Five Questions: Hartley set for challenges in Calgary
Bob Hartley has four championship rings with four different teams in four different leagues, including a Stanley Cup win as coach of Colorado.
Bob Hartley has four championship rings with four different teams in four different leagues.
Hartley's crowning achievement was winning the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 2001, but he also led Laval to a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League title in 1993, the Hershey Bears to the Calder Cup in 1997, and last season went to Switzerland to guide the Zurich Lions to the Swiss National League A title.
Oh yeah, Hartley also won four straight Northwest Division titles with the Avalanche from 1999-2002 and led the Atlanta Thrashers to the Southeast Division title and their lone playoff appearance in 2007.
Hartley is a winner, and his goal is to bring a championship to Calgary.
Before he gets that chance, he spoke with NHL.com to talk about why he went to Zurich and what he learned there, his coaching style, his desire to be back in the NHL and the challenge ahead of him with the Flames.
Here are Five Questions With … Bob Hartley:
What intrigued you about going to Zurich to coach in the Swiss league, and why did you end up there after sitting out a couple of seasons?
"After I was let go in Atlanta I had talked with three KHL teams and then I think I talked to three teams from the Swiss league, probably two or three teams from the German league and a few interviews with NHL teams. Obviously a coach is a coach and you always want to be behind the bench. I think our place is behind the bench, but I always felt I wanted to be in the right situation. I had a good job with RDS and TVA on French TV. I was working. I never quit coaching, because I was working in a private rink in Laval with all kinds of ages. I had a learn-to-skate class with 3- to 6-year-olds, and then I had some of the best bantams and midgets in Quebec working in our rink.
"But I had the choice to go to Fribourg in the Swiss league and Zurich. In Fribourg I had five or six players that played under me and it is a French city of about 40,000 compared to Zurich, where I knew no one and it was 800,000 up to 1.1 million with the surrounding areas. And it's a German area. But on top of wanting to know the difference of the game in Switzerland, the difference between the Swiss game and the North American game, the difference in mentalities of the players, I also wanted to live in a cultural test.
"I told my wife we can go to Fribourg, where everyone speaks French like us in a tiny city, a great rink, a great atmosphere, or go totally into the unknown. We might have a hard time to do grocery shopping and go to restaurants for the first few months, but we decided on Zurich. It would have been much easier to go Fribourg, but I wanted to test myself and my wife, and we both agreed that Zurich would be a good spot and it was."
Did your season in Zurich, coaching in the Swiss league, force you to change any of your principles or philosophies as a coach?
"No. We focused a lot on hard work and detail, to be accountable, and I can tell you those guys bought in. I have lots of respect for Swiss hockey players. It's an unbelievable league and the players, they are very dedicated and very committed. We had some cleaning up to do, but at the same time it was pretty easy to sell to those guys that if we wanted to be successful we would have to have a plan and it wouldn't be my plan or their plan, it would be a plan to suit the needs for everyone to better the organization.
"Every day I felt we were getting better and better, and talking to the players it was a huge adjustment. Many teams over there play man-on-man defense, so they are chasing all over the ice and running into each other. We were one of the very few teams that played a zone defense, where we were very aggressive but very disciplined with a structure for the five guys on the ice. They bought in from day one.
"The thing that I did is I started to work with them from day one so that we would play a North American game. I sat a long time when I took the job and said, 'Do I adjust to them and play the same style as 11 other teams, or it might be more challenging for my players at the start but when the other 11 teams play Zurich they would have to play a North American game?' We were 5-8 at the start of the season and combined with the playoff games and the final games of the regular season, if we count the last 25 games we were 19-6.
"Remember, in Switzerland it's unbelievable the level of respect that they have for the NHL, and I felt that, so I was trying to instill in our team that we would be playing and practicing like an NHL team. Those guys were really feeding on that. I felt like they were proud to say they were practicing like an NHL team. I said at the end of the year we could beat some NHL teams."
You've been labeled a taskmaster, something that your players in Zurich probably learned about. Darryl Sutter, another who has the taskmaster label, won the Stanley Cup last season. Does that give you hope and confidence that taskmaster coaches can still get it done at the highest level and communicate well with the young players of today?
"Forget the labels they give -- the No. 1 thing I want to be is I want to be a winner. I talked to every player on our team in Calgary twice over the phone and I met probably 15 of them before the work stoppage, and we have unbelievable winners. I don't think it's about me or my style or the players and what they've done over the last three years. If I was brought here, like any other coach going into an organization, you're brought in to fix something. That's why they get rid of us, right? They don't get rid of us when things go well. I'm coming in with my beliefs, my ways of doing things, but I know right now who I have on my team. They're going to learn about me, I'm going to learn more about them and that's the way it is.
"I always laugh when I hear I'm a tough coach because I don't believe I'm that tough. I believe I'm well-organized and I know what I need from everyone. I would be dishonest to the fans, the bosses and to my players if I would let someone take a shortcut. This isn't about players winning and coaches losing or coaches winning and players losing out -- it's you all win and you all lose and we're all representing a great community."
After a few years away from the NHL, did you ever lose hope that you wouldn't get another shot or did you think you would be back in the League at some point soon?
"The phone rang every year.
"I'm pretty confident and a lot of my friends over the years when I was on TV or radio, they would be with me and I'd get a phone call from a team and I'd say no. They would say, 'What's wrong with you? you're a coach and you're saying no to a great country or a great organization.' It was the timing, the situation, whatever was going on I was politely declining. I surprised lots of people very close to me because they were saying, 'What are you doing?' I said, 'I know I will coach but I want to get a situation that fits my values and fits my needs. That's why I went to Zurich.'
"Coaching NHL hockey, it's quite a privilege. I worked eight years in a factory and now I have nine years coaching the world's greatest hockey players, and I don't think you can shut the door on that. You see so many great coaches announce their retirement and a month later, two months later or two or three years later they're right back. For me, it's my drug. I don't smoke. I don't drink. But I know hockey is in my veins."
Describe the challenge you will have in Calgary when the lockout is over?
"I'm fully aware of the situation. The ownership, the president, the GM, they all touched on this and obviously for me it's a great challenge. My last Canadian job was in Cornwall in 1995-96. Since then I've been coaching in the United States or in Zurich last year, obviously. I was very fortunate to coach in Hershey, which has great tradition of excellence in the AHL. You go to Colorado, where nothing short of the Stanley Cup was acceptable. Then I was in Atlanta with a team that I knew I was basically going to school with. Now I'm going to a team that has missed the playoffs for three years.
"Calgary is a great Canadian market and our division is a tough one. I went to the players and asked for all kind of input of what needed to be done, what was their view of our team, our organization. I sent a questionnaire to all the players asking about themselves, the game, life in general. So I tried to get as much information that I could get my hands on so I would be ready.
"My goal and my challenge is to create a new culture and new identity. That's nothing negative to people that came before me, I'm the guy that has the mandate from ownership and when you come in you come in with your beliefs, your experiences and you mesh this with the people on your team. I worked with Jay Feaster in Hershey, so I know the expectations and I know the way that my GM will work. Before we get on the ice my job is to create that new identity and that new culture, get the guys all the on the same page, make them believers.
"While there is not a ticket available, we are in the entertainment business of winning hockey games and they always remember you if you win. My organizations gave me six championships in five leagues and with the meetings I have had with the players I feel confident that we can turn it around. Our goal is not to be in the playoffs -- maybe that's step one -- but if you're not there to win the Stanley Cup you should leave your job to someone else."
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Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Senior Writer