TAMPA — What is the plan and how will it be executed? Those are the questions Lightning coach Rick Tocchet pondered Monday.
With players returning to practice today at the St. Pete Times Forum after Sunday's embarrassing 7-3 loss to the Devils, Tocchet must determine whether to bring down the hammer or chalk up the whole thing to experience.
"There are a lot of ways to handle it," he said. "You can skate the hell out of them. You can pat them on the back and say, 'Nice try.' The bottom line is they have to know. They have to look in the mirror. You have to reinforce it."
It is quite a spot for someone just four games into his first head coaching gig, and with an interim label to boot. But Tocchet has resources from which to pull.
At 44, he is only six years from being a player, so he gets the players' mind-set. He has reference points from playing under coaches like Scotty Bowman, Mike Keenan and Terry Crisp, whom Tocchet said influenced him most.
As one of three NHL players with 400 goals and 2,500 penalty minutes, the four-time All-Star has the resume.
And he has the look.
"When he walks into the room, he has that presence," Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "Guys really listen to him, and guys really respect him."
Tocchet said his favorite coaches also were teachers.
Keenan, with the Flyers, re-enforced his already strong commitment to conditioning and work ethic.
From Bowman, who coached Tocchet and the Penguins to the 1992 Stanley Cup, came awareness of game management.
"He knew what players were going, what pairs to go with. He dissected a game better than anyone," Tocchet said.
But it was Crisp, Tocchet's coach in 1981-84 at junior Sault Ste. Marie, who made the biggest impact.
Not only was Crisp a "father figure," Tocchet said, but he ran structured, repetitive practices which "made my progression to the NHL a lot easier. … We did so many breakouts I could do them in my sleep."
"I spent 20 minutes on breakouts alone," said Crisp, who in 1992-97 was the Lightning's first coach. "After a while, you were a machine. That's not to say you turn them into robots. But when you're in tight situations and things flow naturally as a unit, you're out, boom, you're gone."
It is exactly what Tocchet wants to instill in Tampa Bay.
"I keep talking about practice, and if Allen Iverson was here, he'd be killing me on this, but it starts with practice," Tocchet said. "It starts with focus. It starts with being a pro. Your job is to come to the rink and be ready to play. I don't think that's too much to ask of today's athlete."
The first challenge
Tocchet knows Lightning management is watching how he handles bumps such as Sunday's.
Those who know him said he is starting from a position of strength.
"The most important thing is you have the respect of your players, and Rick will command that," said Avalanche coach Tony Granato, for whom Tocchet was an assistant in 2002-04. "Good coaches find ways to make your best players your best players. Rick Tocchet is not going to accept anything less. He's going to learn what buttons to push."
"He has to have a lot of patience," Bowman said. "He's a no-nonsense guy, a serious guy, but it's tough when you don't have a training camp, so you just have to work with the guys you have and get the work ethic up."
And that is today's bottom line.
"There won't be any excuses on this team," Tocchet said. "Guys will know what is expected and what their role is, so once they hit the ice, all they have to worry about is to go play."
It is just the kind of message Crisp expected.
"Tocc was gung-ho," he said. "He was totally focused, and when he put on that jersey, he expected his teammates to do the same. As a coach, you don't change your stripes."