There’s a sense of excitement and anticipation buzzing in Everett and that feeling grows the closer you get to Comcast Arena. Even though it’s early July, many minds are focused on hockey; specifically on one team: the Everett Silvertips.
Fans are excited the San Jose Sharks selected defenseman Mirco Mueller in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft last weekend. They’re excited defenseman Ben Betker was selected by the Edmonton Oilers in the 6th round of the Draft. They’re looking forward to getting to know d-man Matthew Pufahl ( who joins the ‘Tips from Saskatoon this season), Waltteri Hopponen (Finland) and Ivan Nikolishin (Russia), two forwards Everett selected in the CHL Import Draft.
But what’s giving many fans the biggest thrill is the announcement that the coach who helped launch the franchise in Everett is back behind the bench. Kevin Constantine led the Silvertips to US Division titles in 2004, 2006 and 2007. The team captured the Western Conference Championship in 2004 and notched 162 wins in 2007 for the best record in the WHL that season.
(L-R: Exec. VP/Asst. GM Zoran, Rajcic, Head Coach Kevin Constantine, GM Garry Davidson. Photo courtesy: Christopher Mast Images/Everett Silvertips)
The Silvertips have struggled since the team parted ways with Constantine in 2007. They went through three coaches (John Becanic, Craig Hartsburg and Mark Ferner), never advancing past the first round of the playoffs. Meanwhile, Constantine coached the Houston Aeros (Minnesota Wild AHL affiliate) from 2007-2010, where they went as far as the third round of the Calder Cup playoffs. Since 2010, he’d been working as a consultant and scout in Switzerland.
While many fans are thrilled to have Kevin Constantine back as Head Coach of the Silvertips, he’s just as thrilled to be back and excited to be reunited with a familiar face behind the bench: Mitch Love, who Captained the Silvertips under Constantine, then went on to play for him in Houston, before returning to Everett last season as an Assistant Coach under Mark Ferner.
Coach Constantine recently chatted with me about a number of topics, including his extensive coaching career at all levels of hockey, what fueled his decision to return to Everett and why he considers himself a lucky guy. He also corrected what he calls a misconception about his coaching style.
WHY HE DECIDED TO RETURN TO COACH THE SILVERTIPS:
I would say it was really probably three things, the first being family. I've been working in Switzerland for three years. It wasn't convenient for the children, so we decided that the family was better suited to live in Pittsburgh. My son would have had to go to an Italian speaking school (I was in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland) and we didn't want to put him through that. So, the family was parked for three years and it was kind of a family decision to try to get back to North America where we could live together as a group.
The next reason probably was the fact that while I was under contract in Switzerland, it was a consulting /scouting contract, not a coaching contract. It would have been the first time in 26 years that I hadn't been coaching, so this was an opportunity to stay in coaching as opposed to changing the role I was in to stay in hockey.
And the other thing was to hope to restore a little bit of the magic or the tradition or the culture that had been created in the first few years (of the Silvertips franchise). It’s an interesting challenge to try to recreate that again.
WHETHER HE FEELS PRESSURE TO TURN THE TEAM AROUND QUICKLY:
I can't say that on occasion you don't think of the fact there were no expectations during the first year as an expansion team. While the expectations based on the team not doing great might not be extremely high as the expectations the next year, there might be an expectation that the team will become as good as the first few years just because it's a similar coaching staff. So, you think about that - that there *might* be that expectation, that pressure. But, I don't really think of it very much, probably because I've learned over 26 years of coaching that trying to control other people's feelings and thoughts, other than yourself as a coach and the players you're working with - trying to control anybody else outside of the locker room - you can't control it. I think any good athlete; any good coach just stays focused on their part of producing a successful organization or group. We'll just stay focused on the coaching end of it.
WHAT HE’S MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO DOING WHEN TRAINING CAMP STARTS LATER THIS SUMMER:
The part of the game that I enjoy probably the most is teaching - to take a group of athletes and teach them the game of hockey and teach what you believe works in the game; what makes people and a team successful- I enjoy that. I enjoy, too, when a group who maybe is treading water or wondering what direction they're trying to go, in terms of their own careers or in terms of a team. I really enjoy when that all comes together and a team gains confidence, starts to win and becomes a little greater than the sum of its parts. I'm looking forward to digging in, getting to work, trying to teach the game and help the players develop as individuals and hopefully also develop as a group where they start to have some group success.
WHAT IT MEANS TO HAVE MITCH LOVE AS A PARTNER TO HELP HIM TEACH THESE YOUNG PLAYERS:
In putting together a staff of people that are familiar with each other as Mitch and I would be, having been together in a different but similar role - Mitch was a Captain, which is half a coach or a little bit of a coach as well - so his relationship and mine is long. We know each other, we know what we expect from each other and we know what we're capable of doing. When you bring a staff together that does know each other, you hope, in the process, that the time it takes to make a transition, to get a team going, get a team moving, get a team winning - that you're just speeding that process along, because there's less teaching that has to be done. I really hope that's the case - that if we can get the Silvertips back to winning at a pace that would be acceptable for the locker room, the players, the fans and the organization- if we can win at that pace, we want to try to get there as quick as we can. The fact that the staff is familiar with each other should help that process.
