The Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning spent Tuesday meeting with the media ahead of Wednesday’s Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Below is a transcript from a question and answer session with Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman and head coach Joel Quenneville.
Q: Stan, how unique is this core group that you’ve put together? If a GM put together 10 cores in his lifetime, would he ever come up with something like you have here? Also, what are you most proud of in keeping this core together?
STAN BOWMAN: Well, we’re very fortunate to have the players that we do here. I look back at when this all started, sort of signaled when Rocky took over the franchise. The changes he made gave us some momentum and excitement.
We had a good year leading into that year. But Rocky came onboard and sort of changed the whole mentality of the organization. He brought John McDonough onboard. From that point on we kind of felt like we were getting closer and closer. Obviously the 2010 season was when we finally broke through.
Those players were the ones that really made this thing go. When you get a group like that together, young players that show they can win, that’s what you need in this day and age.
I think there’s a lot of factors. It’s not just that. Joel and his staff have done a tremendous job with these guys. It’s not easy to get to this point and to keep the group together. There’s a lot of highs and lows. There’s some tense moments over the year.
But when you start the season in September, this is the point that you’re building towards, which is getting to the Final. It’s a battle to get here, so I certainly commend the players and coaches for the job they’ve done to put us in this position.
We got a lot of work left ahead of us here. It’s a challenge. But you look at what our main guys have done to this point, not only in this playoff run, but in the other ones, I think it shows you they’re true champions.
You can’t really single one guy out. It’s a collection of guys that have been with us for a while. They’ve made it a special thing to be part of.
Q: Describe Jonathan Toews’ best attributes as a captain and leader.
STAN BOWMAN: Well, from where I see it, Jonathan is incredibly competitive. He hates to lose. That’s probably a common trait for all athletes. Nobody wants to lose. But he’s incredibly competitive. He just wills his way to it.
You watch him in practice, he gets mad if things don’t go his way. He has a high standard for himself. He holds himself accountable. For that reason he is the thing that makes everything go.
Joel is with him on the bench. He can comment on that.
COACH QUENNEVILLE: Focus and preparation is as good as I’ve seen in any player. The more important the stage, the more important the situation, he wants to be out there, he wants to be successful. He’ll find a way to make it successful. It’s an uncanny ability he has that you don’t see in too many players.
It’s will, competitive, warrior, leader. He’s got all the intangibles that you’d like to see in a hockey player.
Q: Stan, I know you don’t build a team trying to build a dynasty. Is it about sustaining success over a longer period of time? Did you look at teams like Pittsburgh, how they were able to do it?
STAN BOWMAN: Obviously when you’ve had a measure of success, you want to continue that. That’s why we play the game, to win. It’s not easy to do that. When we set out years ago, we wanted to be a team that continually had a chance to win the Cup. That’s why you get together. That’s why we play.
So every year that’s our goal. There’s a lot of factors that go into it, like I said. Ultimately it’s the players. They’re the ones that get on the ice.
The job our coaching staff has done has been outstanding to prepare these guys and to make the adjustments. We’ve had a lot of continuity in our organization, which I think helps.
If you look back at the organizations that have been able to sustain success, they have stability from the top, with Rocky and John McDonough, all our staff, our scouting staff, the development group we have. They all play a part in this.
At the end of the day, it’s the guys that step on the ice that make the difference. But there are so many people that are part of it. That’s what’s helped us get to this point.
Q: You had a tragedy midway through the season. Following that, many of your players were affected by the death of Steve Montador. How through this adversity have you been able to keep this group together?
COACH QUENNEVILLE: Right off the bat, you think of the core group. They’ve been around, been through some tough ups and downs. Losing Clint this year was part of that process, where we had some tough moments.
I just think that the team finds a way to rely on one another to get through tough moments, tough stages, tough situations, injuries, losses. We could go on.
That’s the road of trying to make the playoffs, the ups and downs of this team. We find a way to get back on track quickly. That’s kind of what the playoffs are all about. The best thing about winning the Cup is visiting the road and trying to get the Cup.
It’s never going to be smooth or easy. The great moments are spectacular. The tough moments, you can get angry from it, you can get motivated from it, find a way through it.
But I think the resiliency of this group is as good as you’re ever going to find. It can be complimented to our leadership and the guys that have been here for, say, seven or eight years.
Q: Stan, could you talk about your sales pitch to Brad Richards a year ago, who takes a pay cut to join your team. Joel, joining a new team, how has that worked for him this year?
STAN BOWMAN: After last year, we were close. We were trying to add to our group. One area we want to try to improve upon is our center ice position. Michal Handzus played a big role for us a couple years. He was an important player. Any time you lose a centerman like that, you’re trying to find that for your team.
In talking to Brad, obviously his desire was to play on a strong team, have a chance to get back to the Final. He ended the year in a tough way. Losing in the Final is difficult.
The discussions really were centered around what we were looking for and how that role was going to fit well with him. He’s a consummate professional. He’s obviously played a lot of his career here. He had some great moments. He’s moved on to be an important player in other organizations.
You saw the ability that he can bring to the table in terms of experience. Playing in the middle. Knew he would be playing with some talented players, however it worked out. So that’s how the discussion went.
I think it didn’t take too long to convince him that this is an appealing option.
COACH QUENNEVILLE: Brad, at the start of the year, he was fine early on. Didn’t get a ton of ice time. Didn’t get much of a chance to play with Kaner. We were working more so on systems-wise the responsibility of a centerman. I think he got better with a little bit more ice time. Got a chance to play with Kaner. Took off. Looked like there was a little magic there. Looked like he got more quickness to his game, more puck possession. I think he got more comfortable in our system.
He made good improvements over the course of the season. That line gave us a dimension offensively and trust defensively, which we were looking for.
I think he’s had a real good second part of the season. Coming into the playoffs, he’s been real good for us.
Q: Stan, when people talk about your team, they talk about how your big guys always seem to come through. As a GM, do you believe in the notion of ‘clutch’? Do you believe that exists in a player?
STAN BOWMAN: Yeah, I think that’s an important attribute. It’s possibly the most elusive trait to pin down. There are certain players that have the ability when the game is on the line to elevate their play and to come through.
That’s the hardest thing to do. I think when you look around the league this year, you see how close these games are, really a lot of times it comes down to just a couple moments within a game.
Certainly during the season that’s the case. In the playoffs, it gets magnified. There’s certainly more attention given to every shift, every game. You notice the players that are able to come through in those pressure moments. They’re the ones that can really make a big difference.
I’m not quite sure how to explain it or describe it. They just have it. Fortunately we’ve got a number of guys that can do that. They can raise their game in those critical moments. We’re fortunate to have them on our side, that’s for sure.