Craig Berube went undrafted over 30 years ago.
No NHL team took a shot on him, at least not initially. The Philadelphia Flyers signed him on March 19, 1986. During his first game three days later, he picked up two fighting majors, setting the tone for a career that lasted over 1,000 games.
After 17 years and five teams, Berube finished in the top ten in all time penalty minutes with 3,154. He’s a true badass, an animal before his team and one who couldn’t survive in today’s game. It’s a good thing head coaches are required to stand behind the players on the bench, because I still think Berube could beat the shit out of someone with ease.
20 years later, the Flyers gave him his first shot at head coaching, giving him full reign of the Philadelphia Phantoms of the AHL. When the Flyers reorganized their house, Berube found himself on the coaching staff. In 2013, he was given the head coaching job three games into the season, and took the Flyers to the playoffs. After a disappointing 33-31-18 finish in the 2014-15 season, Berube was fired.
A little over two years later, he was named the head coach of the Chicago Wolves, the affiliate for the St. Louis Blues. This past November, with a sinking ship, Berube was promoted when Doug Armstrong canned Mike Yeo. Expectations were about as high as when you walk into a gas station at 3 a.m. for coffee: slim to none chance at a quality finish.
We all know what happened next.
The Blues came streaking back, winning eleven in a row in January and February, clinching the third spot in the Central, and triumphing over the Winnipeg Jets and Dallas Stars to reach the Western Conference Finals.
In an interview this week, Armstrong said the search for a head coach was finished, and the guy behind the bench was the only candidate. You can expect to see a lot of Berube over the next few years, and I think the Blues made the right choice.
I didn’t always feel the way. I got a Joel Quenneville boner back when the Chicago Blackhawks fired him and the Blues were still in the dumps, but that always seemed like fantasy to me. A guy who took this team to a high place 20 years ago before getting canned, and now he would come back to be great again? Unlikely, but nice to think about.
The Blues needed Berube just like he needed them. The team was a second chance for the former enforcer, a chance to walk into a garden that wasn’t full of poisonous plants. The team needed a real hardcore bastard to smack some sense into them. Armstrong told NHL.com that Berube doesn’t look at these players as human beings, just adult hockey players. In a nutshell, he doesn’t baby them or wipe their ass every time something doesn’t fall into place. He tells them to man the fuck up and get with the program.
When a struggling Pat Maroon had to be scratched, it happened. When Robby Fabbri had to be benched, it happened. When Alex Steen had to go to the fourth line, it happened. When Jake Allen couldn’t cut it, he was a back-up right then and there. No bullshit. No waiting. That’s the Berube way. That’s how “The Chief” does it. Thank goodness.
Ken Hitchcock, whose firing cleared the path for Berube to take over in Philly 30 years ago, lost this team towards the end of his run. Yeo never really had control. Berube didn’t waste much time in putting his mark on this team. December wasn’t a smooth sail, but before January could end, his foot was planted in the ground. It hasn’t lifted yet.
That’s what made the hug at the end of Game 7 with the Stars so memorable. Berube opened up those bear arms and locked Maroon in it for a wonderful embrace. Two big savages sharing a tender moment after a long road that saw both of them being expendable at various points. Berube wasn’t expected to retain the job; Maroon wasn’t expected to last past the trade deadline. You’ll most likely see both in October.
You know what would be a nice touch? If they had their names imprinted on the Stanley Cup before puck drop this winter.
When examining the Berube story, don’t forget where he came from. He went undrafted. No one wanted him. The Flyers took a chance, but the Calahoo, Alberta, Canada native had to beat the shit out of a lot of people to stick around in the NHL. He had to possess great resolve to stick around in the coaching sector of the game to get another shot. Some guys may have gotten discouraged. Not Berube. Have you heard the way he says, “FUCK!?” He means every one that comes out of his mouth.
Craig Berube wasn’t supposed to be here, but here he is, up for a Stanley Cup Final potentially and for the Jack Adams award.
In the world of sports, you never know. Just ask the Blues head coach. The man for the job. The only man for the job.