WHAT HE’S LEARNED ABOUT *HIMSELF* OVER NEARLY THREE DECADES OF COACHING HOCKEY AT EVERY LEVEL (USHL, IHL, WHL, AHL, NHL):
I think that's a lifetime process. I love the concept of lifetime learning, where you're always trying to learn something about the game or something you studied about the game. I think there are experiences that allow you that chance to learn. Parenting is probably one of the best examples - you learn to consider the thoughts and feelings and interests of others ahead of yourself sometimes as a parent, and I think parenting and coaching aren't completely the same, but it's very, very similar. You're always going to parent your last child a little differently than your first child. I hope I'm better - that I'm a better coach now than the first time around. One specific example: I think earlier in my career, I was much more aggressive on referees during hockey games. I'm not sure that worked in our favor in all cases, so I think you have to monitor that and ride a referee when it's deserving and appropriate, but maybe not all the time. I think I'm mellower with age in regard to that. You hope you're improving. You hope the core of what made you good stays the same. You round off some edges here and there and try to keep getting better at the game.
KNOWN AS A "DEFENSIVE STYLE" COACH, AS WAS MARK FERNER. HOW THEIR STYLES DIFFER:
This is the first question where I disagree with the question, and I'll tell you why. In relation to Mark, I have no idea. I have no real knowledge of his coaching style. All I can probably speak to more is what we're trying to get done. What you're trying to do with a hockey team is two things: I think you're trying to do the right things offensively when you have the puck - that's probably 45% of the game, and when you don't have the puck, you're trying to do the right things on the defensive side and that's another 45% of the game. Then there's 10% of the game where it's a battle to see who's got possession of the puck. You're trying to mix all of that with the personnel you have, to find something that works for the team you're coaching. I think the best example of that is probably my first four years in Everett in that, in the first couple of years, we won with very low scoring games because we were not a good offensive team. We weren't going to win high scoring games, so we needed to play a style that kept the defense close and allowed us to win 2-1 and 3-2. By the time we were in the fourth year in Everett, we were amongst the top teams in the league offensively. In Pittsburgh, when I coached the Penguins, they were the fourth best team in the league offensively. So it really depends on the group of athletes, the type of players you have, their offensive skills. The players themselves determine what you're going to get done offensively. It's a little harder to gift or coach a player's offensive ability. It's a little bit easier to coach a player into improving his defensive side of his game, so I think the idea that I'm "focused on defense" is just not accurate. I'm focused on both sides of the game and focused on trying to help whatever particular group win with whatever works best for that group.
DOES HE WANT TO COACH AT THE NHL LEVEL AGAIN?
It's been many, many years now since I've been in the NHL or I think have been considered for a job in the NHL. I haven't pushed real, real hard to stay in that loop. My belief is that in coaching, if you're going to stay in the business a long time, other than an elite group of coaches, you have to consider coaching at all levels if you want to stay as a coach. I consider myself amongst my peers, of people my age, to be lucky to still be coaching, because most of those who joined the coaching profession when I joined aren't coaching anymore. If you look at NHL jobs, just for example, Vancouver and New York (Rangers) just let their coaches go, which should have brought two new young coaches or somebody else into the NHL. All the teams did was flip the coaches, so no new coaches came into the NHL. The bottom line is I just enjoy coaching. There's parts of coaching at the junior level that are far more enjoyable than coaching at the NHL level, with the only positive all the time at the NHL, is that you're at the top of the business, making the most money than anybody can make coaching, but it's not always the most enjoyable area to coach. I'm just lucky. I'm coaching hockey, which is what I love and I don't care that much where it is. I'm lucky to have a job coaching and I want to keep coaching as long as someone will have me coach for their teams, so I'm one of the lucky guys in the world.
COACHING PLAYERS TO NOT JUST PLAY BETTER-- BUT TO BECOME BETTER, WELL-ROUNDED YOUNG MEN:
I think the more you're in the business, the more you're interested in the success of the people coach as much as the success of the team you coach. I know earlier in my career, I wanted the team to win because I felt that was the most reflective of what I did as a coach or as a person. And then, along the way, you realize that there's a longer-term goal in mind and maybe even a greater satisfaction in trying to look at your players as almost your children, where you're really rooting for them, not only during the two, three, four years you're coaching but ten or fifteen years later when they become parents and citizens and workers and so forth. You want them to have success through maybe something you were able to help them with when you coached them.
The Everett Silvertips begin pre-season play by hosting the Holiday Inn Pre-Season Classic at Comcast Arena. The tournament runs Friday, August 30 through Sunday, September 1 and features the following WHL teams: Seattle Thunderbirds, Tri City Americans, Portland Winterhawks, Spokane Chiefs and Victoria Royals. Here’s the schedule:
Friday, August 30:
11:30am Seattle Thunderbirds vs. Tri City Americans
3:00pm Portland Winterhawks vs. Spokane Chiefs
7:00pm Everett Silvertips vs. Victoria Royals
Saturday, August 31:
11:30am Tri City Americans vs. Portland Winterhawks
3:00pm Seattle Thunderbirds vs. Victoria Royals
7:00pm Everett Silvertips vs. Spokane Chiefs
Sunday, September 1:
11:30am Tri City Americans vs. Victoria Royals
3:00pm Spokane Chiefs vs. Seattle Thunderbirds
7:00pm Everett Silvertips vs. Portland Winterhawks
For more information about the Holiday Inn Pre-Season Classic and the rest of the pre-season schedule, please click here.
The Silvertips will launch the 2013-2014 regular season on Saturday, September 23 by welcoming the Prince George Cougars to Comcast Arena. The puck drops at 7:05pm. Please click here for the complete 2013-2014 regular season schedule.
For more information about the Everett Silvertips, including promotion nights, season ticket options or to buy single game tickets, visit the ‘Tips website: www.everettsilvertips.com
Follow them on Twitter: @WHLSilvertips