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A Conversation With Peoria Riverman Head Coach Dave Baseggio

By Brian WeidlerÂ

This interview was originally published in three parts, in the January 2, January 4, and January 13, 2007 editions of "St. Louis Game Time." It is presented here in its entirety; portions highlighted in red are exclusive to "Future 'Notes," and were not part of the "Game Time" series due to space limitations.

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Game Time: What caused you to leave a situation in Bridgeport, where you had been for several years, to come to an organization that hasn't been highly regarded for its prospects at this level?

Baseggio: "I was in Bridgeport for five years, and they had a big overhaul of management last year, and I was a casualty of war. So it wasn't by choice (that I left Bridgeport), but everything happens for a reason, and I couldn't be happier right now, being with the Blues. I'm excited about the whole situation, working for this organization."

Game Time: Can you contrast the Islanders' organization at Bridgeport with the Blues' organization here? What is each organization doing right in regards to their prospect development, and what, if anything, do you see as needing improvement?

Baseggio: "Just to focus on the Blues, I think the communication is excellent throughout this organization; from top to bottom, it's outstanding. They care, and they believe in developing a winning environment. You know, losing every night doesn't develop players. You have to learn how to win, and that's something I believe in too.

"I think, with the new ownership and management, they're (committed to) keeping their kids, and they're starting to get returns from these past few drafts. Players are starting to come through, and I think more and more will be coming through. And that excites me, to have a lot of good young players coming through here to develop themselves.

"I think they know that it's going to take a little time to rebuild up there; with the new CBA and the way things are, you have to develop your own talent. It's imperative to develop your own talent; that's the difference between winning and losing."

Game Time: What contact, if any, have you had with Andy Murray in St. Louis?

Baseggio: "So far, just by telephone until tonight. He's coming to the game with John (Davidson). I've heard nothing but great things about him, and obviously, with the way the Blues have been playing lately, he's been doing a great job. So I'm looking forward to meeting him in person; it's been great talking to him on the phone. He loves to talk hockey."

Game Time: How do you think your coaching style meshes with his, and do you think that the game you're teaching the players here is compatible with what kind of hockey Murray will expect from these guys in St. Louis?

Baseggio: "I really don't know much about Andy's coaching philosophy and style. I do know he's going to want the guys to compete when they go up there, and just do a lot of the little things that help a team win. I know he's not looking for a guy to come up there from our team right now and score 50 goals; that's just not going to happen right now. He wants guys who are going to go up there and be responsible and hard-working.

"But, the more I get to know Andy and know about his philosophies and systems, I'll know what he's looking for. We haven't had much time to sit down and talk, with our schedules and the holidays, but hopefully within the next couple of weeks I'm going to take a ride to St. Louis and sit down with him, have some dinner, and talk hockey."

Game Time: The guy you just sent up there, David Backes, is a good example of what the kids can expect to have asked of them up there. He's working hard, driving the net, and he's had some success early on with a couple of points. They've had nothing but good things to say about him up there.

Baseggio: "David's a quality kid; he worked hard down here, and he's obviously making the most of his opportunity. Again, it's as you said, he's doing the little things; he's competing, he's going to the net, he's getting pucks out, he's feeding pucks in front, he's physical. It's not brain surgery what he's doing, but he's learning to do it on a consistent basis.

"It might even be easier for him to develop up there, because he's such a smart player. It's less 'scrambly' up there, and he's probably better suited for that kind of environment, a more cerebral game."

Game Time: Do you expect to see him back?

Baseggio: "Not any time soon. I know he's really settling in; watching the third period on our bus ride home last night, he's still out there with a minute-and-a-half left in the game. So that means he's doing something right, and I don't know how long Ryan Johnson is going to be out, so... I know Dallas Drake is ready to come back, but I don't foresee (Backes returning to Peoria) in the next little bit."

Game Time: Let's talk about your coaching style a little bit. Judging by your scoring records, you were an offensive-minded defenseman in college, and your 2003-04 team in Bridgeport set AHL marks on defense for fewest goals allowed, lowest team GAA, and best penalty-killing percentage. Would it be fair to say that your coaching style is geared towards defense first, and do you think that had any bearing on the Blues picking you to come here, what with as many defense prospects as the Blues have coming through the system?

