Interview: Head Coach Steve Konowalchuk

Oct 11, 2011, 3:21 PM | Updated: 3:23 pm

I sat down with Head Coach Steve Konowalchuk to talk about his new team, his coaching style and the keys to the Thunderbirds having a successful campaign.

 

Mike Caccioppoli: Coming to a team that has struggled in the past couple of years do you reference the past at all or is it all about moving on?

Steve Konowalchuk: I don’t reference it a lot. When you haven’t had success in the past, sometimes bad habits sneak it. Sometimes self preservation, guys worry about themselves a bit more. That comes in any environment where there has been a losing history. That’s what myself and the coaching staff are trying to work on. To get guys playing for each other and not themselves.

MC: I guess we can just look at this past weekend for evidence of that?

SK: When things go well it’s easy to play the way we did against Victoria. On Friday night against Prince Albert we hit some adversity after a good first period and some of the old characteristics came back. We are still just into the start of the season so that’s not surprising. Hopefully the game against Victoria will be a good lesson that if you stick with the system good things will happen.

MC: As a new Head Coach is it basically a clean slate as far as the players are concerned?

SK: I think any coach that comes in. You are learning the players for the first time. It’s a great fresh start. Some guys are finding they are getting more ice time than they would have expected. That’s because they are doing what we ask and are getting results.

MC: You have played for several good coaches, do you mold your coaching style on any of those guys?

SK: I think over your whole career everything molds you as a player and as a person. It’s a combination of the coaches I’ve had and also the players and leaders that I’ve followed. I try to bring all of that here.

MC: You were known as hard worker, I guy that would go hard to the net as well. Is it expected that these guys are going to play the way you did or are the expectations different for each player?

SK: Everyone has to play hard, that’s hockey. If you aren’t playing hard you aren’t going to win. There are different skill sets. A guy like Lund, who is a big strong skater, when he plays hard he’s going to be able to finish a check really hard. Now Sanvido I expect to finish a check as well. He has a different skill set so it may not be as effective but he’s expected to finish. Same with Galliimore, everybody is expected to try to do the same thing but they have different skill sets. I expect my fourth line guy to try to score on a breakaway, he may not be as skilled as the first line guy but they are all expected to play hard for 60 minutes.

MC: Do you feel like when this team is healthy that it can do something special this season?

SK: For sure. If you look at what we have done in certain aspects. That first period against Prince Albert, you really couldn’t have a better period except for coming out ahead 2-0 or something. The results will come. We have a very good skating group of forwards who are now understanding the kind of puck pursuit we want, the kind of fore checking, puck protection. It’s been encouraging to see how well they have done it at times. If we stick with it, it won’t be fun for other teams to play against them.

MC: This team has really struggled in the past with the outlet pass, with getting the puck out of their own zone. Do you see that improving?

SK: We are getting better. Some guys are going to see the ice a little bit better, to understand the situation. A lot of that is experience and vision on the ice. ‘Ok now I have time, I need to make a direct pass, or I don’t have time I need to just get it off the glass.’ It’s also important that the forwards get good outlets. We’ve been talking about that a lot.

MC: Calvin has faced tons of shots over the past couple of seasons. Do you see that number decreasing this season?

SK: Obviously the less time in your own end, the less shots. I think shots can be an over valued statistic in my mind. It’s more about quality shots. Calvin is the kind of goalie that teams are going to throw a ton of shots at. They may not all be quality shots.

MC: After the Thunderbird fans have had to endure some rough seasons do you see your honeymoon period as being fairly short? Is there any pressure to start winning now?

SK: I really can’t worry about that. I can only control what I can control. If we come to work hard every day we will have success.

MC: If people said that you were a tough, disciplinarian type of coach would you agree with that?

SK: I don’t know (laughs). I just try to be honest. Sometimes when you are honest it can be taken as being tough. I will be the first guy to pat you on the back but I will also let you know if you need to get going.

MC: Is discipline important at this age?

SK: Sure, at any age. It doesn’t matter. At this age you are molding players for the future. If you don’t understand that you are playing for the team, that’s it’s everybody together then when they go to the next level they are in for a rude awakening. There aren’t many places where the players get to do what they want. If that is the case then the coach usually moves on.

MC: You hear about how certain coaches don’t translate well to a certain league, that you need to deal with guys at each level differently.

SK: There is a little bit of difference there. When are dealing with a 35 year old veteran with Stanley Cup rings that has played 1,000 games there is a little bit more of a respect factor than a 19 year old kid that hasn’t done much yet, whether they have been drafted or not. There are lots of guys that are drafted and don’t go any further. Also those older guys know what they have to do.

