Habscheid keeps 'em loose
Team Canada coach can draw on experience as joker
By ED WILLES
The Vancouver Province
The Canadian Press
Dave King says it's impossible to anticipate the career path of your average teenage hockey player, but he did know one thing about Marc Habscheid.
If an expertise with whoopee cushions and joy buzzers was a necessary skill for all coaches then, yes, it was clear Habscheid would step behind the bench when his playing days were over.
"Humour is the lubricant of the dressing room and Marc had an uncanny sense of knowing when it was time to get a laugh," says King, the Columbus Blue Jackets' head coach and a mentor to the man who's led Team Canada to a 4-0 mark at the World Junior Championship.
"He was always the last to leave the dressing room, but he had to be the last to leave. He was always planning his next prank. Shaving cream in the shoes. Liniment in the towels. You name it, he did it."
But, aside from Habscheid's Carrot Top routine, King noticed something else about the skilled centreman from Swift Current.
After every game, Habscheid would corner King and grill him about his positioning or his forecheck or some other matter of hockey minutae.
Habscheid, it seems, was always a student of the game. And, in the long run, that's helped him more than his ability to deliver a practical joke.
"He was one of those guys who could replay the whole game in his mind," says King. "He'd ask me about something he did on this shift or that shift. I'd say, 'Geez, Marc you had 20 shifts. I don't remember them all.'
"When they're that young you can't say, 'This guy is going to be a coach,' but you recognize the guys who have the attributes to be a coach. He was one of them."
That much is now apparent.
Habscheid, who first connected with King as a player at the seminal '82 WJC, became the first graduate of the national team program to coach the Canadian juniors this year and, thus far, his appointment has been an unqualfied success.
While he avoids his own recognition the way Superman avoids Kryptonite -- "It's not about me. It's about the players," is a mantra he's repeated several times during the tournament -- the evidence of a first-class coaching job is everywhere with Team Canada.
Habscheid and his staff selected a team whose primary assets are the traditional Canadian virtues of speed, skill and tenacity. To date, they've also dominated opponents, outscoring Sweden, the Czech Republic, Germany and Finland 21-6 in the four round-robin games.
On special teams, meanwhile, Canada's penalty killers have yet to allow a goal in 29 minutes of shorthanded time and their power play, which has produced 12 goals, is clicking at an absurd 44.4 per cent rate.
Canada now awaits the winner of today's USA-Czech Republic quarterfinal. Finland meets Slovakia in today's other match with the winner facing Russia.
"We try to play an uptempo, speed game," said Habscheid. "To do that at this level you need length on your bench. That leads to a team with cohesion because everyone feels a part of it."
Now, co-incidentally, Habscheid's description of his current team is also an accurate characterization of the '82 team on which he played and King coached.
Among other things, the '82 juniors are remembered as the first Canadian entry at the WJC under the national team format. In the first seven years of the tournament, the Leaf had been represented largely by the Memorial Cup champions who were augmented with a few stars from their own league. That, in turn, led to a series of forgettable results including a seventh-place showing in '81.
The next year, Dennis McDonald of the CHA proposed the national team concept and, while it was met with resistance from the junor operators, it marked a turning point in Canada's development as a hockey nation. The young Nats zipped through the tournament, winning the gold with a 6-0-1 mark, highlighted by a 7-0 thrashing of the Russians.
Habscheid has remained close to King. He usually makes a pilgrimmage to King's cottage in Waskesiu, Sask., in the summer and this year, he called his former coach when he was given the reins to Team Canada.
"He called me and asked me for my thoughts," King said. "I just said, 'Be yourself. Remember how you played and remember how you were in the dressing room. Just be yourself and the kids will follow you.' "
Turns out King was right about that, too.