Thursday, February 16, 2012

DBJ's first Todd Richards practice: Wow.

It's been a while since the Dark Blue Toddler and I invaded Nationwide Arena for a Columbus Blue Jackets practice (I think our last practice was in early November!), so I figured that today was a great time to do the practice/Arena District lunch/lunchtime Ice Haus skate.  For those parents with time and interest, it's a terrific way to spend time with the little ones.

Colton Gillies.  Smiling.
As for the practice, I've been to one or two under Ken Hitchcock and a small handful with Scott Arniel (Don't think I hit any Claude Noel practices...).  This was our first Todd Richards practice, and it was the loudest, most boisterous, most energetic Blue Jackets practice I've ever seen.  By far the most positive.

Derrick Brassard.  Smiling.
For the hour-plus team practice, the players were having fun.  Not fun in the slacking off mode but instead more like "Work hard, play hard."

Today's maestro, Todd Richards.
Having a good time.
For that sea change in environment - especially in diametric opposition to the mausoleum practices of Scott Arniel - I can't help but offer credit to interim head coach Todd Richards.  Either I pegged Richards all wrong, or he learned every possible lesson from his experience as coach in Minnesota.  Perhaps both are correct.

Vinny Prospal and R.J. Umberger.
Tired, but smiling.
At the same time, I have to think that such a drastic change in the players' demeanor was the result of conscious decisions by the players to stop letting this season be the Bataan Death March of NHL seasons.  Perhaps there's a relief involved in being all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs...these guys surely know that they're playing out the string.  The pressure's off, so why not make the best of a lousy situation?  (Or maybe they were just blowing off steam with less than two weeks to go before the trade deadline?)

The closing drill saw the blue-shirts win,
which led to a huge team celebration....

...and the losing white team did sprints.  Tired, sure...but no complaining and no slacking.
(Rick Nash, Jeff Carter, Derek Dorsett and Fedor Tyutin all had maintenance days.)

We fans are pounded with a perception of Columbus as a place where players don't want to play.  The Jeff Carter scuttlebutt about not wanting to be with the Blue Jackets is all over. Rumors came out today suggesting that a trade with Los Angeles was scuttled because the LA player made it clear that they didn't want to be in Columbus.  Sure, those are rumors - but they shape perceptions...and that negative perception doesn't help the Blue Jackets right their sinking ship one bit.

At the same time, today's practice was demonstrable proof to me that the team is making a conscious effort to fix the things they can control, starting with changing the culture in the locker room and on the ice.  Wins and lossess will ultimately determine perceptions of a team, but today's experience, at least to me, showed that the team has figured out how to make it actually fun to come to work...and that's a huge start in the right direction.  Now, they have to get that message out the NHL, its players and our potential free agents and trade targets: "You'll like playing in Columbus."

Color me impressed.

2 comments:

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  2. totally agre...i went to a couple practices under Arniel and nobody seemed to be having any fun out there...I have only gone to a couple under Richards but you can def. tell the players are enjoying being out on the ice...at the couple i went to w/ Richards he opened and closed the practice w/ games and i never saw that under Arniel...also i never saw anybody stay out on the ice after practice under Arniel but at least half the guys stayed after the Richards practice and worked on shooting drills

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