Several members of the Atlanta Thrashers blogging community were able to take part in an open Q&A session with former Blackhawks assistant coach and current associate coach of the Thrashers, John Torchetti. Torchetti was extremely open, honest, and engaging with all of us, and answered the questions directly. Not all of the information here in this article comes from my questions specifically, as we all were able to ask questions. After the story, there will be a selection of links and the other bloggers who also contributed to today's Q&A session. Please pay their sites a visit.
Many bloggers, as well as Andrew of Blackhawks Down Low, questioned exactly what the difference between an associate coach and an assistant coach is. There has been speculation that the delay in naming him associate head coach was due to either contractual reasons or the issue of the Blackhawks not allowing him to move laterally to an opposing team. The associate head coach title comes with the appropriate pay as well as a promotion from his previous position. He does not, though, believe that he is equal to coach Craig Ramsay, who he has worked with before. He views the position as associate head coach as someone to bring ideas to the table -- offer suggestions and report observations regarding the play of the team. There will be no "good cop/bad cop" routine between Ramsay and Torchetti; he will defer to the coach's decision, while explaining how the system works to the players -- there will be a continuity of message.
It will be easy to incorporate that continuity into the franchise's new direction, as Torchetti, Ramsay, general manager Rick Dudley, and team president Don Waddell all have worked together in the past. When he was asked why he moved to Atlanta by Charles Olson of Hockey Down South and AM1670 of Macon, Torchetti was enthusiastic in his answer and immediately mentioned his relationship with Dudley. He has worked with Dudley off and on since the age of 19, and worked with Waddell in San Diego with the IHL's San Diego Gulls. Torchetti knew that if Dudley was appointed general manager of an NHL team again that he would be working with him. This was an ideal situation for Torchetti to work with the level headed Dudley. His goal is to win a Stanley Cup with the Thrashers' new general manager, and he believes that it is possible with Dudley's skill in the accumulation of assets, as well as his philosophy of the piecing together of a team. Dudley wants high character, low maintenance players who will be loyal -- loyalty is the most important thing to Torchetti in the operation of a hockey club, between both management and players.
The newest arrivals to the Thrashers other than Torchetti -- Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager, Brent Sopel, and Dustin Byfuglien -- all fit this mold. Torchetti had nothing but positive things to say about them, especially Ladd, who he said was not only a locker room guy, but a hard worker on the ice willing to hold others accountable for their efforts. During the one game that the Thrashers played the Blackhawks last season, Torchetti was most impressed with our youth -- Evander Kane, specifically ("going from one Kane to another"), but also by Enstrom and Bogosian -- youth development is important to the new coach, which can be evidenced in the quick growth of the Blackhawks. He believes that it's the coach's responsibility to work with the youth to reinforce positive skills, but also demands effort from them -- the question he asks the younger players is "how much are you willing to work to get better?"
The first strategy related question, asked by The Falconer of Birdwatchers Anonymous, dealt with how the Thrashers need to deal with a specific style of play -- the trap. John Anderson's system of open hockey did not agree with the trap much (if you're reading this and scratching your head regarding what the trap is, Wikipedia to the rescue). Teams that commonly employed this highly effective although terribly unexciting style of hockey have been the New Jersey Devils and the Boston Bruins in the East -- two teams that we had consistent problems with over the last two seasons playing Anderson's system.
Torchetti believes that the most effective way to deal with a trapping team is to scout with video and to make the players aware of the techniques employed by the opposition. If whatever multiple techniques that were practiced fail to work, then the team should be able to think on the fly and adjust as the game progressed to combat the system. Most tellingly, Torchetti believes that if fighting the trap fails, then the responsibility for that failure belongs on the coaches for not properly explaining to the players how to counter. A common theme throughout the interview focused on responsibility and loyalty; hearing a coach specifically say that the staff will accept responsibility for the inability of the team to execute should immediately give a person an idea of his philosophy as a coach. He believes that defense against offensively solid systems should begin on the forecheck -- if a player doesn't have proper control of the play and positioning of the puck, the team could wind up playing defense in their own zone in a heartbeat. He expects all players on all lines, from the circles back, to be involved not only in advancing the puck, but also protecting it.
Torchetti was in charge of the Chicago Blackhawks' power play, and he was also responsible for the turnaround in Florida's special teams rankings during his tenure as the Florida Panthers' interim head coach in 2004. I asked what his philosophy on determining who made up the first and second power-play units was. He immediately deferred to Ramsay saying that it was the head coach's responsibility to determine those individuals, though he would offer suggestions. He isn't sure how Ramsay's coaching style compares to Chicago Coach Joel Quenneville's, but he did mention that Coach Q was very open to suggestion and trusted the opinion of his assistant coaches.
Are all the pieces in place for a good playoff run this season? Torchetti deferred to Ramsay to answer that question, but he's looking forward to working with the team that he's been given. The fans are looking forward to the results.
Credit must be given to the other bloggers present: Timmyf and The Falconer of BWA, Charles Olson of Hockey Down South, Warren Shaw of Bleacher Report, Lisa Lewis of The Thrashers 411, Virginia Flowers of Getting Pucks Deep ,and Phil Foley of The Examiner (article here). Pelase tune in to Charles' radio broadcast on Monday from 3-6 to catch the audio and analysis of the interview from today.