Image via Wikipedia Matty Duchene – Haliburton Hurricane
Terrance Gavan – Voice Sports
I turned to editor Stephen Patrick a while back on one of my haphazard drive-by’s to the subterranean depths of the Voice offices.
“This. Is. Crap.” I said, measuring my words very carefully.
The cause of my chagrin?
Colorado Coach Joe Sacco’s benching of Haliburton’s Matt Duchene for the duration of the second period in a 3-1 loss to Vancouver back on Nov 5.
We know the story.
Sacco got pissed and simply didn’t play him during the second frame.
Here’s what Sacco said to the press after the game.
“The message was: Listen, I’m going to play the guys that I think give us the best chance to win during the course of a game,” said Sacco. “And I felt at that time, he wasn’t one of those players.
“That’s why he wasn’t playing at the time. He’s got to look after the puck better than he has, especially coming into the blue line. He’s turning over the puck too much. That gets contagious, it gets infectious, and you don’t want to let that happen.”
My problem was not with the remarks, nor was it with Sacco’s blunt assessment of one of his top players.
Perfectly kosher for a coach to criticize a player.
I draw the line at the public pillaging.
What did he say to the press in the heat of the moment that could not have waited for a calm and rational airing in the comfort zone of a man-to-man in the dressing room?
Matt Duchene is 19.
He’s a studious young man.
Smart as a whip.
This is not the type of player – my opinion – that needs to be vilified via third party passive aggression.
I’m assuming that Sacco had a heart-to-heart sit down after the fact.
I am sure that captain Adam Foote – who happens to be Duchene’s landlord – was there for the young man to place it all in its proper perspective.
At the time none of that mattered to me.
I was miffed because it’s a cheap ploy.
Like I told Editor Patrick that day, it’s lazy.
It’s coaching redux.
Because it’s win-win.
For the coach.
If the kid responds positively Joe Sacco is a genius.
“See,” the pundits will say. Äll Duchene needed was a swift kick in the beee-hind.”
If the kid has a string of bad games – he’s branded as a sulk.
Don’t believe me?
Just follow the travails of another Haliburton prospect Cody Hodgson.
I’ve listened to several journalists from Winnipeg, – where Hodgson is playing right now with the Manitoba Moose of the AHL – who have called Hodgson, “a bit of a sulk,” a “diva,” and “Little Lord Fauntleroy.”
I hung up on one, told the other we’d talk at the Grey Cup”, and sputtered my favorite expletive at the other.
Because you see. I ascertained that not one of them had talked to the kid. And only one had been to a Moose game this season.
Welcome to the blogisphere.
That’s the state of street cred in pro sports today.
So yes, I question Sacco’s tactics with Duchene.
Of course Duchene responded positively, went on a bit of a scoring spree.
Of course he is. Like we said, the public flogging ploy works, or it will until Duchene assumes a franchise mantle in Denver. Then tread carefully Joey.
Duchene, since that ersatz pep talk, got into his very first NHL fistfight with St Louis’s Vlad Sobotka – a minor aberration that earned him the most voluble cheers of the night from the home town faithful – in a Nov 15 6-3 win over the Blues. He popped for an assist in that game as well.
Last Friday (Nov 19) Duchene was laid out with a stick to the noggin courtesy of the Rangers’ Ruslan Fedotenko.
He went to the dressing room. For a minute.
He came back and promptly scored a goal and two assists and was named the game’s first star.
So what to say about the Sacco slur.
Does coach Joe get a pass for calling out his young star?
Duchene has three goals and 14 assists and sits fourth in Avs scoring.
In the Denver Post article on Nov 5, written by Mark Kiszla, Ducehene was forthright in his assessment regarding Sacco’s remarks and the benching. “I was obviously ticked off at myself and the situation,” Duchene said. “If you can get better, you get better. So I’m going to try to get better.”
The Avs were 6-5-1 at the time.
Today, three weeks later, they are riding a remarkable string of victories, which has them on top of the Northwest Conference at 12-5-1.
Two points ahead of mighty Vancouver.
I’m hoping that Coach Joe is soaking it up with humble dexterity.
And maybe a few props and schmoozie pops to the young nucleus of Avs who are punching well over their weight this season.
Just a thought Joe.