MC: What went into your decision to take this job?

SK: The age of the kids. In Colorado we had some younger kids that were fun to work with. I did player development there. The younger guys are so eager to learn. There is also the head coaching experience that I wanted to get. I’m home a little bit more at nights now as well.

MC: How much time goes into watching tapes?

SK: It’s a pretty big part of it. There is some stuff you don’t see during the game. I want to be able to give the kids all of the benefit of the doubt. I can have more conviction with my decisions when I see things twice. My decisions have a direct effect on the players. I want to make sure I’m right on them as much as I can be. It’s also an important tool to help teach them. I don’t like use it as a negative, I think that makes it lose it’s teaching ability.

MC: What do your assistant coaches bring to the team?

SK: Well Darren (Rumble) is a long time pro hockey player. He brings things he’s seen as a coach and player. He’s seen it all. He knows what makes a player and the guys need to recognize this. For me being a first time head coach he’s a huge help. Jim (McTaggart) has been in this league for a while now. He always has a different perspective which is nice to hear. It’s not just black and white. He can reference stuff from the past as well, it’s about experience.

MC: What do you guys talk about during the game?

SK: It just depends. Sometimes it could be a match up we want. It could be about reminding a player to do something. We talk about match ups before the game as well. There really isn’t a ton of talk. We each have our jobs to do and we do it then talk about things between periods.

MC: Do you change how you play depending on the team you are playing?

SK: Not at this point. We have a ways to go when it comes to things we want to do. As the season goes on you might start looking at some little things but your style of play needs to remain the same. You have to build an identity. When I played the Devils you knew how they were going to play, same with the Penguins. They stuck to their identity and didn’t worry about what team they were playing.

MC: Is establishing an identity important?

SK: If you are a good team you have an identity because everyone knows what you are bringing. If you aren’t a good team its hard to establish an identity. You have to get the players that can play the system you like and are good at doing it.

MC: There has been some criticism here about the dump and chase style, that we need to let our forwards loose more.

SK: Well I believe in the dump and chase. I believe in not turning the puck over in the neutral zone. If you turn the puck over in the neutral zone that isn’t fun or exciting cause you aren’t going to score goals. If a guy can carry it in and not turn it over, I have no problem with that. You better know your limitations. You have to play a smart game. You have to be on your toes and working hard. We scored five goals against Victoria and had very few turnovers in the neutral zone. In the last two periods against Prince Albert we turned the puck over.. we didn’t score. It’s a bad conception to think that if you dumping it you aren’t going to score in fact it can be just the opposite. The more time you spend in the other teams zone the better chance you have at scoring.

MC: Are you concerned that the league is going a bit overboard with its discipline this season?

SK: It’s getting tougher as far as the real vicious checks. The hard part is that it’s such a fast game that there is going to be a grey area with some hits. The biggest thing we stress with our players is to keep the elbows away from the head. Charging is another area that they are cracking down on and I have no problem with that. If you are running across the rink to nail somebody you are out of position anyway and that’s not winning hockey.

MC: Not to single anybody out but Machacek has shown a bit of a short fuse. Are you worried about that with the guys in general?

SK: Sure. They are watching things a bit closer so you have to make the guys aware of that. You have to stress that the job here is to win hockey games. It doesn’t do any good to beat guys up and lose the game.

MC: I will say this so you don’t have to…the officiating has been inconsistent in this league. Are you the kind of coach that is going to be yelling at the officials?

SK: I kinda look back as a player and I didn’t have more than one or two instances where I got really upset at an official. So, I don’t think it’s going to be very different as a coach. I might talk to them at times and I’m sure there will be times when I might be upset. I try to worry about what I can control. That being said I haven’t had many games as a Head Coach so that could change but I just think I will let them do their thing. I have enough to worry about.

MC: Are you the kind of guy that wants to address something a player does wrong right away?

SK: You know every situation is different. I don’t have a game plan it’s just what I feel at the moment. Sometimes I will address it right away, sometimes I will address it later.

MC: The big eastern swing is coming up here soon. Those long bus rides are something you haven’t had to do in a long time. Do you think those long trips can bring a team together?

SK: I think it can. On every time I’ve been on road trips can be helpful. You can go on big runs after a long road trip. The distractions you have at home are gone and you can focus on hockey and playing the games.

MC: What are the keys to this team being successful this season?

SK: Consistency. We still have to improve in our own end. We have to keep bringing a good work ethic. I’m happy so far for the most part. The guys have come to the rink to work hard and to learn the system. If they continue to do that, the success will come. They will be a lot better hockey players three months from now than they are today.

 

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