In an interview earlier this week, St. Louis Blues head coach Craig Berube offered a firm yet fair assessment of Sammy Blais, a young Blues winger. Here’s what he had to say to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post Dispatch this week:
“He’s gotta play better and do things better,” Berube said Friday, following the team’s optional skate at Enterprise Center. “He’s got to be structurally better. He needs to play better.”
It’s just the latest round of no mercy leadership from the guy who helped turned a flailing team into a Stanley Cup winner and repeat contender. From the minute he stepped into the role, Berube has cut the proverbial shit with how he talks about players to the media. He doesn’t treat them with kid gloves or think of them as rebellious teenagers. They are adult, highly paid professional hockey players. I think they can handle a little shade.
It’s not like he’s throwing players under the bus for losses. He didn’t say Blais’ lackluster play cost them a win or anything. He was asked about a player and responded candidly. I love candor from a head coach. We didn’t get much of it from Mike Yeo. He was too much of a big brother to the team, going from assistant coach aka “I’m going to be head coach soon” to actual head coach in a time frame that didn’t allow him to build a foundation of respect with the team. That or he was simply too soft.
One look at Berube plants the seed in the ground that he’s the opposite of soft. There are nights where I think he can climb on the ice and beat the shit out of three players at once, and take care of their coaching staff later. His chest starts to puff out a bit, the forehead gets a little extra shiny, and he starts shouting at refs ... and hockey life in general. He holds nothing back, even if his sometimes dour demeanor and way of speaking would lead you to believe he’s not mad as hell.
I think it was that particularly sound kick in the ass that really helped this team get their shit together last season, and is helping them immensely during a season where they have lost important players all year long. A strong head coach can do wonders for a team climbing over constant adversity in a long 82 game season that could stretch to over 100 games if you count preseason and playoffs.
You never doubt Berube’s effect and leadership during games or during a press conference. He will speak off the cuff and then other times, he seems to choose his words wisely. He carries the easy to spot disdain that Ken Hitchcock had on the bench and during pressers, but with a higher level of toughness and “been there, done that” mentality. You bet your ass it helps that he racked up more penalty minutes during his career than most players.
Berube’s impact and reputation was set in stone last May/June when he gave those fiery pregame pep talks to the team in the locker room before puck drop and during intermissions. He didn’t just spit out 75 “fucks” during his speech or be quick and to the point. He spoke to his team like men and it worked.
I could pull player quotes here about Berube, but I have a feeling they would all sound like semi-hot left out overnight frozen pizza-so let me sum it up for you. “He pushes us to be better, we love playing for him, and will go through a wall for him every night.” Boom, that about sums it up.
Sometimes, it can be hard to assess the exact value a head coach brings a team. You look at the record, performance in players, and a few other things to devise a strategy on how to properly quantify the results. It’s not easy, but Berube makes it easy for me. You can tell every game, during a shift or in between periods. The team responds and picks up their play. My dad jokes that he walks around handing espresso shots to players, but I don’t think it’s that simple. I’ve had three espresso shots and still feel tired.
Berube just gets through to this team. It may not have worked in Philadelphia and it may not work elsewhere, but in St. Louis, he was the man for the job.
The Blues didn’t just find their goaltender last season; they found their coach.
Thanks for reading,