First, can you let readers know about your post-NHL coaching career – how you got started and what you enjoy most about coaching?
When I retired I started coaching youth hockey, coaching my kids. I had two sons that were playing, and I was going to the rink anyways for six days a week, since my ids were at different levels.
The St. Marks job came when I got an email asking if I knew of anyone that would be interested in the opening. I learned later that the captains on the team had asked the athletic director to me to take the job. I guess this was their way of doing so (laughing).
How exciting is it for you to coach the team you once starred on as a player?
For me, just to be back on the campus of the school…driving on the same roads I did when I played is exciting. It’s an old school – a small private school that started in 1865. It still has the same feel.
It’s good to be back. Hockey-wise, it’s the same rink just about that I played on. The team struggled the three years before. I knew it would be a challenge to get the program back on track. It was going to take good recruiting, and its happened quicker than I thought it would.
The past three years were really tough. They won ten games over three years, including one season where they won no games. My first year we went 14-3. That made them believe ion themselves – that they were good players. Last year we made the playoffs and went 16-9-3. We lost in the playoffs, but there are a lot of teams trying to make the playoffs.
There’s a ton of interest in the program now. Kids want to play here – it’s a program on the rise. It’s special for me to be a part of this.
Who were some of the biggest influences on you and your coaching style?
All the coaches I had in my playing days, I took something for all of them. The coaches I liked I took things from and the ones I didn’t like I just learned not to coach that way.
I’m a coach that will push players hard. I expect a lot. But I want them to enjoy coming to the rink every day. The season can get tough if its just pressure very day. You can’t get the most out of your players without them enjoying it too. I know that by going through it myself. You don’t get the most from players if they dread coming to the rink. You want them to be dying t get on the ice.
The kids are excited here. I remember once pushing them very hard then telling them that due to a school function there would be no practice the next day. They all groaned. They wanted to go to practice.
Joel Quenneville was a coach I remember well. He gave players respect. It was the little things. No crushing us with meetings. Up-temp practices and quick meetings. He was a player’s coach. I really enjoyed playing for him – he gets the most from his players. Especially in the NHL where it’s a long season. It’s a grind and he kept things short. He was my tops.
How difficult has it for you to transition from the NHL to a second career – and how were you able to do so?
It kind of just happened.
I enjoy coaching and like the age of the kids I’m coaching. Young kids are fun, but when they get older and hang on to your every word, its a lot of fun. These kids all want to play in college. I enjoy having that influence on that and talking to the college coaches about the kids. Its fun to get involved – helping young hockey players on their path to playing in college.
You read today about the struggles many NFL players face in transitioning from football to a post-sports career. How does the NHL help players do so – if at all?
I don’t know. It all depends. There is help from the NHLPA for players who fall on tough times. I;m not sure what’s offered for everyone else. I never felt I needed help that way. I stayed busy.
With my two kids in hockey and one that plays basketball, even though I didn’t work for a couple of years after the NHL, it was like a full-time job. I missed hockey when I went to see a live game – I got that feeling back then. Especially during the playoffs. But I wasn’t going to a lot of games…
You played a number of years in the Hartford organization and overseas in Italy before ending up in Pittsburgh in ’90. How was the experience of playing overseas and how did it help your game?
I played in Italy, in some Olympic stuff and in the World Championships. I liked the big rinks – it was a good change of pace. The European League gave me a lot of confidence. To be on the ice a lot of the time – to have the puck on your stick a lot and score a lot of goals. I wasn’t over there at the end of my career. I was over there working hard to get back to the NHL.
It was a risky move, but the confidence it gave me was not something I was going to get being on the fourth line in Pittsburgh in ’92. I missed being on the ’92 Cup team – but I knew where I stood on that team with guys like Mullen and Jagr ahead of me. I wanted to play. Winning the Cup when I was in Hartford seemed impossible to me. But seeing the dedication in ’92 to win the Cup in Pittsburgh – I learned a lot that year.
How did you end up in Pittsburgh in ’90 and who on the team helped you to adjust to life in Pittsburgh – both on and off the ice?
How would you describe yourself as a player and how did you mesh with that Penguins roster?
With injuries, I could step in to a higher line. I played the point on the power play at times. When Paul Coffey was hurt I played on the power play in the playoffs. When he came back I didn’t play because they decided to keep seven defensemen since Coffey was only playing on the point sue to his jaw injury.
I could play defense if needed too. I had the versatility. I contributed some goals and could move up and down the line.
Who were some of the biggest characters on that Penguins team and what made them so? Any examples of the hijinks/personalities on that team?
To me, Kevin Stevens was the best locker room guy I’ve been around. His game stepped up in the playoffs. And the laughter he brought to the locker room…he made it fun. He was the main guy as far as smiles on faces was concerned and making long road trips more fun. We had a bunch of good guys on that team but he was the catalyst.
There’s a great deal of movement between leagues and cities for hockey players – you were no exception. How does that affect you – both on and off the ice – as a player?
I think they capture it well with the HBO show. I like the way they do that. Fans just see the games and think about how great it is to play in the NHL. It is, but they don’t see us heading to the airport right after a tough game, getting in at three a.m., then getting up for the morning skate and playing again that night. Sometimes we’d get in at five a.m. after games. Fans don’t see that part of it.
I think they are starting to realize the pressure players go through, to come back after injury, or the worry about getting traded. You put your kids in school all the while not being sure if you’ll get traded or be sent down…
There’s a lot of pressure for players. We put it on ourselves, but then there’s that pressure of worrying about being sent down, or being traded. It all adds to the pressure. It’s not all fun and games. It wears you down, mentally and physically.
What are your favorite memories of your time in Pittsburgh?
Early on when I was traded there, I jumped into games in disbelief on how good the team was. We had some good players in Hartford, but I couldn’t believe the amount of goals we scored in Pittsburgh. The system and the way we moved the puck with those guys – it was a shock to my system.
The playoffs and Cup run – and the massive celebration … the Cup in Mario’s pool nd that legendary celebration when the Cup got stuck at the bottom of the pool. To have been there and know the real story…
Well, we were throwing the Cup around in the pool. Not disrespecting it – just celebrating. Then someone – I think maybe it was Phil Bourque – decided to put it in the deep end. By the time they tried to take it out it was stuck – we couldn’t get it loose. A number of guys tried to get it loose and they finally got it out, but the top of the Cup was severed, like it was going to rip right off the top.
At the big rally the next day, we all had to hold it in the middle or else the top would have fallen off (laughing)!
We had a lot of fun – it was a great party. And one of the many reasons I’m sure there is a Cup Keeper now assigned by the NHL.
Did you get to celebrate with the Cup personally?
We didn’t have a schedule then to take it home for every player like they do today. If you were in Pittsburgh you got to take it, but I went back to Boston. There was no schedule like they do today, where there is a set schedule for every player.