The following is a look at the highlights of Marcel Patenaude’s press conference on Wednesday, when the Halifax Mooseheads general manager took some time to discuss the 2007-08 season that ended in disappointment last week.
The Mooseheads were eliminated in four straight by the Gatineau Olympiques in the QMJHL semifinals.
Owner Bobby Smith did not attend because he had returned to his home in Phoenix and had laryngitis. Head coach Cam Russell was not present due to a family emergency.
Patenaude's comments are in italics.
**** “We’re all disappointed and very frustrated at the end of the season. Sometimes we forget the good things we’ve done during the season and we focus only on the bad things. Bobby and I and Cam were definitely very disappointed and frustrated at the end of the season. There are things that we have to address and topics we’ll have to make sure for the future of the franchise that we take care.”
**** “I’ll start with the Gatineau series. Obviously it was very disappointing. I think a lot of people take only that for granted, that that’s our season, that series. There were a lot of good things that happened. Obviously, that was a bad thing. We were very disappointed. The Gatineau series started with great things, with some hype about us winning against Cape Breton (in the quarter-finals). The Cape Breton staff and hockey people from Cape Breton were surprised in our commitment, our grit and everything with our hockey club. That’s something people say we’re lacking, but against Cape Breton we showed part of our colours. A lot of people were proud of the way we played. We talked, I talked to the coaching staff, Bobby, me, everyone thought we were on the right track.
“But after that, our preparation, a few things became obvious in that series against Gatineau. The hype, I think of playing that well, caused some players to be a bit comfortable, and people were misled for the second time in three years by Gatineau. They were using the card of being the underdog and they used it pretty well. They put pressure on Mark Yetman to perform, and following the comments I had from players, that’s why we waited so long (to hold a press conference like this), because a lot of them, the message they sent was, they were very comfortable. They felt Gatineau, there’s only one line, only (Paul) Byron and (Claude) Giroux, and they lost their two top D. I’m not saying it would be a piece of cake, but I feel a lot of players underestimated Gatineau. And I feel in part it’s our fault to address those things. But sometimes, we tell things to kids and they forget about it. The players are kids, and they are able and capable of finding their own answers, finding out their own things. That was part of it. Their feeling was that it would probably be very easy.
“After that, we lost two games here in Halifax. Maybe one of them, we would say, we should have won (Game 2), and (Game 1) it was either-or. After that, I think the players totally lost the urgency and the focus on winning the two next games in Gatineau. Some of them, their comments were toward that. Some of them could have been anxious to go back home or different things, and that’s what the players are saying could be the reason why (we lost the series).
“After that, the thing I want to clarify is, a lot of people are misled with my relationship with Cam. I brought Cam in as a coach two years ago. My relationship with Cam is very, very good. I don’t have any problem with Cam, Cam doesn’t have any problem with me, and we talked about it. Bobby was part of our discussion. There’s no problem. There are things that have to be adjusted in the relationship. Like Bob Gainey and Guy Carbonneau (in the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens), sometimes you have to discuss things, but for me and Cam, it was a bit surprising that (people think there is) an issue there. I don’t know where or why people would talk about that type of thing but there is no problem in the relationship between me and Cam.
**** “The other thing is the decision-making: How does it work in Moose Land? The thing that me and Cam always do is have meetings, and discuss lineup, players about the hockey club, trades, curfew or this or that. That’s something that I find in junior hockey we seem to forget that people have to discuss. Once a decision has been made, it has to be followed. Sometimes, Cam would decide something, and I would put my two cents in, but he’s right, or sometimes, I could make a decision, and I talk to Cam about it, and he says, yeah, that’s a good idea, and we work together. That’s the strength of our organization, where some people think it’s a disadvantage. For example, with Bobby in the decision making, we’re three very knowledgeable hockey people. Sometimes Bobby would have a great idea that he would transmit or tell Cam. I think the three of us work very well and we discussed about different topics that can make our hockey club better. That’s the way we always function. I would say today, Bob Gainey will be talking with Guy Carbonneau about what should happen, should (Carey) Price play, or whatever. That’s the way (it works). But once the game has started, the coach is behind the bench and they make decisions. We’ve discussed about different topics with the hockey club but I don’t think our decision-making troubles the players in my conversations with the players. There’s a decision-making, but the boss is Cam and Cam is the coach and that we go towards that. There’s no confusion for our players or bad things about our players who feel that in the decision-making there’s a problem.”