Baseggio: I don't know if that had anything to do with (coming to Peoria). The year that Bridgeport set all those defensive records, that was the old rules; we had a pretty good team, but we had a pretty veteran defense too. It's still not easy to do, but it's easier to do (with veterans).

"I think the game has changed. I think the game has become more of a speed and skating game, and I believe in attacking and pressuring the puck, pressuring the other team. When you have the puck, pressure them with speed , pressure them with the puck, and when you don't have it, try and get it back as quickly as you can and as early as you can. I do believe in keeping the speed to the outside defensively, and keeping the shots coming from the outside.

"But as far as 'defense first,' yeah, you have to play well in your own end, and that's something we work at on a daily basis here, our coverage and our responsibilities. But I want to play in the other team's end as much as possible. I call it 'zone time.' If we spend 'zone time' in the other team's end, obviously we have a better chance of scoring. So I guess, yeah, there's a little 'defense first (philosophy),' but I love to attack and I love to skate."

Game Time: What can Blues' fans expect out of Dave Baseggio-coached players when they come to St. Louis, and what can Blues' fans expect to see from a Dave Baseggio team when they come up here to see the future in action?

Baseggio: "I just hope that they'll see, like with Backes, guys doing the little things. I call them little things, but I also call them winning things. A guy blocks some shots, a guy gets the puck deep instead of turning the puck over and the other team going the other way; those things are all conducive to winning hockey. Backchecking, back pressure; little things like that. Like I said, I call them winning things. I like to think that these guys are always learning, everything from line changes to length of shifts. Those are all things that I'm constantly harping on, because that's conducive to winning, to developing winning habits.

"As far as down here, I'm fortunate that the Blues have given me, have given us, a good group of kids down here, and good core leadership. On a nightly basis, obviously, it's a tough thing to do, but these guys compete. Aaron Mackenzie, my captain, is a great example. Guys like (Trent) Whitfield, (Mike) Glumac, (Mike) Stuart, (Rocky) Thompson, (Jon) DiSalvatore... they come to play, and they're really a great, great influence on the younger kids coming in. These guys, in practice, when the whistle blows, they go 110 percent. It creates a great environment.

"When you come to watch a game, you'll get the effort every night. I know that the execution is going to be there every night; that's just the way it is over an 80-game season. But as long as the effort is there..."

Game Time: You've been a big part of several championship-caliber teams, at many different levels of hockey. How does this year's Rivermen team stack up against some of those teams, and if there's some element missing in the current lineup, do you see that role being filled by one or more of the players you might have coming in the near future?

Baseggio: "I really don't know much about the prospects coming in; I've seen the names, I know the hype is there. But I really like this group as it is right now. The only thing is, we don't really have a lot of offense from our blue line, but I wouldn't call it so much a weakness because it's a good group of defensemen. I'll take these guys any day. I think we're in the top two or three in shots against in the league; we don't give up much. They move the puck, they get it up ice, so they're effective in that way.

"We don't score a lot of goals, we really don't, but we spread it out fairly well. I like this group of players; if you want to compare it to a playoff team, I think this team is playoff-ready. We play a lot of close games, we don't score a lot of goals, we grind things out. We're tough to play against when we're going. We've got some good size.

"Obviously, goaltending is key. Marek Schwarz, (Chris) Beckford-Tseu, (Jason) Bacashihua when he was here... I could count on two fingers the nights when we've had just average goaltending so far this year. And that's pretty good, when goaltending gives you a chance to win every night.

"It's tough to compare teams, but I like the makeup of this team when I look around at the rest of the league. I think this is a good quality group that really cares about each other and likes each other; they really do a lot of things together off the ice. Chemistry is something I can't teach; it just happens, and it's so important."

Game Time: I'm going to have some more in-depth questions about some of the players here, but what I'm going to do now is throw some names at you and ask you to describe, in ten words or less, your first and lasting impressions of these guys, starting with Zack FitzGerald.

Baseggio: "Big, strong, character type of defenseman."

Game Time: Aaron Mackenzie:

Baseggio: "Heart and soul."

Game Time: Doug Lynch

Baseggio: "Needs to pick up the pace, and speed, a little bit; good hard-working solid citizen."

Game Time: Roman Pola'k

Baseggio: "NHL prospect written all over him. He's going to be a solid defenseman."

