Richardson Speaks: Fast Defense Wins Norris Trophies

When the Sum 41 intro cued Luke Richardson’s weekly appearance on 1200’s The Drive radio program, I have to admit, the struggle to prevent my mouse cursor from pressing stop on the audio stream was maddening. Despite having my ears bombarded  with awful music that marked an era when the cast of American Pie could still draw at the box office, I had to go on. I imagine this is what Rick Bowness felt like during the 1992/93 season whenever he had to send players like Ken Hammond and Chris Luongo over the boards.

Fortunately, I’m glad I listened. Even if the only swerve to come from Richardson’s appearance was Lee Versage’s inclusion as an interviewer – filling in for the absent Dave Gross.

Per the norm, Richardson went on at length about a litany of topics, and I’ve included the rants that piqued my interest. If the thought of listening to him explain the difficulties that Ottawa’s core veterans may face if the 2013 NHL season actually begins (really, you actually want to listen to that? Get out of here, sadist!) you can do so by clicking here, or via the embed at the bottom of the post.

As always my thoughts in bold.

On the end of the team’s winning streak…

“We still had a pretty good effort on Saturday; just things just weren’t bouncing our way and then once we got behind, you could see maybe a little fatigue setting in with the second game in two nights. Norfolk were fresh and they have been struggling of late, so they were really pushing it and skating well that night. It seemed like we were chasing it a little bit that night and it wasn’t to be. It would have been nice to get that (tenth win in a row) but we’re pretty proud of how the guys have been playing and even that night, it was a good effort; just not the (right) result.”

Hey, at least Binghamton outshot the opposition in that streak-crushing loss. 

How much confidence have you seen from your team going through a nine-game winning streak…

“Well, I think that’s what you see, is that exact thing – confidence. And that’s what you want to see in a team and individual players because most sports, when you’re playing confident, you’re playing your best. For this league, we’d love to win but we’re trying to help our players become better players and develop. I think if they’re playing with confidence and the team is playing with confidence, it just lets them play their best and lets them work on what they need to work on and do it well. I was very and it was luxurious for a coach so we could call guys in(to the coach’s office) and just work on things a little bit as we go and still keep that winning attitude – which is part of the culture that we are trying to teach them also. It’s not just the little individual skills; it’s the mental part of winning and not accepting loss. Because once they get to the next level, it’s a result-league and you have to be ready for that.”

That result-driven industry would have been great segueway to ask what the hell is going on with Mika Zibanejad and why the production-challenged first round pick has had an extended absence from the lineup… 

On Stephane Da Costa’s play of late…

“Well, he unfortunately had a tough start with a few different injuries; I think I mentioned that last week. It just seemed like one happened after another. He had trouble getting on a roll and getting in consecutive games even; let alone, getting into good games. He really worked. We talked about his fitness level and building his body up – not just to play at this level, but for the next level because he has the (NHL) skillset. He really took it to heart and he was coming in in the morning at 7 am and riding the bike with the trainer and myself when he was injured. Then he was doing it again on game nights, so he was really working hard. And then Steve Stirling was looking after some extra skating after practice when he made his way back; so he really took the fitness up a little bit. We saw the results right away – in his first game back, he had four points with a hat-trick. In his last game, just with his skill alone in his last game that he had, I think he created two breakaways for himself and just missed. He just could not finish them off. He probably had at least four scoring chances himself in the second period; which was great to see. We would have loved to see him finish those off, but he is an offensively gifted guy that can do that and break open a game at any level. He really has great passing skills and he’s not a big guy, but some guys just have that knack for shooting the puck. And he can really rip the puck. I think it was his third goal against Syracuse last weekend when he had a cross-ice pass and before the goalie could get across (the crease), (the puck) was in and out. You love to see that talent and sometimes you get frustrated that he does not use the shot more often, but he is working on when he should use that and when he should use those passing skills. He is coming along and coming back from injury, we had him on a line with Shane Prince for a while and they were working well. But we thought that we would juggle it up after a loss and get him back in a spot where we think and predict that he should be, and that is with (Jakob) Silfverberg and Mike Hoffman to see if those three talented guys can get clicking and put some goals in the net.”

It’s not the first instance that I have heard Shawn Simpson reference Da Costa’s absence from the nation’s capital when many of the team’s other heralded young players were hitting the gym hard with Chris Schwarz. Now I don’t want to draw any conclusions from whether there is any organizational resentment towards the player in this instance that is being channeled through Simpson, but Da Costa’s start is not exactly the way that many were hoping that he would have. Mind you, Adam Oates did not really become an NHL regular until the age of 24, so there’s still time for the 23-year old Da Costa to fulfill those expectations. 