**** “The Marchand situation, that he was benched, that was Cam’s decision. Cam felt at that time it would be appropriate to scratch Brad. He felt at that time he felt it would be a boost for the team, he felt it was something we needed that if we win (Game 4), Game 5 with Brad back in the lineup would be something that would bring the team to another level. We talked about it and Cam decided that and obviously we have to back our coach in those situations and we feel that Cam in his decision that was the thing he wanted to do and we had to back him on that.”
**** “Our philosophy is one thing we’ve touched on the last few days. Sometimes, there are two elements. Sometimes, we don’t give enough credit to our players for working hard. Be it in practice, off-ice and the way they were committed, sometimes, OK, they’re talented players, some talented players aren’t intense, but the work ethic of our players, a lot of times, and I had to talk about that, is to be careful. To say we didn’t work well in the second period, maybe we didn’t work well, but the work ethic is something that has to be taught. I really feel to say talented players like Jakub Voracek or Brad Marchand or Andrew Bodnarchuk or Ryan Hillier aren’t hard-working guys, I find it’s an insult to those players. They commit themselves and they work hard. Maybe they don’t work well all the time, but I think we had a hard-working team and a team that players are giving it all out and sometimes the pressure or whatsoever was a factor in our process.”
**** “The topic of drafting versus recruiting. This organization, to a fault, maybe, we don’t draft a whole lot. When I say draft, we draft players that will be on our list, sometimes we recruit players, we get players who definitely want to play in Halifax and they focus on playing in Halifax. Some of them we encourage to come play with us and others had NCAA avenues and we were able to convince them. That’s one thing we’re not ready to settle on. It’s something we’re thinking hard about. There’s a big different between recruiting and scouting. Sometimes we hit a home run and sometimes after a draft we’re saying, ‘Ugh.’ If we haven’t got a commitment from that player to come to Halifax … There was somebody before we liked maybe better but we had a commitment and we didn’t expect that player to be there. Sometimes that happens. Internally we have to work on that and the factor of recruiting versus scouting. That’s something we have to address.
**** “The team-first mentality that a lot of people talk about. I know Cape Breton waves the flag on that. I’m not sure … They had all this success with teams, it’s when you recruit or scout players when they come to camp it’s up to the coaching staff to identify. Sometimes at 16, 17, the player’s got a team-first mentality. Maybe when he’s 18, 19, 20, maybe a few little things change in his way. It’s not only his coaching staff that creates that problem. Sometimes, the kids change.”
**** “Daniel Smith won’t be back. Daniel has decided to pursue his career in business. Daniel will be attending university in San Diego, pursuing a business degree. I’d like to mention that Daniel has been for this hockey club a very, very classy and very genuine young man. Daniel never used the card (of his dad, Bobby, being the owner) for himself. He’s never been a (problem) for this organization. I think he’s got all the respect of his teammates and his coaches. He’s been a real gentleman. He could have been a much bigger distraction for this hockey club. This young man is very classy and I wish him the best of luck in his pursuit for a business degree and he is somebody that will be. Look closely in the future because I think he will be somebody very prominent in the business world.”
**** “The recap of our season … I think there was a turning point in our season and since that point, me as a GM, I felt our team was an on-and-off hockey club. Some games we were great, some games we were awful, awful. I would say, the precise time was the Baie-Comeau game here in Halifax on Nov. 25. I don’t want to go into precise detail, but we had a lot of different issues on our hockey club. We had a lot of things that had to be addressed, and it was not always easy, because of different situations, but Nov. 25, at that time, we were 20-4-0-4. In 28 games, we had 44 points, we were first overall, we were third in the Canadian Hockey League, and after that, the last 42 games, we had 45 points. At that precise time, it’s not to pinpoint anybody, but we lost Logan MacMillan for health issues, Jakub Voracek went back home earlier than expected for him to see family … At that point, even Colby Pridham wasn’t 100 per cent healthy, Stephen Lund wasn’t 100 per cent healthy, we called back for different games some junior A players and we patched and we played a lot of guys and I feel at that turning point, our hockey club after that was never the same and I think it dragged throughout the season.
“We still finished first in our conference, we were in the top four in the league. Obviously the frustrating point was to lose in four games against Gatineau but if it wasn’t for that we could have lost … I wouldn’t have been surprised if we lost against Victo, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if we lost against Cape Breton. We were, seriously, on and off. It was a challenging season for different reasons and it was very difficult to obtain at the same time for some games the 20 players in the same direction. It was hard.”
