Earlier this morning on the Team 1200’s TGOR, Cory Clouston spoke candidly about his departure from the Senators organization. Albeit, most of what was said was rehashed information from this week’s interview with the Ottawa Citizen‘s Lisa Wallace but below is a transcript of some of the more intriguing tidbits from the interview. (Note: you can listen to the audio on the Team 1200’s Facebook page here.)
Would you do anything different?
“Hindsight it always 20-20. I don’t know if there is anything that could have been done entirely different. We had a lot of things go against us this year. One of them was the health of us an organization and as a team. I say as an organization because the previous year when we were had goaltending problems, we were able to bring up Mike Brodeur. He went 3 and 0 for us and had a great shutout in New York that kind of turned things around for us and this year, he wasn’t healthy at all. We ended up pulling him out of the East Coast Hockey League to back up for us a few times. And Robin Lehner, who had an excellent playoffs in Binghamton, suffered some injuries as well when we needed some relief. That left Brian Elliott with all of the pressure and it was a tough situation for him. He didn’t have any support as far as if things went wrong. He couldn’t step back for a game or two. He basically had to keep playing.
Four or five of our top six forwards weren’t healthy for a big part of the season. Kovalev and Michalek were coming off ACL surgeries and probably shouldn’t even have been playing at the start of the year. Alfredsson again had to shut it down for the last 24 to 25 games and he needed surgery at the end of the season. Spezz he missed I believe about 20 games with a shoulder injury. Mike Fisher played with a sore collarbone/clavicle area that he ended up having surgery on at the end of the year as well. We were just not a very healthy group and all of these guys were a very key and a big part of our team. Filip Kuba broke his leg in the first five of minutes of camp. A lot of things just didn’t go right for us.”
Why do you think they let you go then?
“You’ll have to ask them that. I’m very proud of the job that our staff did. In two and a half years, I believe we were 12 or13 games over .500. The last 25 games were a lot of fun. We traded for (Craig) Anderson and he played very well for us but we ended playing with as many as 9-10 American League callups in the last 25 games and we went 15-9-1. It was a fun group of young guys to work with. They were like sponges absorbing information and getting the experience that we wanted them to get. And we were winning hockey games and those last 25 games, like I said, were a lot of fun.”
Did you learn anything about the difference between handling the junior level to the AHL players to the million dollar athletes in the NHL?
“Yeah, for sure. It’s a different situation. I think a lot of it is media that puts added pressure on some of these guys who make that much money. When you’re in a big Canadian city that has so much media attention on you, you’re not allowed to have a two, three, four or five game slump without it starting to affect you because you read about it in the papers. You see it on tv. You’re asked about it in the grocery store. When you’re in a smaller US market in some situations, you just don’t have that pressure that you take home with you. So those are the types of situations in which the size of the stage is so much bigger and you just have to realize what these players go through.”
What about the communication problems with the veteran players? Is there anything to that?
“For the most part, no there wasn’t a communication gap. For the most part, the guys played pretty well. We turned the team around in the last 34 games when I got there. The following season we were picked to be 28th or 27th in the league by a lot of experts and we made the playoffs without a number one goaltender being healthy all that often during the regular season. We had a lot of things that didn’t work in our favour and we played hard. When we were healthy and had goaltending, we were a good hockey team. Most nights we got the goaltending, we competed hard and played well. We played with a purpose and played with structure. You don’t have to be best friends with your players but you’re always trying to improve as a coach and a person in general. When you hear those types of things, you have to look in the mirror. If I’m asking my players to improve, I have to ask the same thing of myself.”
“I think everyone is trying to complicate things to what happened this past season. I really think that it’s not that complicated. For the most part, we didn’t have the goaltending. When you play at that level, every team is so prepared and things are so structured and organized and teams are so evenly matched, that if you don’t get the goaltending, you’re not going to win games. When you give up a goal or two early once or twice in a span of 10 to 15 games, it’s not that deflating to your bench. But when you consistently, like we did for a stretch of 15 to 20 games, give up a goal in the first five, six or seven shots and you’re behind the eight ball consistently for about a 20 game period there, you’re not going to win games. For me, it wasn’t a matter of the players being selfish. It wasn’t a matter of them pointing fingers. It was just very difficult to win hockey games when your number one goalie misses 50 games. We went 15-9-1 with a very young hockey team. I know some people could say that we caught a few teams by surprise but we beat Philadelphia twice. We beat Tampa twice out of three games. You may catch them by surprise the first game but you’re not going to catch them by surprise the second game. Like I said, everyone is trying to complicate things and come up with ideas. To me it’s very simple: if we had a healthy Anderson from the start of the season, things would have been very different.”
I get a sense that people’s reactions to the team bugged you a little bit…
“They’re not my players any more but I tend to want to defend them. ‘They’re not this. They’re not that.’ To me, that’s not fair. That’s not a fair assessment. Anybody who watched our games and saw some nights where… now I’m not throwing Brian Elliott under the bus either, because he was a guy who was paid to be in the role that he was supposed to be in was a backup. He was paid as a backup. His role was a backup. When a starter misses 50 games, it’s difficult for him to be put in that situation and in that role. It’s like asking a fourth line guy to execute the power play and when it doesn’t work, criticize him. By no means was Brian Elliott supposed to play in as many games as he did.
Do you understand why you were let go?
“Yeah, to a certain extent,sure. I understand that. It’s part of the business that Bryan Murray felt was in the best interests of the organization. I think Bryan’s had an unbelievable career as a coach and as a GM and if that’s what he feels is best for the team, I respect that. Sometimes whether a player is benched or his ice-time is demoted or whatever it may be, there are decisions that you make aren’t necessarily what the individual may agree on but what is best for the organization. If (Bryan) feels that, then I respect it.”
In some respects, I can certainly empathize for how Cory Clouston probably feels. Looking back at a piece I penned during his last week of employment, I remarked that Clouston was not the only one who should receive the lion’s share of blame for the manner in which the past season unfurled.
Much has been made of the communication problems that Clouston ‘allegedly’ had with some of the team’s veteran players but for the second consecutive interview, I can’t help but notice that he described how the influx of young AHL call ups were receptive to the instruction of the coaches and absorbed information like sponges.
Inferring from these kinds of comments, it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to believe that complacency had set in amongst the veterans or that his message had worn thin. I just wish he’d own it.
Clouston doesn’t have Lindy Ruff’s shelf-life. If communication was really an issue for this group of players and its coaching staff, it was only a matter of time before his message would be tuned out again. And for an organization that desperately needs some security, it can’t simply overhaul its roster every season or two to ensure that the message is heard. The players need someone with whom they can accept and grow with. Hopefully that person is Paul MacLean.