I know our leaders in Washington are a bit busy right now, too wrapped up in their own battle to be paying attention to the skirmishes taking place in the NHL playoffs. However, I do wish they would take a moment to notice something. I realize the connection between getting a puck in the net and dealing with a national budget crisis may seem a bit of a stretch. But sometimes the outcome of problem solving has more to do with approach than objective. Let me explain.,
In 2004 the Tampa Bay Lightning had not only made it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they won. Having just moved to Florida from the Detroit area I was, needless to say, a rabid Red Wings fan. So, having the Cup of Lord Stanley literally follow me to the Sunshine State did much to ease the painful symptoms of some serious Hockey Town withdrawal. Unfortunately, shortly after winning the Stanley Cup during that magnificent season, whatever magic the hockey gods had bestowed upon Tampa Bay was recalled without notice or ceremony.
As the years passed and the Lightning continued to struggle, I felt their pain. I spent too many years leaving Joe Louis Arena with my head hung in disappointed shame not to understand the frustrations of those exiting the St. Pete Times Forum depressed. Then, as if in answer to our prayers, the gods of hockey smiled upon our plight and blessed us with a magnificent gift. In May of 2010, Steve Yzerman became the new general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
As a former resident of Hockey Town with a conflicting desire to throw my support fully behind my team in the Sunshine State, my NHL dreams had finally come full circle. Rather than having to choose between these teams and decide where to place my loyalty, I could now love them both without guilt. Therefore, as I am somewhat of a Red Wings aficionado now living in Lightning territory, allow me to introduce to you our newest resident of Florida and explain the miracle his presence has set in motion.
Steve Yzerman first stepped out onto the ice as a Detroit Red Wing for the 1983-84 Season. That year he set records for a rookie player with 39 goals and 87 points. Steve Yzerman was 18 years old. At the age of 21 he became the youngest player ever to earn the honor of being named team captain. It was a title he would hold for 20 years.
In 1988-89, Stevie set the Detroit franchise record with 65 goals, 90 assists for a staggering season total of 155 points. Steve Yzerman also took third place for points in the entire NHL behind established hockey legends, Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. Between the years of 1987 and 1993 the determined young captain never failed to exceed 100 points during a game. But for all his tenacity, skill and hunger, the team to which he had dedicated his soul became famous for regular season success only to choke in the heat of the playoffs.
I was there for the transformation, when the Detroit Red Wings dropped the Dead Wings moniker and finally put their “red on”. It was called, Scotty Bowman. With the status of being the coach to claim the most Stanley Cups in NHL history, Mr. Bowman was known in Hockey Town as “the man with the jewelry”.
Upon his arrival, Scotty had a challenge to face, several challenges really. Back then, the Detroit Red Wings had an impressive roster of extremely talented players; Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Vladimir Konstantinov and the infamous Bob Probert. But as a whole, they were little more than a disorganized assembly of directionless prima donnas.
Mr. Bowman spent most of his first year ruffling ego feathers, shaking up long established lines, dismantling conventional strategies and tossing star players to the bench. Scotty had a plan. He had a plan that worked and Mr. Bowman made it clear in very short order that chaos and egos were not a part of that plan. He was determined to break them down, deliberately and systematically erasing personal illusions of self importance in order to rebuild them as a team. Their resistance was impressive. Scotty’s resolve was epic.
It was Stevie who turned the tide. It’s the story only locals of that time would know. Having the privilege of hanging out with many of the players at local watering spots makes you privy to conversations the local press and sports outlets would never hear. The miracle Stevie set in motion in Detroit came soon after one particular humiliating loss. As the team skulked off the ice to the locker room to grumble and point fingers in any direction but their own, Stevie sat quietly on the bench, his head bowed in the weight of a heavy epiphany. Only when this revelation had sunk in fully and he had accepted its profound consequence did he lift his head to speak.
Now you have to understand the implication of that moment. Steve Yzerman is the sort who only speaks when he is convinced he has something to say. Famous for his calm and an unwavering capacity to govern each word and every action with the utmost of forethought and class, Steve Yzerman was known as one of the most respected players in the entire NHL. When Steve Yzerman spoke, not only did his team mates pay attention but anyone within earshot would shut their mouth and listen.
In his customary demeanor of calm diplomacy the unusually wise young captain advised his team that, while he understood their respective issues with the many changes attempted by their new coach, their way was clearly not working. Time was passing. He wasn’t 18 anymore and in spite of their collective talents and their ability to accomplish impressive things as individuals during regular season it always fell apart under the ultimate test of the playoffs. Convincing his disgruntled team to look past their personal emotions to see and embrace that one fact, he made a simple suggestion, that they at least try it Bowman’s way and see what happened from there.
In 1997, Steve Yzerman was the first captain of the Detroit Red Wings in 42 years to hoist the Stanley Cup over his head. He did it again in 1998 and in the finale of the 2001-02 Season. He did it once more in 2006. The man with the jewelry was right.
On July 3, 2006, Steve Yzerman announced his retirement. Shortly after, he was named Vice President of the Detroit Red Wings. In a pre-game ceremony on January 2, 2007, Hockey Town gathered in Joe Louis Arena once more in their beloved captain’s presence to retire his jersey number. Today, he is the General Manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Enter, Guy Boucher.
OK, maybe his name you didn’t know so well. He played one season for the Viry (1995-96) with 16 goals and 22 assists for a total of 32 points. He also spent 22 minutes warming the bench in the penalty box. Admittedly, when compared to the career of Steve Yzerman, Guy Boucher’s stats do not come off nearly as impressive.