*** In response to a question of, “Why was it a difficult challenge to have 20 players going in the same direction?”
“Different individuals, I would say. Different individuals, different things that could have happened that we didn’t react to because of different problems that we hadn’t (addressed) for some of the players, different things that at that time … I remember in February people saying we should change coach, and we stuck with Cam, and we’re very happy we stuck with Cam, because he’s a gentleman and he’s a coach. In his heart, he wants to be a coach and it’s not always easy after two years of experience to manage all those players. We compare a little bit to Pascal Vincent, he wasn’t ready to have that team in Cape Breton with, we say stars, but that was a great hockey club. They almost beat everybody, they had (Marc-Andre) Fleury, they had a very strong hockey club. It’s not always easy. People think it’s only about X’s and O’s and the coach and the GM. It’s not always easy to manage 24 teenagers.”
**** In response to the question, “What was it that was particular with this team? You’re obviously happy with the staff, you were very happy with the calibre of player you started the season with, so there’s got to be more than that to make this team go from where it was to where it ended up.”
“From that time on, we were never the same hockey club. We had that struggle in December that we couldn’t win.”
Follow-up question: “You mean chemistry-wise?”
“Not necessarily. The guys when I talked to them they all got along very well and they didn’t have any problems. But chemistry-wise, hockey-wise. On the hockey side of it, in the practices, in the games … There was a lack of … We never felt the same. I always remember being in Drummondville. All the teams seeing us at that time, and saying, ‘You know what? We can’t touch you guys. It’s impossible. We won’t be able to.’ Friends of mine called Rouyn and told them, ‘Guys, forget your season, you won’t be able to play against them. It’s impossible.’ I felt after (Nov. 25) that powerhouse never came back.
“We acquired players, Jakub was back, Brad was back, we never felt we were that powerhouse again. There was a lack of confidence, a bit of selfishness for some players, some discipline, and all that mixed up, I never felt after, not once, coming back after December, saying, ‘Oh, we’re on the track, we’re going, we’ll be OK.’ The only time I felt it, was against Cape Breton. I said, ‘Oh boy, the guys now are going towards a mission.’ They understood the mission.
“We had a week off, that maybe, some guys became, ‘Oh, it’s sunny outside.’ Some of them said that comment. It was sunny outside and they thought, ‘It’s going to be easy.’ Some of them said it.”
**** In response to the question, “How come, if players weren’t giving it like they should have been, why didn’t they sit on the bench more?”
“You’ve got to be careful. Some talented players would be like that because they know they have the skill. Some games, I would think some players were doing it on purpose not to work hard. Some I know personally Cam would bring into his office and give it to them and try to find solutions. People say that’s the only way, send him out, put him on the bench. For some others, it’s maybe another way or another solution. For some, it wasn’t that easy. It wasn’t that easy to pinpoint and say, ‘OK, we have to sit them out.’ Some of them have sat out for periods, some for shifts and some were called upon in the dressing room and sometimes it was corrected.”
**** In response to the question, “When this was all through, what did you learn as a general manager?”
“Me personally I learned that the accountability is very important. The coaches, the GM, the players, there’s a lot of accountability and people have to be accountable for what they’re accountable for. Sometimes, even for me, as my relationship with Cam, we’re good friends. Sometimes for me it can be more of a business and I have to be careful on those particular situations, not to be a friend and be on the business side. And behalf of Cam, it will important for Cam to be accountable and responsible if actions have to be taken, actions have to be taken.”
**** In response to the question, “In hindsight, would you guys have been better off sitting Marchand down earlier in the regular season to get that message across.”
“Probably. I know he had discussions with Cam at different times. It isn’t easy to pinpoint. When he came back, he was saying fatigue, I’m not totally there, and do we sit him out, do we still play him, and work with him and try to promote him?”
**** In response to the question, “The staff is back, so you’re happy with the staff, and you haven’t necessarily pinpointed anything specifically with the players that went wrong, so what is your message to the fans about what went wrong?”
“I pinpointed … The thing is, we’re focusing right now only on the Gatineau series. Overall there are some good things. Expectations, everybody expected us to have a good hockey club. We thought we had a great hockey club. I think starting Nov. 25 we never were the same. We were on and off, on and off. Hopefully, we would have been able to make a run for it, but it was seriously difficult to bring back this hockey club since Nov. 25. It was very hard.”
**** In response to the question, “To me, whatever the project is, you have a goal, and you fall short of a goal, when you analyze it, you say OK, so-and-so didn’t do this right, or so-and-so didn’t do that right. There’s accountability. I hear that everybody did their job well. If you have such good people, and good players, and everybody did their job well … ”
“I didn’t say everybody did their job well. I said starting Nov. 25 there is something that our team never played to the same level. Some of it, the players are accountable for it. Some, the coaching staff is accountable for it, some of it, I’m accountable for it. If you want specific details of what went wrong, on my side, I could answer for it. On Cam’s side, he could answer for it, and on the player’s side, I think the players could answer for it.”
