Summertime in hockey calls for the shaping of plans and the setting of goals. For the Rangers, a team infused with young prospects, this is an especially pivotal time. With several high-level draft selections over the last two years, the organization is on its way to fulfilling a pledge it made last winter — to create a new foundation based on youth, speed and athleticism.
Leading the way now is new head coach David Quinn. He comes from the college ranks with a reputation for grooming young talent, a solid fit for a rejuvenated team.
In a recent conversation with The Official MSG Blog, Quinn described his vision and expectations for next season’s Rangers.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of hockey?
At its most basic, hockey is all about what you can do when someone is trying to stop you from doing it. That poses challenges. How competitive are you? How much do you enjoy being physical and grinding through people? When someone’s in your way, how do you handle it?
Are you describing yourself?
Absolutely. It is part of my personality. I was a running back at the Kent School in Connecticut. Many times I could have taken a step left and gotten into the end zone, but I preferred to go over the guy in front of me. I’ll never forgot a film session the day after a game. My coach said, “Listen, you could have just taken one step to go around him,” and I said, “yeah, I know, but I enjoyed sending a message.” I think it was part of my DNA.
How can you instill that spirit in a young team like the Rangers?
First, it’s important to grasp that no one functions alone. The man with the puck is usually the beneficiary of some hard work from the other guys on the ice. So the greater the sacrifice from each player, the more each player prospers and the team prospers as a whole. The coach — and really all the coaches — create an expectation level. It’s up to us to verbalize and demand a high level on a daily basis, in how each player practices, trains and applies what we’re going for.
The communication has to be constant, and a coach has to realize that one size doesn’t fit all. Is this a 24-year-old who has been through the league or am I working with a 19-year-old who’s a first-year pro? With some players, I may be able to reach them on the ice. Others, I may have to bring them into the office. It also depends on where we are in the season. If it’s November, I might try talking. But if it’s February and that hasn’t worked, then I might be taking away ice time.
What if an aggressive demeanor is not part of a player’s DNA?
It’s a matter of appreciating each player’s personality. I coached Jordan Greenway at Boston University. He became an Olympian and is now with the Minnesota Wild. He is one of the most promising players in the NHL. The first time I looked at him, I thought “wow.” He’s 6-foot-5, weighs 225 and could skate and pass. He has it all. And yet when he got to me, he had no swagger. Our job was to give him his swagger, and what we did was give him a lot of responsibility. In time he started to believe in himself because we showed we believed in him.
Rangers training camp will be here before you know it. That first time when you gather all the players — from veterans to prospects — what message will you deliver?
First, I will tell them, our goals start with “we.” This means that coaches and players have to be on the same page. The players have to trust in what we are doing, and to create trust the players have to feel we care about them and will do everything we can to help them succeed.
Second, we will talk about accountability, in how they prepare on and off the ice.
And we will talk about defense. We all have different talents and abilities, but defense is a want. You can be a good defensive player if you determine that is what you want to be.
How does trust play out on the ice?
I’ll use forechecking as an example. If you go forecheck in the right corner and the puck goes to the left, I’ve got one rule: Get above the puck. That means being in position where you’re not chasing the play. You’re in control of the angles, and can dictate the play. I have to trust you will follow that basic rule. Then, once you do that, I have to trust your abilities and that you will make a good hockey decision.
You seem to combine a tough-minded approach while taking care to appreciate the individual needs of your players. How did you arrive at this approach?
I think it begins with my father, who was a police officer where I grew up in Cranston, Rhode Island. Irish cops aren’t necessarily the fuzziest, warmest people in the world. He was 240 pounds and 6-foot-1, an imposing human being, but he was an incredible father — straight-forward, with a subtle sense of humor, and he commanded respect. He died eight years ago, and when he was sick, it was amazing, too, to see the strong will of my mother.
Strong-mindedness and empathy. These are crucial qualities to being a leader, in hockey and in anything you want to accomplish.
David Quinn will take his spot behind the Rangers’ bench with preseason in September and then when it all counts — October 4, as the team opens the 2018-2019 season at Madison Square Garden vs. the Nashville Predators.
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