjoyed more power play time (Stars ranked 26th in that category at the end of the last 82-game schedule two seasons ago) and the time spent killing penalties has dropped from sixth most to sixth least. Lindy should hang a 'Mission Accomplished' banner at AAC.
No doubt personnel played a role in the turnaround too but so did his unwavering approach and the peer to peer accountability he created.
The identity of this team a year ago? There wasn't one.
The identity of the team today? Fast. Disciplined. Puck Possession. Every line playing the same way. Defensemen involved in the attack. Forwards involved in the defense. Play to win.
A couple of examples:
Lindy took an approach with workhorse netminder Kari Lehtonen that saw him play more second games of back to backs and he challenged him to be a better puck handler outside of his net.
With regards to Seguin and Benn, instead of constantly trying to get them away from opposing coaches matching their top pair on defense and/or their top center vs the young studs, he told them to fight through those challenges and overcome. (They kinda did)
And, at times, the team practiced when it would have been easier to rest. Down the stretch they've been a dynamite third period club, that's not a coincidence.
Peverley Heart Malfunction
Watching him handle that horrifying event; the immediate leadership, the calmness, and the coaching done in its aftermath (That 3-2 OT victory in St. Louis the next night is right up there with the best I've ever witnessed) was what you get when you hire a good man with a lot of experience leading young men.
Very early on I started getting a sense that 'hockey people' were whisper cheering for the Stars to be a success, and a playoff team. The reason? The game needs more teams playing Lindy Ruff's style of stick and puck. John Wooden once said "If you're not making mistakes you're not doing anything" and Lindy seems to harbor a similar philosophy. He encourages individuals to make plays while at the same time understanding they are going to error occasionally. He freed them up mentally and put them on the attack but with responsibility as well.
There is nothing more soul crushing to me than playing the game of hockey 'not to lose'. This Stars style of play is intoxicating, fans love it, and - and this is kinda big - it wins.
In years past - five of them to be exact - Stars teams buckled like IKEA lawn furniture late in the regular season in the race to get enough points to qualify for post season action. This year they compiled one of the best home records post-Olympic Games and they produced a winning five-game road trip when it mattered most. It wasn't by chance, it was guidance and preparation, and a confident belief that filtered from behind the bench that they would win and get in.
Well done Lindy.
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