Coaching in 1978

I had a great conversation with a buddy of mine today. We were talking about Pat Quinn and his future with the Oilers, and then discussing Tom Renney along with wondering if Charlie Huddy might return next season. Anyway, we eventually got around to talking about the all-time great coaches in NHL history. Bowman, Arbour, Roger Neilson, Bob Johnson, and on it goes. We know these men were brilliant at their jobs and we also know that Orval Tessier, Garry Young and Bert Olmstead don’t belong on a list of good coaches.

I think we have a lot to learn from coaches and how they handle the myriad problems and decisions that must be made in an NHL season. On this blog, we’ve had some fun looking at Quinn and Renney (before they were hired by the Oilers) in an effort to understand the game a little better. Of course, one of the favorite subjects on this blog was Craig MacTavish; there are 50 entries on the subject and studying MacT taught me a lot about the game.

It is such a fascinating area of the game. Right now we have a team (Montreal) even up with another team that should have finished them off long ago, but coaching plan married with execution is a deadly thing. There’s a long way to go in understanding coaching strategy (what IS the answer for the Habs forecheck? Could Lubo help?) but it is also true that we’re miles ahead of yesterday.

Here’s what the hockey world told fans about the big league coaches 32 years ago (summer 1978).

  1. Scotty Bowman, Montreal: He is a taskmaster who demands perfection. Now 45, he once said he didn’t expect to coach past 50. Bought 240 acres of land near a small lake and he intends to be a farmer.
  2. Bobby Kromm, Detroit: He was inherited by GM Ted Lindsay, as he was signed on by Lindsay’s predecessor Alex Delvecchio when his Winnipeg (WHA) contract expired.
  3. Johnny Wilson, Pittsburgh: Strong and inspirational disciplinarian. He earned plaudits as coach of Canada’s entry at last year’s World Championships. He made an immediate impression on the Pens last year by putting them through the most physical training camp of their history.
  4. Bob Berry, Los Angeles: Jack Kent Cooke said “Berry was my first choice.” His entire coaching experience consists of 20 games in the minors (Springfield). Believes Fred Shero is that last real coaching innovator.
  5. Tom McVie, Washington: McVie isn’t glued to old ways. At training camp he had a machine that shot tennis balls at his goaltenders at 85MPH every three seconds.
  6. Don Cherry, Boston: A master manipulator of his players and the press. He knows what he wants and doesn’t mess around. He doesn’t want stars on his team, prefering what he calls the “working class.”
  7. Roger Neilson, Toronto: His approach is as unorthodox as the manner in which he accepted the Toronto job. He gave his okay on the telephone from Johannnesburg, South Africa, where he was visiting a friend. He relies heavily on videotape to review games. He is defensive minded.
  8. Marcel Pronovost, Buffalo: A tough disciplinarian from the old school. Carries a briefcase filled with charts, notes and statistics. Some of his current players call him a good teacher.
  9. Harry Howell, Minnesota: Works on an even keel. Was not a crunching type defender, got the job done with an acute sense of positioning which he will urge on his young North Stars.
  10. Al Arbour, NYI: Employs defensive system that puts a premium on blocked shots. Gives written tests to his players on strategy.
  11. Bob McCammon, Philadelphia: Will have to work hard to get the confidence of Flyers players after their roller coaster ride with Fred Shero.
  12. Fred Shero, NYR: Inventive, secretive, off-beat. Likes to wear rumpled raincoat and tinted glasses which make him look like an undercover agent. A try anything strategist. Players complain they do not understand him.
  13. Fred Creighton, Atlanta: Fiesty, ornery guy who doesn’t tolerate silly mistakes. Can be heard screaming at team after losses. Likes a physical style with emphasis on positioning. Willing to give rookies a chance.
  14. Bob Pulford, Chicago: Also GM. Demanding and tireless. Runs grueling practices and has cerebral approach to the game. Admirer of football coach George Allen, he stresses defense.
  15. Pat Kelly, Colorado: Salty, tough guy who played for Eddie Shore.
  16. Harry Neale, Vancouver: Jogging devotee runs 5 miles a day. Coached Ohio State 66-70.
  17. Barcley Plager, St. Louis: Credited with developing young players Bob Hess, Bernie Federko and Brian Sutter.
  18. Jacques Demers, Quebec (WHA): Likes his teams to play disciplined, defensive hockey. Brutally honest.
  19. Larry Hillman, Winnipeg (WHA): A player’s coach if there ever was one. Strictly his own man in the way he does things. Low profile coach who consults his captain before making any big decisions. Admirer of Punch Imlach.
  20. Bill Dineen, New England (WHA): Personable coach, very good with young players.
  21. Glen Sather, Edmonton (WHA): Bright and dynamic, he’s livened up the Edmonton scene. Nosy behind the bench. Studied child psychology. Saved the lives of two Edmonton teenagers last winter when their car went off a road, rolled down an embankment and caught fire. Disciple of Sam Pollock.
  22. Pat Stapleton, Indianapolis (WHA): Has six kids.
  23. John Brophy, Birmingham (WHA): Loathes would be scoring champions who refuse to check. A big part of young Rod Langway’s quick progress. Preaches disciplined, defensive hockey.

I think those written tests Al Arbour gave his Islanders might have been an idea worth using for the 2009-10 Edmonton Oilers. If you’re going to play in the NHL before you’re ready, you might as well learn something.

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