**** In response to the question, “What did you do wrong?”
“What did I do wrong? I would say … I would say … There are things, I wanted so much for this team to win and worked so hard to bring … There were some things I couldn’t do, like find a defenceman. It couldn’t happen.”
**** In response to the question, “If you could go back in December and acquire Brad Marchand, would you do it over again?”
“If I go back in December, and the way Brad Marchand played the last two years and the two medals he won and the player we focused on was Brad Marchand. At that time, if you asked 15 of 18 general managers, they would have told you, Brad Marchand was the player to go after.”
**** In response to the question, “Was Marchand a disappointment for you?”
“He was, obviously, but for what reason? It’s hard to pinpoint. I think the kid had a lot of pressure playing in his hometown. He didn’t play the same way he played the past few years. He tried his best some nights here in Halifax and it didn’t work. Sometimes it’s just mentally, it’s hard to play in Halifax. Some games he was hyped and ready to go and he made a fast play or he kept the puck too long and he kept it and kept it and kept it and lost it. That was one of his faults. But he knew it. He wanted to correct it. He tried all the time to put on a show and it cost him. And he knows it.
**** In response to the statement that “most people would say, on paper, this wasn’t a team that would exit in the semifinals.”
“When you talk with the players, they tell you what they feel what happened. You’ve got to believe what they’re saying to you in true honesty. We felt that Gatineau was a weaker team, we didn’t play as well against Gatineau, and at 2-0, some of the guys packed it in. That’s what happened.”
**** In response to the statement that Jakub Voracek wasn’t up to his usual standard from March 1 on.
“That’s what I’m telling you. Some of the guys, sometimes on a different agenda or there were things that were bothering them. It’s kids.”
**** In response to the question, “How do you address that going forward?”
“Going forward, it’s to know them better and to know exactly what they’re thinking. It’s mostly the coaches and me too to feel what’s going on. If Jakub Voracek is homesick, what do you want me to do?”
**** In response to the question, “Would you be better served in junior hockey to have a psychologist on your staff?”
“It’s not something we’re announcing, but that’s my recommendation to Bobby. As an example, Bryce Swan saw a psychologist for the playoffs and he had success. He played well. I remember Brad Marchand started a game, and played very well, dipsy-doodled, and then he lost the puck and he heard the crowd boo. It’s hard. You’re not expecting that from … You’re going hard at the start and the motto for the players was Our city, Our team, and they wanted it for the city. That was the thing we talked and talked about it was for the city. We wanted to have a title for the city and for some of the players, it was hard. Ben MacAskill, it was hard for him. Some of the players found it hard. And that’s something we’re looking at, to have a sports psychologist with our hockey club. There’s a lot of pressure in Halifax.”
**** In response to the question, “Do you guys consider the other extreme, just giving them a boot (in the butt) or kicking guys off the team?”
“Yes. We did it. We did it. We did it. We’ve done it. We forget that we kicked guys out this year for disciplinary reasons. We do it. But it’s not always to kick them out, it’s not always the only solution.”
**** In response to the question, “Was Nicholas Goyens (who was kicked off the team in February) an isolated incident or did you guys have other problems like that that may have contributed to (the playoff setback)?”
“There were other guys who didn’t play because of disciplinary reasons. There are different situations that happened and it’s not different than any junior hockey club. And we’ve dealt with it and the players were accountable for it. There were other situations. But (Goyens) was the one. The morning of I told him to be very careful and then again it happened. So you have no choice. For other players, they got caught and there were repercussions. We had 10 19-year-olds and four guys signed in the NHL and they’ve got access to money, there’s a lot of money, and it’s different. It’s a different hockey club.”
**** In response to the question, “Is it harder for the local guys to play here?”
“I’m not able to tell you if it’s really really harder, but some of the players mentioned it’s harder for local players. It is harder.”
**** In response to the question, “You talked about Cam and your relationship and that he’s the boss. Are you saying he made the final call on lineup decisions?”
“No, not all. No. There’s a way we discuss and a way we operate. When the fourth line’s going to play, it’s going to play six to eight shifts per game, sometimes, it was time for (Travis) Randell to go in the lineup, and the first three lines, and sometimes the fourth line it’s … I don’t want to live another Marc-Andre Bernier who didn’t play all year and we tried to get better on that so that the players during the regular season have a chance to play a little bit, if that was our discussion with that player in September.”
**** On the decision to start Pier-Olivier Pelletier in goal in Game 4, before reversing the decision and going back to Mark Yetman.
“That decision was made by Bobby.”
