The job is new but Berube’s coaching a team work ethic stays the same

Craig Berube

      Well, that didn’t take long.

      Just a dozen days after Toronto fired Sheldon Keefe as its head coach on May 9, the Maple Leafs put in a telephone call to Bucks County and hired former Flyers bench boss Craig Berube as their new leading man.

      Actually no one should be surprised by the quickness of Berube’s hiring, at least not when you consider he led the 2019 St. Louis Blues to  their first Stanley Cup in franchise history dating back to 1967.

      Speaking of 1967, that was the last time the Maple Leafs won a Stanley Cup, something which rankles much of the old guard up Canada way.

      While it might seem like he’s submitting himself to a rather pressure-filled situation, the mild-mannered (at least on the surface) Berube really doesn’t give a damn about all the outside noise.

      Since being dismissed early last season by the Blues, all he had been thinking about was his next gig.

     And Toronto seems to fit the bill.

      There’s plenty of talent – Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander top the bill – plus a hockey-crazed fan base as well as the fact he gets to go back and perform in his native Canada (he’s from Calahoo, Alberta).

      Naturally, the expectation level will be high. Plenty of excellent coaches have come and gone over the past 57 years without so much as a sniff at hockey’s grand prize.

      What makes Berube think things will be any different this time around?

      “I think any time you can coach in a Canadian market at my age (58), if there’s an opportunity I want to take it,” he said in a telephone conversation. “This one came up.

      “This is obviously a great, first-class organization, for sure. A lot of good talent on this team. That weighed into it. And also, the general manager (Brad Treliving) and I are on the same page. How we want to build a team and how we want to look.”

      One of the biggest challenges of that aforementioned team-building plan will involve how to construct a successful lineup even though Matthews & Co. take up the lion’s share of the Leafs’ salary cap.

      “I guess they are top-heavy with the salary cap,” Berube acknowledged. “But you have to make every player feel important. That’s a big part of the job. If you want to be successful, you have to have everybody on board. Make everyone feel like they have a big piece of the pie.”

      Toronto won only one playoff series in Keefe’s five years with the Leafs. During the current playoffs, it gave Boston a spirited battle in the opening round but lost to the Bruins in overtime of Game 7.

      This was nothing new for Leafs fans. They’ve seen just that one playoff series win (over Tampa Bay, 2022-23) since 2004.

      When Berube played for the Flyers and other NHL teams, he was known as a competitor who held himself accountable and others around him as well.

      “The players are going to know me, coming into camp, hopefully. . .we’ll have discussions with players over the summer,” Berube said. “The more you get to know your players and what’s expected of them; then when they get to training camp, there are no surprises.”

      Berube said it’s essential that players know where you’re coming from. He played for some great coaches himself, including former Flyers coach Mike Keenan, who took the team to the Stanley Cup Finals twice in three seasons back in the ‘80s. Keenan was demanding but most players thought he was fair.

      “When you hold players accountable, they understand it,” Berube said. “They accept it because I already told them. There’s a certain style of play we’re going to employ. You have to have staples in your game, those are important and my players are going to know about it.”

      Going to Toronto’s self-proclaimed “center of the hockey universe” title, Berube will be under the so-called magnifying glass. It won’t be that two beat-writer deal like in St. Louis. He said he’s ready for that situation, too.

      While Toronto’s Cup drought is formidable, no team from Canada has won the championship since 1993 either. So there’s that to consider.

      “There’s always expectations wherever you go,” said Berube, who makes his off-season home in the New Hope area. “There’s always pressure with any job. I always talk about the process. To me, that’s the most important thing. You have to try to dull the noise as much as you can. What matters is in the dressing room and the process. When you feel the (outside) pressure, that’s when you get into problems.”

      Berube’s former teammate on the Flyers, Rick Tocchet, just won the Jack Adams Award for NHL coach of the year after leading the Vancouver Canucks to a division title and a seventh game in the second round of the playoffs.

      According to Berube, players like he and Tocchet learned quite a bit from Keenan even when they were in their early 20s and coaching was the farthest thing from their minds.

      In a way, Keenan’s style epitomized the Flyers’ decades-long credo of putting the work first.

      “I remember my days in Philly when I first got there,” Berube said. “I was accepted by (captain) Dave Poulin, Brad McCrimmon, Mark Howe. It was all formed by (GM) Bob Clarke (who hired Keenan).

      “It’s about family, about team. Rick took that same process to the Canucks and I took it to St. Louis. I’m going to try to instill the same qualities into this team.”

      Berube sounds like he can’t wait to get started. Hockey is in his blood. That’s never going to change.

      “I do look forward to the challenge,” he said. “That’s why I took the job.”

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About Wayne Fish 2446 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.