But Guy had a bit of a challenge that Stevie never faced. At the age of 25, something happened that changed the course which Guy Boucher had planned for his life. One day, without warning, the entire right side of his body stopped working. His arm went numb, he was unable to focus his right eye and his legs lost the strength to help him stand. Guy Boucher thought he was dying.
For 18 months doctors probed, prodded and examined him. Efforts to diagnose his condition ranged from tests for multiple sclerosis, something neurological and all the way to cancer. Turns out, it was a virus that had infected the membrane around his nerves and although his illness would not kill him physically it was fatal for his career as a hockey player. So, as they say, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” and “Those who can’t play, coach.”
From 1997 to 2009, Boucher’s career in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League garnered a Jean-Rougeau Trophy (Canada’s version of our Division Champion) and a couple of President’s Cups (think, Stanley). After his second President’s Cup, and an appearance in the Memorial Cup Tournament, Boucher was also awarded the Paul Dumont Trophy for personality of the year. In 2009, Guy Boucher was head coach for the American Hockey League team called the Hamilton Bulldogs.
Despite losing his best players to the Montreal Canadians – most notably, his best defenseman PK Subban – Guy managed to lead his team to score 115 points in the regular season and to the third round of the AHL playoffs. During an interview by Ray Ferraro, on Toronto radio station AM640, Mathiew Darche of the Montreal Canadians shared a few observations of Coach Guy Boucher. Most notably, mathiew Darche said Guy Boucher was one of the most motivational coaches he had ever seen, the sort of leader who could make the most impossible of goals seem attainable.
Re-enter, Steve Yzerman.
Hiring Guy Boucher was the first major decision made by new Tampa Bay Lighting GM, Stevie Y. It was also quite a coup. Guy Boucher was also being courted for the position of head coach for the Montreal Canadians. Maybe it was because of Stevie’s status and notoriety in the NHL, or maybe it was because the Canadians were the team that snapped up his best AHL Bulldogs and his chances to claim a Calder Cup. But at the end of the day, Guy Boucher became the new head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning. At the age of 38, he is now the youngest coach in the NHL.
Despite the unflattering record of his new charges in Tampa Bay, Florida, Guy Boucher was a man on a mission. He met immediately in Montreal with Marty St Louis and team captain, Vinny Lecavalier. After that it was off to Toronto to talk to Steven Stamkos. He wanted to talk to his team one-on-one, face-to-face. He wanted to hear them say they were as ready as he was to set the ice on fire. Inspired by the same motivational spirit recognized by Mathiew Darche, Tampa Bay won seven of their first ten games.
When the Lightning backed up their wins with three consecutive losses, Guy simply became more determined. This is a man who spent 22 minutes of his only season on the ice sitting in the penalty box and confronting a career ending illness that he truly believed would kill him. Guy Boucher is a fighter. Rather than screaming at his team he gave them time off. He gave them time to go home, to rest and to recalibrate their minds to climb out of their rut and get back into the groove. When they returned, the Lightning hit the ice to win seven of the remaining nine regular season games and secured a comfortable spot in the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs.
While those who are not so familiar with hockey and the personal stories of the individual players, on the surface one might be tempted to say there are more differences than similarities between Stevie Y and Guy Boucher. For those of us who have been paying attention, the magic at work here is epic. Steve Yzerman, the calm, observant and legendary player who was tutored by “the man with the jewelry,” has hired the coach whose brush with death gave him an acute sense of focus on destiny.
As for me, I have not seen this kind of potent energy since the Red Wings swept the playoffs in the 1997-98 season. Of course that was the year they were playing for Vladimir Konstantinov. The Stanley Cup was simply the symbol of their higher purpose.
Not long ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning was a collection of disorganized individuals who couldn’t win a game. Likewise, our leaders in Washington have become so distracted by their own illusions of self importance that their individual efforts remain equally ineffective. When a hockey player hits the ice with the primary objective of stealing the puck and the attention of the cameras and fans, the goal of putting the puck in the net becomes secondary and the purpose on winning the game is lost.
Right now, as our nation teeters on the brink of financial collapse, our president and members of congress should be coming together with the single objective of solving the economic crisis. It’s what they promised us they would do. It’s why we voted for them. Instead, because they are more interested in claiming individual credit for effort and pandering to special interest groups, their purpose of cutting government spending has slipped from importance and the goal of reducing our deficit has vanished.
Whether or not the Lightning win the Stanley Cup is irrelevant. As I’ve said, sometimes the outcome of problem solving has more to do with approach than objective. As a group, the hockey players of Tampa Bay were once the visual definitions of a disorganized and directionless. Through the lessons of humility and teamwork they’ve changed the course of their history and are accomplishing together what, as individuals, would be unfeasible. Perhaps if our leaders in Washington applied these same lessons to their own efforts, they too could come together and accomplish the impossible.
Who say’s lightning never strikes twice?
Patricia Campion, “What do Tea Party Americans and The Detroit Red Wings Have in Common?”, Redstate.com
Kevin Shea , “One on One with Scotty Bowman”, Legends of Hockey
“Induction Showcase”, Legends of Hockey
“Guy Boucher”, Hockey DB.com
Gary Shelton, “Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher deserves credit he doesn’t want”, Tampabay.com
“Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman signs Guy Boucher as Head Coach”, Hockey Betting
“Calder Cup History”, Hockey Central
David Wirth, “Tampa Bay Lightning: Report says Steve Yzerman looking at Guy Boucher as Bolts’ head coach”, 10 News WTSP.com