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Rick Tocchet is Tampa Bay Lightning's 'interim' coach in name only

Rick Tocchet, it seems, is an interim coach in name only.

Players Mark Recchi and Marty St. Louis both say Tocchet, who took over Nov. 14 for the fired Barry Melrose, deserves to have the interim label removed. Captain Vinny Lecavalier has explained how Tocchet, associate coach Mike Sullivan and assistant Wes Walz brought structure and on-ice discipline to the team with in-depth instruction, tough love and video.

"He's done a great job," St. Louis said. "He's brought accountability and a work ethic. He's proven he can lead this team. He deserves the opportunity."

The interim label, St. Louis said, "It's just on paper."

It likely will be status quo until the season ends.

Tocchet, 12-15-6 in his first head-coaching gig, said he was told when he got the job that his future would not be discussed until then, and general manager Brian Lawton reiterated that still is the plan.

That worked in Tocchet's favor when the team went 1-7-4 in his first 12 games and he didn't have to look over his shoulder.

"They've been honest saying they were going to wait, and I have no problem with that," Tocchet said. "I know what I can do as a coach, and I love my coaching staff. Whatever happens, happens. My focus is on trying to get this team some wins."

He keeps perspective, though. When St. Louis, wife Heather and sons, Ryan, 5; Lucas, 3; and Mason, 1, had travel troubles returning from Montreal the day after the All-Star Game, Tocchet texted the right wing to skip practice.

"He had a hell of a time with his family and young kids," Tocchet said. "I just felt the last thing he needed was a 45-minute practice. I just wanted to make sure he was with his family. It's important. Hockey is a priority, but family is No. 1."

Which is why when defenseman Jamie Heward was carted off the ice with a concussion during a Jan. 1 game in Washington, the coaches made sure Heward's wife was called with the news her husband was conscious and moving.

"That's just respect, and that goes a long way with your players," Tocchet said. "If you're asking them to go through a wall for you, you have to step up to the plate. It's something I always thought you should do, whether you're a coach or anybody."

Interim or not.

Rick Tocchet is Tampa Bay Lightning's 'interim' coach in name only 01/31/09 [Last modified: Sunday, February 1, 2009 8:37am]

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