Follow-up: Can you explain that?
“We felt that maybe a goalie change would be the appropriate move and Bobby felt the night before Mike Keenan took off (Miikka) Kiprusoff (in the NHL and in Calgary) and he felt no we’re not going with that. Mark Yetman brought us to the end of the season and he should be the goalie who finishes the season and he should be the goalie that finishes the season.”
Follow-up: “So you and Cam told Pelletier he was in the next day?”
Follow-up: “And then Bobby stepped in?”
“Yes. When I mentioned it to Bobby, I’ll take part of the blame (for) not informing Bobby of the situation. Pelletier was very upset but we made him understand that maybe we were wrong and that Yetman deserved to play because he brought us there.”
Follow-up: So you and Cam were 100 per cent that Pelletier was going in?
“One hundred per cent. For us, it was more a situation of respect for Pelletier, to give him a chance to finish his career, and it happened, unfortunately, Bobby felt, and I think, he felt that Yetman should finish the season. He started (the playoffs), he was the key guy, and he felt it wasn’t appropriate to take him off and put the blame on him that we lost Game 3.”
Follow-up: How did Pelletier react?
“Pelletier was upset and we talked with him and we discussed it with him.”
**** In response to the question, “Do you think that are you too active a general manager in terms of the day-to-day operations of the club?”
“I really don’t think so. I think a lot of people put a lot of emphasis on that. I tell Cam sometimes I go downstairs sometimes so you’re less stressed. The only thing I want to make sure is that Cam succeeds as a coach. I want him to succeed. If things have to be adjusted in the future, he’ll be in his third year, he’s learned a lot this year, and we’ve learned a lot this year and Cam has a great future in front of him.”
**** In response to the question, “Do you envision the roles changing as Cam becomes a more experienced coach?”
“I don’t have any problem with that. I don’t have any problem helping Cam to be a more successful coach and I think he’s going to be better and better and better. There are things that I’ve lived, in my experience, and I tell him, and if he doesn’t want to do it, he doesn’t do it. I never got mad and screaming, and I never did that. We talk, we discuss, and some points he’s comfortable with that and some he’s not.”
**** In response to the question, “Does Cam feel fortunate to be brought back?”
“That’s what he feels. Expectations are lower, and he’ll be able to give a better stamp of what he is, being more experienced. Don’t forget the year before we had problems. (Justin) Saulnier and (Kirk) Forrest … It’s not always easy and this year it was a challenging club to coach. It wasn’t easy.”
**** In response to the question, “Do you think you are better staffed now than you were at the start of this year?”
“Definitely, and the addition of a sports psychologist, and we’ll be looking into that, I think we’ll be much stronger. Much stronger.”
**** In response to the question, “Do you feel like the culture in the franchise is one that you’re comfortable with and one you’re moving forward with?”
“I think we’ve learned a few things and we’ll get better. But to change the culture, people being unhappy with different things, if it goes to season tickets, it goes towards me, there’s nothing we can change, but the things, we’re very committed to this organization and we want to succeed.”
**** In response to the question, “If I understand your message, there were some on-ice problems with players, and your solution going forward is to, from a coaching perspective, to get to know the players better to properly motivate them?”
“Not necessarily motivate them, to know exactly what they think. In that particular situation against Gatineau, after the fact, they played very well until after Cape Breton and after that, we hear about a few things when it’s over, some of them were on a different path.”
**** In response to the question, “What was the biggest surprise?”
“Nothing. It was stuff I suspected. They have nothing against Cam, me or anybody. It happened. We win against Gatineau, we probably don’t have the same brouhaha over our future and what we did and what went wrong.”
**** In response to the question, “Am I right that that’s your main message going forward, that there were issues with on-ice performance, and the biggest thing that you intend to do going forward to correct it is to better know the players, to better communicate with them?”
“I think they have good communication. The players sometimes keep things to themselves. For us, it’s to be accountable, and have urgency on playing and it’s something we didn’t have this year. Some of the players, of the total plan, weren’t there, they didn’t execute. After Nov. 25, they didn’t execute.”
**** In response to the statement, “It’s not clear what it is exactly going forward to address the problems that ‘plagued’ the team this year.”
“My explanation for the fans, if you want an explanation for the fans, I would think, we’ve underestimated the urgency, for some of the players, the urgency of playing, executing. We’ve let some things go on instead of reacting, and in the future, we have to be more careful with that, to know players. To know exactly, and adjusting every time in different times and it wasn’t an easy task.”
Follow-up: And as an example of that, where you scratched Marchand the last game, maybe that’s something that’s addressed earlier in the future, as opposed to in the last game.
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