Game Time: Michal Birner

Baseggio: "Great speed, skill, hard worker. Wants to be a player"

Game Time: Jon DiSalvatore

Baseggio: "Very solid, offensively solid; a premier player in the American League."

Game Time: Peter Sejna

Baseggio: "Skilled, creative, hard-working, gifted."

Game Time: Mike Glumac

Baseggio: "Another heart and soul guy. Can beat you with skill, beat you with his fists, or beat you with the body."

Game Time: D.J. King

Baseggio: "Toughest kid in the AHL."

Game Time: Charles Linglet

Baseggio: "Outstanding potential, good hands, great skill set."

Game Time: Konstantin Zakharov

Baseggio: "Young, still maturing, good skills. A good prospect."

Game Time: Jason Bacashihua

Baseggio: "Loads of talent. Needs to establish himself."

Game Time: Chris Beckford-Tseu

Baseggio: "Tons of potential. Won a championship last year in Alaska. He's got a lot of good qualities."

Game Time: Marek Schwarz

Baseggio: "Great kid, good attitude. Athletic and hard-working."

Game Time: I've seen some people compare him to a young Dominik Hasek. Do you think that's a valid comparison?

Baseggio: "I think Schwarz (plays) more of a butterfly (style); Hasek, I don't know what Hasek('s style) is. Schwarz is more controlled."

Game Time: I apologize in advance if this is a sore spot, but comment, if you will, on the Magnus Kahnberg situation.

Baseggio: "It's not a sore spot with me. It's a shame. I think Magnus is a good player. He had a good camp in St. Louis, and they wanted him to come down here, and he just didn't want to be in the minors. He wanted to go back home, his girlfriend was homesick, and he just never played to his potential down here. It was frustrating at times, for me and for him, but I can't beg anybody to be here and to play. If they want to play in the NHL, they have to go through it themselves, and he wanted to go home. Best of luck to him."

Game Time: One of the things that he said when he went back home was that the playing style here was kind of slow and static, and it wasn't what he was used to or how he wanted to play. Do you have any comment on that?

Baseggio: "Well, we're playing on a smaller (ice) surface here, so maybe he would see it that way. But if your heart and your head are not into something, you're not going to do it. How are you going to drive ahead if you don't really want to?"

Game Time: Comment also, if you will, on the decisions by Carl Söderberg and Alexei Shkotov to stay in Europe instead of reporting here. Do you think that this decision on their parts will have any negative effect on how they're accepted in Peoria if they do report here in the future?

Baseggio: "I don't think so. Every player's decision, that's between them and the Blues. I coach what I have; I can't coach what I don't have. So it's their choice. Whether it's right or wrong, I really don't put much thought or effort into that. It's something I can't control, so I don't.

"If they're here, I don't think there'll be any ill will. If they're here to play, then that's what we want them to do. But if they don't want to be here, I can't control that, and I can't coach a player that's not here.

Game Time: Did you get a chance to meet or talk with either of those guys?

Baseggio: "Shkotov, no. Söderberg, at rookie camp. Good kid, good prospect. A good player."

Game Time: And he's been playing well over in Sweden...

Baseggio: "Yeah, he's playing for (former Canadian National Team coach) Dave King, so that's a good positive. Like I said, it's none of my business; it's a player that's not here, so that's something for the Blues to worry about."

Game Time: We talked a little bit about the goaltending earlier. Two of your goalies have played in the NHL, and the other has been absolutely dominant at the level just below this one. Do you consider goaltending a strength of this team? What do you see as each goalie's individual upside?

Baseggio: "Absolutely, it's a big strength. Schwarz has a great demeanor and work ethic. His quickness... he makes some saves where you can't believe he got to the shot. He has that quiet confidence in the net, and he knows how to win hockey games.

"Beckford-Tseu is bigger, and not as quick as Marek, but he covers more net. He's a good, hard-working kid with a good skill set, and you're right... he's dominated down below, and he's played well for us here this year, too. I think he's ready to take the next step."

Game Time: As a former pro defenseman yourself, give me your impression of Jeff Woywitka. He's always going to be "one of the guys who was traded for Chris Pronger," and those are big skates to fill. He may never be a Chris Pronger type of player, but does he have, inside, what it takes to live up to that kind of pressure?

