Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after practice on Friday in Colorado, discussing his first game (and win) behind an NHL bench, the process of implementing his systems in practice, Jason Spezza’s role on the team going forward, and more.
What did you want to accomplish in today’s practice?
Keefe: We mainly wanted to continue with what we worked on yesterday. We didn’t want to expand, really, beyond that; the main thing being that we have to manage the players. As much as we want to do a lot of things and cover a lot of things, we have to manage the players’ energy levels. It has been a long grind for them to get to this point. We’ve got a big game tomorrow again. We’ll have to manage that. I liked how we got some things done.
Something as simple as puck support seemed so evident last night and how it impacted your breakout and a bunch of other things. Is that a minor adjustment moving forward here in the time you’ve had with this hockey club?
Keefe: The big thing was just trying to be a little more purposeful when we had the puck. In terms of the support and those kinds of things, that’s on the players. They’ve just found their way. They’ve got good instincts. We just kind of gave them some things we wanted them to do, and they just took over from there. That’s what we thought would be the case. I was very happy with how that worked out.
How important is it to get Tyson Barrie back up to speed and feeling confident within the group?
Keefe: He’s an important part of the group. He is a great player. When it hasn’t worked out for him to this point, that holds the team back. The team is capable of more when he is playing at his best. He is an important guy, so we want to make sure we can get him going. Yesterday was a positive step in that direction.
With the way you didn’t have practice time, how much did it help last night that you had guys that had played for you in a game situation picking up what you were trying to do?
Keefe: That would help, definitely. They would recognize more of the language and the things we were talking about. It also just helped me walking into the room, both in the faces that I know very well and even the ones that I don’t know as well, I know that they would talk and be more familiar in terms of what to expect. It just made things more comfortable that way, and then allowed everything else to fall into place for the day.
Are you anticipating any changes to the lineup tomorrow night?
Keefe: We are going to get Shore in the lineup tomorrow. He’s got connections here in Denver, so we felt it was important to get him into the lineup. More important than that, he had played well previous to yesterday. We thought had a good game yesterday as well, but Shore will take his spot and everything else will be the same.
The way the bench reacted to the way he scored — is that maybe an indication of how the players view him and how important he is on this team?
Keefe: Yeah, certainly. Not just that he is important, but that they care about him and they feel for what he was going through. You could see that on the bench. Like I said last night, that for me was my favourite part of the day. The stuff on the ice — we can tweak things and sort it out over time, but the energy and the spirit of the team are of the utmost importance. With that, we can do a lot of things. The players will come to the arena and they will be engaged and work for each other. They will be committed and disciplined in working towards the same goal. To see that reaction and energy not just for that, but for Engvall with his first NHL goal — a guy who hasn’t been here for very long — it shows that we have got good people who are in this for the right reason.
With so much going on in the next days and weeks, how much do you lean on the leadership group?
Keefe: That is a big part of it. The guys I spoke with yesterday, I made it aware that I was going to be leaning on them to reinforce the message. I didn’t have the time to spend as much time with them as a unit and as a group, but I wanted them to reinforce the message and I made sure to check in with them. I was very fortunate to spend a good chunk of time with Tavares and Mitch Marner also. They were with me on my trip to come out here to Phoenix. I was able to talk to them and spend time on the plane and get a lot of things organized there. That helped me get a good start.
You’ve sort of developed your style of game you’d like to see played. Are their historic teams and coaches you have been influenced by the most?
Keefe: Not particularly. The way that I’ve coached has kind of evolved through my relationship with Kyle and the types of teams that we had. When I arrived in Sault Ste. Marie, I arrived with an open mind and not so much a philosophy. In fact, I learned pretty quickly that I didn’t know a whole lot and I had to get myself up to speed and figure all of that out. Through Kyle’s vision, it got me to kind of look to see how we can make this work on the ice and make it be successful and being able to build upon that.
I draw a lot from other sports, frankly — soccer and basketball, especially. In terms of how those things go, I think there is a lot of opportunities to learn how our game could benefit from that. I spend time on that and really just kind of watch a lot of hockey and try to think about what might be possible.
You played for a lot of iconic figures — Bert Templeton, Tortorella as well. Maybe you take a little something from them?
Keefe: Certainly. Of course, with Torts specifically, when I started coaching, he was kind of the foundation for me. When I think back on the coaches I played for, I was very fortunate to be a part of the Tampa organization at a time when they were looking to rebuild and find an identity and grow. There was a coaching change at that time when I was playing there and Torts took over the team. Year over year, you saw the progress and the team grow. I wasn’t there for the Stanley Cup, but it makes sense to me why that happened, being there through that growth. Seeing how the players grew under his guidance really helped me get a start in coaching n terms of what I wanted to be able to accomplish.
Jason Spezza has gone from being a healthy scratch to being a big contributor. Where do you see him fitting in?
Keefe: I think he has a skill set that fits the way we want to play. That, I think, sets him up for success. That will help his cause greatly — just the energy he has and his perspective. Yesterday on the bench, he was good a couple of times. I was a little slow on my line changes, but he was on the ball and he covered for me. Just little things like that. I can tell that he brings value to the group and that is important for us.
He was calling out changes?
Keefe: No, he didn’t call out changes. A guy changed before I called the next line and he was the next guy. He took care of me that way. That was my thing I wanted to get better at. I was a little slow at times. The AHL guys grind out their shifts a little bit longer, but here the guys are pretty good and diligent with their shift length. That caught me off guard, so I’ll be better tomorrow.