2016-09-27 17:03:05
Coaches Take Contrasting Styles Into World Cup of Hockey Finals

17:03, September 27 316 0

TORONTO — Mike Babcock, the coach of the Canadian team at the World Cup of Hockey, runs a tight ship. He knows where he is going and he knows how to get there.

Team Europe Coach Ralph Krueger, on the other hand, is freer at the helm, allowing for course corrections.

Babcock is the cold technician. Krueger is the soothing force.

Passionate and intelligent, Babcock, 53, and Krueger, 57, have found success through their contrasting styles, some of which will play out starting Tuesday night in the opener of a best-of-three World Cup finals.

“Ralph should be Ralph, and I should be me,” said Babcock, who is also the coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

No one expects Europe to beat an undefeated powerhouse like Canada, but all tournament long, Krueger has been a picture of calm, explaining how his players are upsetting the odds.

Before the semifinal victory over Sweden at the World Cup of Hockey on Sunday, Krueger was in the locker room watching Southampton, the English soccer team for which he is the chairman, beat West Ham, 3-0.

Friends since 2004, Babcock and Krueger are water skiers and like to compare their results.

In 2013, after Krueger was fired as coach of the Edmonton Oilers, Babcock invited him to work as a consultant with Team Canada at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Krueger accepted, and his wife laughed. It had been only 12 hours since his dismissal, and he was taking another job without even thinking about it.

“My instincts took me there,” Krueger said. “It’s the way life is. If you take things positively, it seems that opportunity will present itself quicker. I think if I would have complained for 12 hours to all the media in Canada, Mike might not have picked up the phone.”

With Babcock, the players need thick skins.

“He tells it like it is and, ultimately, that’s what everyone wants, to know where they stand,” Team Canada General Manager Doug Armstrong said. “No one wants mind games, and he doesn’t play mind games, that’s for sure.”

Goaltender Carey Price called Babcock “black and white.”

When Team Canada fell behind against Russia in the semifinals, Babcock did not change course.

His message to the players was to “keep steady on the rudder” and wear down the Russians.

They did, with a 5-3 victory.

Krueger, however, was not afraid to throw out the team’s entire European style after being outscored, 9-1, through four periods of pretournament action against Team North America.

“We came in and tried to play a European kind of hockey,” forward Frans Nielsen said. “We were turning the puck over. You don’t have the room on the smaller ice. The pace is faster. Everybody could see it wasn’t working.”

Krueger turned them into a defensive, patient team that stifled opposition scoring while seizing on their own rare opportunities.

It meant they would be outshot in most games, but the overhaul was validated in their 2-1 group-stage record, including a 3-0 win over the United States, and their semifinal victory over Sweden.

Krueger has a blended team of overachievers from eight small countries. Slowly, over team meals and postpractice soccer games, they bonded and never worried about losing.

“He’s so positive every day,” Nielsen said. “It doesn’t matter what happens, he tries to see it in a positive way.”

Nielsen tries to “pick his brain” about everything, including the Southampton Football Club.

Nielsen said that after Southampton’s victory over West Ham, Krueger “made all the other coaches and trainers walk around in Southampton golf shirts.”

Asked how he would prepare for Krueger’s Cinderella team, Babcock said brusquely, “I don’t spend much time thinking about Cinderella, so it’s not a big issue for me.”

Coaching players who have a combined 14 Stanley Cup rings (to eight for Team Europe), Babcock’s system does not allow for egos.

He works hard to give everyone a role, whether on the power play or the penalty killing unit, so no one gets lost in the shuffle.

“Egos will destroy a team like this,” Armstrong said.

Babcock, who has won a Stanley Cup and two Olympic gold medals as a coach, lets everyone know that the team is bigger than any individual.

“He’s just no-nonsense about it,” Armstrong said. “It’s nonnegotiable.”

When Babcock has to bench a star player like forward Claude Giroux or goaltender Braden Holtby, he does it in a direct way.

“He doesn’t beat around the bush and have other people tell them that information,” Armstrong said. “He calls these guys and tells them: ‘This is how I envision your role. Things could change.’ And he’s very upfront about it. Good coaches can deliver bad news and not worry about it.”

After this tournament, win or lose, this European team will cease to exist.

This is a team with no past and no future, which works in its favor because the players do not feel the weight of playing for an entire country. Krueger understands that.

“I learned he lives for the moment,” defenseman Andrej Sekera said. “And that’s the approach he wants for us.”