Baseggio: I think so. I think it (the inevitable comparison) is unfair; it's not Jeff's fault that he was traded for Chris Pronger. Chris Pronger's an elite player; he's one of the best defensemen to ever play the game. Jeff went up this year and played very well for the Blues, and he won a championship playing for Brent Sutter in Red Deer. He was a first-round draft pick, and he's been dealt a couple of times, but he's got some talent, and he's played really well for us this year. I think he's going to be a pretty good NHL defenseman."

Game Time: There were a couple of games earlier this year with Chicago where you guys got lit up, and give up a large number of goals. Did Woywitka personally get a big minus in those games, and has he been pretty much even the rest of the way? Because he's got a high minus total right now...

Baseggio: Well, he and (Mike) Stuart, in the last two or three weeks, have gotten hit hard with the minuses for some reason. But no, it didn't happen in one game, just a bit here and a bit there. I know that stat is going to jump out at you for those two guys; it's not alarming for me yet, but you notice it. It's not characteristic of how they've played."

Game Time: That was going to be my next question. A lot of people have heard reports that Woywitka's one of the best defensemen you have down here, but they'll see that stat, and it's hard to justify those reports.

Baseggio: "I think Jeff has been on for maybe three or four empty-net goals against, too, so that doesn't help. Or he's been out at the end of a penalty kill, when our guy has just come back on, and a goal against is an even-strength goal. Little things like that. But it (the plus/minus) is not a true indication of how he's played."

Game Time: Roman Pola'k had an impressive training camp with the Blues, and has seen some NHL time as a first-year pro this season. He's also seemed to find a little offense in his game lately. What do you see as his long-term role in the NHL?

Baseggio: "Oh, he has a shot at being a top four in the NHL. He's so big, and so strong, and moves so well. I don't know if he ever gets beat one-on-one. He's got a great stick, great mobility for a big guy, and when he goes into a one-on-one battle in the corner, he comes out with the puck a lot of the time. That's pretty impressive for a young kid.

"He's got a cannon of a shot, and he's learning how to use it and when to use it. Since he's been reassigned to us, I don't know what our record has been, but it's been a lot better with him in the lineup. He adds that much as a twenty-year-old, and that's pretty impressive."

Game Time: How's his English, and how's he making the adjustment, coming back to North America?

Baseggio: "Oh, he's great. He's really a funny kid when you get to know him. From what I heard, while he was in St. Louis, he started to come out of his shell a little bit. His English is fine; he understands everything that's going on, and he played a year in the Western League, so that probably helped him acclimate a little more. He's a good kid."

Game Time: We talked a little bit earlier about Zack FitzGerald and D.J. King. Do (they) have a role to play in today's NHL, beyond that of the big, strong enforcer?

Baseggio: "D.J. King really has some pretty good skills, and when he gets going, he can skate. D.J. just needs that little bit of quickness, and he can be a regular player. D.J., when he's skating hard and finishing checks, is an effective player. To add the dimension that he can drop the gloves is great, but obviously, as you've seen, most other teams don't even have that player. You can't dress a guy and give him two minutes a night and have him drop the gloves, any more. That's just not the way the game is played.

"I think if D.J. continues to work hard on his skating and his skill set down here, he has a chance to play in the NHL on a regular basis. And Zack FitzGerald is the same way.

"Unfortunately for Zack, last year he was injured for most of the year, and this year has been the same thing. He's just come back in the last little bit. If we can keep him healthy, I think we'll get a better indication of Zack's potential."

Game Time: Is there much more for Peter Sejna to accomplish at this level? What does he have to do yet in order to earn a spot on an NHL roster for the long haul?

Baseggio: "I saw Peter play a few times in the last few years, when he was in Worcester and here. He's been in the Blues' organization for a few years now, and what I'd hear from everyone is (about) his consistency level; when Peter plays, he's got to keep up that consistency level. And he's done that of late. He's playing real well, and his points show that. He's really put up some numbers.

"When Peter's skating and moving, he's very, very effective. He needs to do that on a consistent basis, and he has been lately."

Game Time: In his first pro game, right out of college he scored a highlight-reel goal against a future Hall-of-Famer. Do you think that maybe set the bar for him a little higher than it should have been?

Baseggio: "It very well could have. He won the Hobey (Baker Award), which comes with expectations, and I'm sure he signed for a good chunk of change, which adds more expectations. Maybe the expectations were higher than they should have been, but I wasn't around for that, so I really don't want to go there. But I think Peter has NHL skills, and with the new rules, he has a chance to go up there and play at that level."

