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Tampa Bay Lightning coach Rick Tocchet is learning a lot in his first full season

TAMPA — Lightning coach Rick Tocchet said there are times behind the bench when he would rather be on the ice.

A lot of that is the old player in him. But it also is a byproduct of the job.

Tocchet wants things done a certain way. When they're not …

"It's hard," he said. "Sometimes you feel, 'I wish I was out there.' I'm not saying I would do any better. It just seems a little bit more stress related. After a game, I know the coaches, and I know myself, we're exhausted. When I played, I didn't feel as exhausted. It's amazing."

Winning three times in 13 games hasn't helped.

"Trust me," he said when asked about sleep, "the last three weeks I'm not getting my seven hours."

What he got is an education.

Tocchet coached the Lightning for 66 games last season after Barry Melrose was fired. But that was cleaning up someone else's mess. In this, his first full season as an NHL coach, Tocchet has a chance to put his imprint on the team. But what's the template?

Tocchet, 45, one of three NHL players with 400 goals and 2,500 penalty minutes, was a hard-edged, nose-to-the-grindstone player. He speaks with admiration of Mike Keenan, his first coach with the Flyers, whom Tocchet said drove players to create an "us against him" attitude.

Tocchet said he would rather build confidence than walls.

"You've got to be able to find that fine line, when to give it to the team and not give it to them," he said. "I think in the losing streak I found that balance a little bit better."

Same instincts — "I have a tough time with selfish hockey players, and I have a hard time with guys who don't use their brains" — it's just how the message is delivered.

"I like to do my stuff between periods or away from the rink if I have to give it to a player. I'm not a big yeller; once in a while on the bench if I have to. … But you try not to embarrass your players. Hopefully, the player will respect that and give his all."

• • •

The Lightning's downturn — it lost six straight before winning its past two — was the perfect environment for general manager Brian Lawton to evaluate Tocchet under stress.

The verdict: "So far, he's doing a good job."

Lawton understands that losses create questions about coaches. But he noted that at 13-14-9, Tampa Bay is only four points out of the playoffs after finishing last and next to last in the league the past two seasons. The GM gave Tocchet his full support and said he has the autonomy to make all on-ice decisions.

"It's certainly been a tough situation," Lawton said of the losing jag. "It's a learning experience for everybody as we go through things like this and get to know the players and where they're at. … He's just got to stick with it and keep pounding home what he believes. He has to continue to raise the energy levels around the players."

And go through a natural maturation process.

"Rick has a certain baseline he brings into the league as a former player and assistant coach," Lawton said. "He has to learn to make changes and adjust."

Such as evaluating when to take the edge off his message.

After a 7-4 loss at Nashville on Dec. 15, Tocchet praised the effort. But asked how to maintain the momentum of a two-game winning streak tonight against the Flyers, he said, "As a coaching staff, we have to keep our thumb on these guys."

"He's trying to stay positive while trying to push and get the job done," captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "It's tough, but good coaches do it. They find that balance, when to push and when to step back. He's handled it well."

Short of jumping on the ice himself.

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

tonight

Lightning
vs. Flyers

When/where: 7:30; St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa

TV/radio: Sun Sports;
620-AM

Key stats: The Flyers are on a 3-13-1 streak and are 2-7-1 under new coach Peter Laviolette. … Former Lightning D Matt Carle leads the Flyers at plus-10 and is tied for the team lead with 17 assists. … Philadelphia LW James van Riemsdyk leads all rookies with four winning goals.

Tampa Bay Lightning coach Rick Tocchet is learning a lot in his first full season 12/22/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 23, 2009 7:59am]
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