On Patrick Wiercioch…

“He’s a really gifted offensive player who I just think needed to work on some strength, a little bit of speed and aggression in his game. Obviously on the defensive side, (learning) the positioning and learning what, as Paul MacLean always refers to as playing defense fast. What that means is getting the puck quickly, in the defensive zone, away from the other team as fast as you can and efficiently as you can, so you have it on your stick more often in the game and you’re going north – which is the offensive way on the rink for your team. And that’s what he has done – he has done a great job of learning to play the inside of the rink; inside the dots. And give up the outside of the dots to the opposing team – which is less dangerous; especially because of the goaltending that we have. And then getting with his reach, and he has great reach, and he did a great job this summer of spending some time in Ottawa with Chris Schwarz. I know for sure Kyle Turris is good buddies with him and they really worked on explosive strength and some conditioning and it has really paid off for him. He has played a lot; especially with Jared Cowen getting injured right off the hop. He has played mostly with Andre Benoit on the top pairing and they play a lot of minutes. So he is learning to log a lot of ice-time and play in all different situations and I think you’re seeing the benefits now and some good results of some hard work and determination by a young player who really wants to move up (to the NHL).”

Most of this riffs on a post from the summer. If anything, it serves as a reminder that not all prospects develop in the linear fashion that many fans expect before writing them off completely. Take note Zibanejad cynics. 

From a talent standpoint, the silver lining to Cowen’s injury is that it thrusts Wiercioch into a role that he has not previously been in at the pro level. Admittedly, I have not watched many Binghamton games streamed on the Interwebs, so when I look at his numbers — 19 GP, 6 G, 10 Pts, +12 — I wanted to know whether Wiercioch was playing sheltered minutes against some of the opposition’s worst players. It turns out he isn’t – which is fantastic for his growth, development and confidence as a player and prospect.

On Wiercioch’s throat injury possibly giving him some perspective or motivation to put more work in…

“No, I think that could be some one of a thing and also to know that you don’t take things for granted. Things don’t come easy. You have to work hard but, just like anything in life, there are precious moments and they could be gone in an instant with an injury in sports. I think he really hopped on the physical fitness side of things this summer and worked on his body to push it to be a professional athlete. I think some players forget that, they realize coming up, even all the way up to the Major Junior and college-level and even into the American (Hockey) League or out of Europe where they are always the best player and it seems to come easy because of their speed and strength, size or hockey sense and they don’t work on (their fitness) and they take it for granted. And then, they get to the NHL and they are shocked and they are surprised. Some guys battle through it and realize it. They do work on things and it’s not too late. And some guys get to the NHL and it is too late. They get frustrated and they just can’t do it. They might give up themselves before they have given themselves a chance. I think Patrick is a good example of someone spending some time in the minor leagues, learning the ways and the ropes and working on himself – both mentally and physically – and you’re seeing some good results. I think that’s what development is all about in hockey.”

There is some symmetry in Turris and Wiercioch both arguably being taken out of college too early, beginning to find their way at the professional level of late.

Looking at Ottawa’s 2008 draft class, it has to be in the pantheon of Senators draft classes. With Karlsson going in the first round (15th overall), Wiercioch in the second (42nd overall), Zack Smith in the third (79th overall), Andre Petersson (109th) and Derek Grant (119th) in the fourth round, and Mark Borowiecki (139th) in the fifth, these six players could conceivably make their marks in the NHL within the next season or two. That’s a ridiculous haul.

On Robin Lehner’s growth as a professional…

“Well, he’s been our best player from training camp til this point. And now we have Ben Bishop going as well. Both of them are probably the top tandem in the league. I can’t see anybody any different. Robin, I’ve known him for a few years now, and he’s a great competitor. I think over the first couple of years, he has had some high highs and some lows. He has been a Calder Cup champion and the MVP of that run and there has been some times where with injury to himself, I think he has had some learning curves being in proper condition and different types of condition. And also, with injuries to the Ottawa Senators goaltending, which brings him out of his development – coming up and sitting around and practicing a bit but not playing a lot with the big club. And then back-and-forth and up-and-down. You know you’re young and there is a starter, that plays on the psyche a bit. So he has really matured over the last few years and this year, he’s been confident and steady. He has been the competitor that he always is and he wants to win every night. He’s a leader in the dressing room and sometimes, that’s rare for a goaltender. Usually on game days, they want to stay on their own page, quiet and out of the way and just focus on their thing… Whereas he can do that and be a supporter of the guys – at timeouts, he’s encouraging his teammates. He’s a leader in the dressing room. He always knows what’s going on and caring about his teammates. He is the full package and he is what the Ottawa Senators thought he was when they drafted him. After a couple of years in the minor leagues with the ups and downs of the and the learning, especially at that position, it’s a tough position, and he’s come in at camp and he said he was going to be focused and ready and in top, and he still is. He has done exactly what he said he was going to do and what was expected of him this year. And we’re benefitting from it down in Binghamton because we have great goaltending.”

Richardson spent 376 words to say what I could have said in ten, Lehner is pretty damn awesome. We’re lucky to have him.