Game Time: Last season, there was some miscommunication, and a bit of a falling out between Zakharov and the Blues. He came down here, didn't play, went to Alaska, didn't play, and ended up going back home. People had sort of written him off as a prospect for the Blues. What does it say to you that he's come back here for another kick at the can, and how's he been playing?

Baseggio: "He's actually been playing pretty well, but he didn't play a lot the other night. Zak's a young kid, and people forget that. He's only 21 years old. He came over, and language was an issue, but Zak is maturing, and his game is maturing. His biggest problem early in the year was his play away from the puck and understanding the system, where to go and when to do it, and when not to do it.

"To his credit, he came to camp, and I told him, 'I don't care what happened in the past. It's a clean slate.' And he's worked hard, and he's done a pretty good job."

Game Time: You mentioned his maturity. He did an interview here with Dave Eminian a little while ago, and it sounded like he was nothing but cognizant of what he has to do in order to earn a spot in the NHL. Would you say that's a fair assessment?

Baseggio: "Yeah, as I said, he's maturing and he's starting to understand not only his role, but just life in general a little bit more, what it takes. He's done a good job, and I think the best is yet to come with him."

Game Time: Michal Birner was touted as a hard-working, gritty kid with a good work ethic when he was drafted by the Blues in 2004. Would it be fair to say that he's lived up to that description, and what do you see as his role in the NHL -- scorer, checker, both?

Baseggio: "He's absolutely lived up to that description. Michal, he wants to be a player. He works so hard; he works hard off the ice, and he works hard in practice. He's got great skills, he's fast. Unfortunately, he had some wrist problems and has missed a good chuck of the season. I think he's only played about twenty games by now, maybe less. So we're still trying to figure out what Michal is as a player, but I think he has a chance to be both a scorer and checker in the NHL.

"He has great skill, and he's showed it here, he shows it in practice. And again, he's only 21 years old; once we get him 'flatlined' as far as his health, he'll determine himself what kind of player he's going to be, and I think the sky's the limit for him"

Game Time: Mike Glumac has had a couple of shots at sticking with the Blues, and each time he was sent back. He's pretty popular with the fans in St. Louis, and he seems to have the hands to be at least a supplemental scorer at the NHL level. Do you see him as a full-time NHL player in the near future?

Baseggio: "Yes, I do. As I said earlier about Mike, he can beat you in a lot of ways. Last night (December 26th vs. Grand Rapids) he was physical, and he scored a goal and had one or two assists. He's not afraid to drop the gloves, and if he's not scoring some night, he can beat you in other ways. That's such a valuable asset to have."

Game Time: Let's talk a little about last night, and the power play. You guys got four goals on the power play last night; is there anything special that you're doing to be that successful on the power play, because your power play has been in the top half of the AHL all year, and the Blues' power play has been a little "iffy."

Baseggio: "Well, we had a tough start; in our first twelve games we were one-for-24 or something like that. But I have a little sheet in my office about the principles of the power play that I try to work from. It's movement, it's supporting the puck, it's shots, it's traffic... just certain principles. You watch other teams, and how they kill penalties, and that'll give you a 'heads-up' about what you need to do.

"But the players on the ice, they've done a great job. Again, you can't stand still any more; you have to move. I really stress a lot of movement, with the puck and without the puck. Last night, we had two five-on-threes, and that helps, but the guys are doing a good job of getting pucks to the net."

Game Time: The last player I'd like to talk to you about is Charles Linglet. He's 24 years old, got good size, and apparently can skate and score. Is he on the Blues' radar screen that you know of, and if so, what do you see as his role in the NHL?

Baseggio: "Oh, he's definitely on the Blues radar (NOTE: Linglet was signed to an NHL contract by the Blues that night, shortly after this interview). Like I said earlier, he's got outstanding hands. He knows how to score, and he has a nose for the net. He has 14 goals in 25 games this year, and last night he had a couple of open nets that he just didn't bury, which is uncharacteristic for Charlie.

"He's a great kid, great demeanor; he just needs to work on his skating. When he's moving his feet, he's an effective player, but he needs to keep those feet going. He's been doing it on a consistent basis this year, and the results are indicative of that."