Arizona Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet has rubbed elbows with some of the best to ever take the ice in the big leagues.
The longtime winger turned bench boss won a Stanley Cup with Mario Lemieux, played and coached alongside Wayne Gretzky, and helped guide Sidney Crosby to two Stanley Cups upon his eventual return to Pittsburgh.
There aren’t many who can boast such an impressive array of castmates throughout their career, and after getting a chance to see all three of the above-mentioned all-timers up close, Tocchet said he has a deep appreciation for their unique greatness.
“Mario and Wayne’s calmness in high-pressure situations, and the way they react to them, is something I’ve learned over the 20-something years I’ve been involved in hockey,” Tocchet told Sports Illustrated’s Alex Prewitt in a piece published Thursday. “Or the hockey IQ of Sidney Crosby, watching him ask a question to one of the coaches, or say something in a meeting, or analyze something with the team, his hockey IQ is outstanding.
“There’s a lot of players I’ve learned (from) over the years with work ethic, leaders in the room, but those three guys have special gifts. To be around those three guys, you can pick out some stuff and learn and implement it, for sure. I’m very lucky.”
Tocchet got a front-row seat to the Crosby show over the past three seasons, and the veteran coach said his time with No. 87 didn’t just grant him an opportunity to observe and better appreciate the Cole Harbour king’s on-ice intellect – it in fact made Tocchet a better coach.
“(Crosby) would text and say, ‘You up?’ And it’d be 10 o’clock. I’d do the same to him. Whatever the topic, 10 o’clock, 10:30, things like that. He’s always thinking hockey, that kid. And that’s why I love him,” Tocchet said. “But it wasn’t always hockey too. He made me a better coach, and a lot of those phone calls or texts really helped me, for sure. … He keeps you on your toes. ‘Hey, did you see that in this game tonight, the way this team ran a faceoff on the power play? What do you think?’ I’d go, ‘Shoot, I didn’t even see the game,’ so I’d take a look at the game, come in around nine in the morning and we’d take a look at it together. So I better have some good answers for him or analyze some good stuff with him.
“It made me a harder-working coach.”
Tocchet will have plenty of room to use the skills gained from working alongside three of history’s best, as his new club in the desert is staring down a 2017-18 campaign desperately requiring a step forward. Arizona has missed out on a playoff berth for five straight seasons, a long fall from their conference final appearance back in 2012.
Luckily, the team’s new coach is fresh off a back-to-back championship run, and looking to have his new club emulate the reigning champs’ style.
“The system that I do isn’t letter-for-letter to what we did in Pittsburgh, but it’s pretty damn close,” Tocchet said of his plans for the Coyotes. “If I’m going to show players how I want them to defend, I kind of have to show Pittsburgh, right? But I want to gather a library of all good stuff when we start to play and we start getting some good clips of the way we play.
“Then I’m going to erase those clips and put Arizona Coyotes in.”