How Rick Tocchet is using rest as a weapon to keep the Canucks ready

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Paterson
6 months ago
Last Tuesday against New Jersey, at the outset of this five game homestand, the Vancouver Canucks were a disaster defensively. They allowed six goals for the first time all season and surrendered the winner with just 34 seconds to play. More than that, their first period was dreadful, as the Canucks stood and watched the Devils beat them for four goals on just nine shots. 
Surely, a hard-nosed coach like Rick Tocchet would crack the whip and have his team back on the practice ice the following morning to work out the many kinks that had been exposed in their game. 
Instead, Tocchet went the other way and called off a scheduled practice to give his team the day off.
It seemed counterintuitive. 
Coaches love practice time and Tocchet and his staff had a day between games to drill down on several areas that required attention. How could they possibly pass up the opportunity?
Part of being a coach is being the X’s and O’s tactician to help a hockey club. But an equally important part of the job is being in tune with the players and understanding when to pile on and when to back off.
As disappointed as he was in the team’s on-ice performance against New Jersey, Tocchet sensed his club could benefit far more from rest and recovery than it could from battle drills and a bag skate. And so the coach told the players to take the day to themselves on Wednesday to focus on the next challenge on the schedule – a Thursday night contest against the Minnesota Wild.
With far more attention to defensive details in front of Casey DeSmith than they’d shown against New Jersey, the Canucks skated to a 2-0 win in a much-needed bounce back game. And in the aftermath, Tocchet praised the team for its effort and felt he’d done his part, too, by putting the players in a position to succeed.
“I just felt after that Jersey game, the day off won us the game,” Tocchet said. “We were supposed to practice and I just had a gut feel. I thought the guys needed it and they responded. Those are the sort of calls that as a coach – you know, thank god I made the right call – because they needed the day off.”
Tocchet’s handling of his team’s workload has been a fascinating study over the past week. Today (Monday December 11th) is another full team day off. Just as last Monday (the 4th) was. And December 1st was a travel day to Calgary when the Canucks did not hit the ice as a team. 
On Sunday, the Canucks held an optional skate at UBC. 
That means since the start of December, the Canucks have had two official practices.
Of course, this all comes on the heels of a gruelling November when the Canucks had a run of 10 games in 17 nights in eight different cities. That goes hand in hand with the hockey club alternating wins and losses over a 10 game stretch — a streak that finally ended with consecutive victories over Minnesota last Thursday and against Carolina on Saturday.
Life in the NHL has many perks. No one is suggesting fans need to show sympathy for the players. But it’s important to recognize that they are humans and have their limits when it comes to achieving peak performance.
Take Quinn Hughes for example. No one in the NHL played more minutes in the month of November. So maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that he has slowed a little of late with just three points in his last six games and been held off the scoresheet in four of those six. Saturday against Carolina, Hughes logged his second lowest ice-time total of the season at 19:46 and only saw the ice for two shifts over the final six and a half minutes of the hockey game.
If he’s feeling the effects of carrying the Canucks for the first six weeks of the season, it’s understandable. And so it’s just good business for the hockey club to take that into account. At this stage of his career, Quinn Hughes doesn’t need a 45-minute practice to work on his game. He hasn’t forgotten how to play hockey. If keeping Hughes and his teammates off the ice between games means they’re rested and ready to go when the puck drops on game nights, then scrapping practices seems like a prudent call on the part of the coach.
Today’s players can watch video on their off days and the team can do plenty of its game preparation in and around morning skates. Like so many things in life these days, it’s about working smarter, not necessarily harder.
“There are things I can do to help the team,” Tocchet said. “Maybe less meetings and more attention to detail on other things. I have to switch things up and help the players.”
Starting tomorrow night, the Canucks have seven games in 12 nights until a brief holiday break in the schedule. So monitoring the energy levels of the team will be of paramount importance. That’s compounded by the fact the Canucks have a four-game in six nights road trip starting on the weekend.
Calling off practice last week when he could have punished his players is an indication Tocchet has his finger on the pulse of his hockey club. And the reduced workload between games has resulted in wins in three of the last four outings. With a few days now for players to recharge their batteries, the hope is the Vancouver Canucks will be ready for their next challenge on Tuesday with Tampa in town.
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