I've been thinking a lot lately about trying to quantify the difference between Greg Puhalski and Pat Bingham so I could explain how I see it to you, and there really isn't that much difference other than in personal style. Both are extremely intelligent men and coaches who are the same in terms of drive and the willingness to push their players. You see it more openingly with Bingham, but it was every bit there as much with Puhalski. He was much more private about it and did it behind closed doors. You may not believe that, but it is 100 percent true.
The major difference between this year's team and last year's team is not the coaching, but it's the players. No, it's nothing to do with talent or scouting or any of that either. It's more of an intangible.
The biggest difference is that the players on this year's team really like each other. There's a growing bond there and a closeness in the locker room that I haven't seen on the Komets since the early 1990s. When I first started covering the team in 1990, I thought that was just the way it was supposed to be. Teammates loved each other and were willing to sacrifice for each other no matter what because that's what Boudreau, Chin, Lucyk, Fletcher, Bawa, Kaminski, Dupuis, Lambert, McKee, Richison, Davidson, Hankinson, Jay and Smith did all the time, and please forgive me if I forgot anyone but it's 2 a.m. Those guys know what I mean, though and the respect I have for them all.
I never realized at the time how special those teams were. I just assumed you could create that chemistry every year if you were willing to work hard enough at it.
Now I realize it was a once in a generation thing, something that every team aspires to but so few ever come close to reaching.
That's the biggest difference between this year's team and last year's team, not the coaching. Richardson, Goneau, Larocque are life-long friends who brought that bond with them, and have included Dupuis who Richardson played with in Hershey. J.F. Labarre and Martin Gascon have that bond. All of these French players are loving the opportunity to go to work every day with their buddies. They are all having a blast and that translates onto the ice. I see it every day in Kevin St. Pierre's face. He smiles every day and you can tell he's having fun all the time.
I was talking to Bruce and Mario today at lunch and one of the topics was how Arthur is getting some grief on the blog. I think those two would absolutely tear anyone apart who had the guts to say that where they could hear it. They love that kid, his work ethic, his willingness to learn and his general overall attitude. Here's a kid who paid his own way to camp, and out-works everyone else on the team every day in practice. Here's a rookie who is going up against the top lines of the other teams every game on the road, when the home coach gets to make the last change, and he never complains. Both Richardson and Larocque talked about how Kiyaga's work ethic in practice pushes them everyday -- and here's an assistant coach and an alternate captain who are known for working hard. They both believe Arthur is going to be an awesome player by the end of the year because he listens and he works so blasted hard. They can't imagine anything less for him, and because of all that the are more than willing to help him make it happen.
I was so impressed because I can't tell you how rare it is for two veteran players like that to jump to the defense of a rookie five weeks into his pro career. They gained nothing from it, but they were both very passionate about it. That's the type of thing that never would have happened last year. I can't tell you how many times I heard veterans say get rid of him and bring somebody else in. There were a few exceptions, but it was definitely not the norm like it is this year.
And I know it's early, but I sense that from all the members of this team. They are building a very close-knit squad, the type of team that like those squads from the 1990s will be friends 20 years from now. The really cool thing is now I'm old enough and experienced enough to recognize it for the amazing thing it is and I can't wait to follow it closely the rest of the year and enjoy it fully.
That may sound completely sappy, but I have been trying to figure out exactly why I am enjoying covering this team so much, and that's it. They really like each other and what they are doing together. If they had the option, they'd spend hours in the locker room after the game rehashing things and just enjoying each other's company. Last year's squad couldn't wait to get away from each other.
I used to think what the Komets had 16 years ago was a fluke, a once-in-a-lifetime thing I would never get the chance to see again.
So that's the real difference between this year's team and last year's squad. It's all about the players and their bond, and that's something no coach can do much about. It's either there or it isn't.