There is a coach in Tampa Bay who took over a losing team. Sounds like Steve Ludzik, right?
In the first few months, the team continued to struggle. Still sounds like Ludzik, don't you think?
And through all the growing pains, this coach never criticized his players, at least not publicly.
That's where the comparisons between the Bucs' Tony Dungy and the Lightning's Ludzik stop.
While Dungy treated his players with kid gloves (and still does) in front of the media, Ludzik has had no problems naming names and pointing fingers in his first season as coach. Just ask goalies Dan Cloutier and Kevin Hodson, and forwards Dan Kesa and Steve Guolla, and defensemen Pavel Kubina and Sergey Gusev _ all of whom have taken a beating at one time or another in the newspapers from Ludzik.
"I really don't like to do that, and I really try not to do it," Ludzik said. "I don't think I've done it that much. At times, it's obvious who isn't playing well, and this is an emotional game. I'm being candid. The only thing that really upsets me is when I don't think a player is trying hard, particularly in practice and in his approach. That's when I get upset. But, I try to make it a practice of not criticizing my players in public."
Hockey, though, is different from football. Other than maybe a Jimmy Johnson or a Bill Parcells, football coaches rarely single out players who aren't performing well. They tend to speak in more general terms, such as "our running attack" or "our pass rush." Hockey coaches, though, use individual tongue-lashings as often as whistles. The master is Detroit's Scotty Bowman, who just happens to be the most successful coach in NHL history. Even coaches considered "good guys" _ such as Ken Hitchcock of Dallas _ have been known to take a shot at a player in the papers.
"I think the other difference between football and hockey is football plays 16 games and that's spread out over four or five months," Ludzik said. "Sixteen games? That's a month for us. It's a constant grind, and you need to keep everyone focused for a long haul. And there's one other big factor. In football, contracts aren't guaranteed. You can waive a guy tomorrow if he isn't doing his job. In hockey, you have to find other ways to motivate sometimes because all the contracts are guaranteed."
Ludzik doesn't regret anything he has said. And he does try to speak in general terms without singling out players. But, honestly, his candor is refreshing in these parts, and not all that different from most hockey coaches.
Occasionally, Ludzik's criticisms appear more harsh in print than he intends. Ludzik isn't happy about that, but it doesn't keep him awake at night either.
Dungy's tactics have worked. Only time will tell if Ludzik's will, too.
SCOPE IT OUT: Defenseman Andrei Zyuzin had surgery on his separated right shoulder last week, and it went better than expected. Zyuzin still won't play this season, but doctors repaired the shoulder through arthroscopic surgery instead of cutting him open. That makes the recovery much faster, and now there's no doubt he'll be ready for training camp.
There was a feeling Zyuzin had played too tentatively in the NHL, but his shoulder has broken down on him at least four times in the past two seasons. The Lightning hopes getting his shoulder at 100 percent will give Zyuzin the confidence to hit and take hits more freely.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: Ludzik tried something new in practice Monday. He had his staff keep statistics. No kidding. The players were tracked in four categories: goals, shots that missed the net, bad passes and passes missed. The number of goals given up by Cloutier and Hodson also were kept.
"You can't play well in games if you don't play well in practice, and I was just interested to see who was doing what in practice," Ludzik said.
Ludzik particularly kept close attention to shots missed. In Saturday's 2-1 victory over the Thrashers, the Lightning missed the net on 15 shots from within 15 feet of the net.