There is nothing, and I mean nothing, that drives me crazier, in life or in sports, than the book.The book? What book?
Folks, if you are not familiar with ‘the book’, it is the accepted way of doing things, in any walk of life. The book is the way ‘they’ say things are supposed to get done. Who are ‘they’, you might ask?
And that, my friends, is exactly my point. ‘They’ are, by definition, other people. In other words, use other people’s procedures and philosophies to make your decisions. Why would you do that? Are you ‘they’, or are you ‘you’?
I understand that in life, and particularly in sports, some decisions are automatic. In baseball, a manager is going to almost always pinch hit for the starting pitcher in the ninth inning of a game in which his team is trailing. In hockey, a coach will always remove the goaltender in the waning minutes of a big game in which his team trails by one goal. In football, the coach has his quarterback take a knee to run out the clock in a game in which his team is ahead. I get it. The book makes sense a large percentage of the time.
However, as the decisions turn from black and white to gray, the pages of the book fade to invisible ink as well, in Jolly’s world. Why? Simple, my dear Watson. If one’s job hangs in the balance of the results of his or her decisions, they might as well be his or hers, not ‘theirs’. The book is the safe way to do things, to avoid criticism, to follow and not to lead. Sometimes it is the right way, but many times it is not. Since most people in life are afraid to fail more so than ready to accept risk and go for it, the book is a way to let other people think or react for themselves.
There are reasons that certain people are hired to coach or manage certain teams, and they have nothing to do with ‘the book’ in any sport. I can teach the book of football to a five year old, or a disinterested housewife, or the Finnish Ambassador to the United Nations (and I apologize if you are reading this, Mr. or Mrs. Ambassador, and are a football fan). But what these people do not have is feel, the instinctive knack of making a decision based on one’s gut.
Who are my players? What are their strengths? Are they hot, or cold? Is there a matchup to be exploited in this situation? Do I sense that momentum is swaying in either direction? Is my opponent tired, or injured, or vulnerable? Feel is like chemistry or momentum. They are words that are not easy to define by Webster’s, but very definable by the experienced gut of a secure leader.
What do I mean by a secure leader? Again, easy. This is a person that does not care what you, I, the fans, or anyone else thinks about whatever decision he or she makes. I make a living critiquing these decisions, yet I respect a person that could not care less what I think. Do you get that? You should, because it is not your neck on the line if the move does not work. Wins, losses, and championships are the only critiques great leaders need in sports, and with that we come to Peter Laviolette.
Peter Laviolette is a taskmaster, a great leader, and a born winner. He is courteous with his time, humble to all around him, and respectful of the opinions of others. He is all of these before and after the game. During the game, he relies on experience and savvy to get the job done, not what anyone else would do in that situation. The other evening, in game 7 in Boston, he called a timeout with his team down 3-0 in the first period.
Remember, in hockey a team only gets one timeout per game, and it is a precious chance to rest players or impart strategy. Now, the timing of this timeout was rather obvious, but the message was not. He told his team to get one goal. He didn’t go crazy, he had enough respect for his players to know that going berserk could not highlight the moment any more than the scoreboard already was.
Peter also knew that Rome was not built in a day, and that hat tricks cannot be scored with one shot. Calm down, team, get one back, and then we’ll get another, and another. Panic was replaced by a sense of purpose, and you saw what happened. Of course, players have to make these things happen, but their mood is set by the coach. In a game 7, the last thing the Flyers needed was a shaken bunch of guys in a hostile arena.
In game 1 of the Montreal series, Laviolette again called a timeout. In the second period. With his team leading 4-0. Huh? Would ‘the book’ tell a coach to do that? Well, the Flyers had iced the puck, and his gut told him that yeah, this game might be nearly in the bag, but that a bigger picture was in front of his men. If 4-0 becomes 4-1, if a big lead causes malaise, then the proverbial skate is off the throat of the Canadiens, and this could breathe life into Montreal either now or later in the series.
No, this timeout was about momentum, and keeping that skate on the throat, with games down the road in mind. Never let up was the message. In the third period, 4-0 became 5-0 and 6-0, and Uncle Mo stayed with the Orange and Black.
Is Danny Briere a winger? Well, Peter Laviolette moved him to center, and look what happened. A hunch? Maybe. Danny has played plenty of center. I think that Laviolette felt that sometimes shifting the apple cart just might shift the apples, and Briere is going Briserk this postseason.
Michael Leighton has been fantastic for the Flyers this season. Who? The book said that he was a backup, and a tenuous one at that. Yeah, the Michael Leighton that Laviolette believed in down Carolina way. No one else did, but he did, and with a bit of magic from goaltending coach Jeff Reese, looky here, as some might say.
I could go on and on about optional skates, practice, and other things Laviolette does his way. All good coaches or managers do.
Jim Fregosi went by the book in 1993, took out a hot Roger Mason, brought in David West, and, well, nevermind. Roger Mason was a ham and egger, but the ham and eggs tasted mighty good that day.
Some coaches go by ‘the book’ and do not foul a three point shooter in the final seconds of a game that his or her team leads by three. Many have the book handed to them as a going away present when they get fired, as well. Be secure, trust your instincts, and be ready to live with the results. Want a book? Get a kindle.
Will the Flyers win The Stanley Cup? That, my friends, will be answered very soon. However, Peter Laviolette will not find the keys to that answer, or at least the best ways to potentially make it happen, at Barnes and Noble. He, thankfully, has lost the book.