New Lightning coach Melrose's strength is motivation

The strength of new Lightning coach Barry Melrose is getting players to play hard, says Marty McSorley, who played for Melrose with the Kings in the 1990s.

DIRK SHADD | Times

The strength of new Lightning coach Barry Melrose is getting players to play hard, says Marty McSorley, who played for Melrose with the Kings in the 1990s.

New Lightning coach Barry Melrose doesn't lack confidence. Asked about it before Tampa Bay's first preseason game, he snickered, though it seemed a natural question given Melrose hadn't been behind a bench in a real game since April 1995, when he was canned by the Kings.

"Confidence has never been a problem for me," he said. "It's something I have in abundance."

Good thing, because since being hired in June, Melrose, 52 — who led the Kings to the 1993 Stanley Cup final but spent the past 12 years as an ESPN analyst — has endured perceptions that the game might have passed him by and that X's and O's are not his strong suit.

On the other hand, no one questions Melrose's ability to motivate. "Barry's strength is he gets guys to play hard," former Kings enforcer Marty McSorley said.

"The guys play for him. That's his area."

"My job is to challenge them, get the most out of them," Melrose said. "I'm still a big believer in the individual over the system. I think you win with people. You don't win with systems. My job is to get the most out of these guys."

Pierre McGuire, who coached against Melrose as bench boss of the old Whalers, can relate to his former rival. McGuire also went the TV route, with Canada's TSN. McGuire doesn't buy that the job turns one into a dinosaur; quite the opposite.

"When you're doing the job that Barry's been doing, or I do, you will get better as a coach because you will watch games with an unbiased eye," he said. "You're watching strategies. You're watching coaching developments. You're paying attention to successful coaches and unsuccessful coaches at the same time. You're seeing what guys are doing right and wrong. You're watching with an unbiased eye, so you get better."

Added Lightning founder Phil Esposito, who has morphed into the team's radio analyst:

"He hasn't coached, but he's been as close to the game as anybody else. He had to be for the job he was doing. People forget that."

'You couldn't cheat'

Even if you believe Melrose isn't at the head of the class when it comes to strategy — "Barry's strength was never X's and O's," McSorley said — does it matter? McSorley said no because Melrose wisely wields the ice-time hammer.

"Barry is not a yeller or a screamer," McSorley said. "Barry played the guys who were playing, and that hasn't changed over 12 years. He's not scared to play a player of lesser ability over a player of higher ability if that lesser player is working harder and has the potential of giving you more. That is needed in today's game. Barry's chore will be to have a person like (assistant coach) Rick Tocchet handle the X's and O's. If that's the case, they will do fine."

As Kings coach, Melrose once benched superstar left wing Luc Robitaille.

"You couldn't cheat," Robitaille said. "You had to be an honest player. He made us accountable every day. For me, as a player, he was probably the coach who had the most influence on my career."

"In a situation like that, when (Melrose is) dealing with Robitaille, you know he's not doing it for any other reason than what is best for the team," McSorley said. "So if the team gets into position this year where he's trying to shake up (Vinny) Lecavalier or (Marty) St. Louis or whoever, I think those guys will handle it because of the whole package, and the whole interaction thing that goes on."

'He made me better'

Former Lightning defenseman Darryl Sydor still does skating drills he learned while playing for Melrose in Los Angeles.

"You don't forget those things that make you better," said Sydor, now with the Penguins.

"He just made me a better player by being a demanding, player-friendly coach," Robitaille said. "There's a way to be demanding yet reasonable. He was fair. You give Barry a lot, and he gave you a lot. If you didn't give him a lot, he didn't give you anything."

Sydor said that was a valuable lesson when he was a rookie.

"He can live with your mistakes as long as you're working hard," he said. "As a young player, it was comforting knowing that you just had to work hard and you got rewarded. Every situation, he seemed to have a positive way to make it better."

'Wanting it more'

Melrose has been enthusiastic with his players, involved in the community and generous with his time with reporters. A people person, Melrose has a personality that matches the way he coaches.

"You don't win by gimmicks. You don't win by trick plays," he said. "We're going to win by outworking the opposition. We're going to win by wanting it more and paying a bigger price. That's what we're going to be focusing on, getting guys to play hard every night."

Melrose said he is going to coach hard.

"I would love to show people that they should have hired me as a coach," he said. "Anyone that says no is lying to you."

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

2008-09 NHL PREVIEW

New Lightning coach Melrose's strength is motivation 10/03/08 [Last modified: Sunday, October 5, 2008 9:41am]

© 2014 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...