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"MY GOD, YOU ARE PUTTING THESE GUYS BEHIND THE BENCH?"
by D. K. Williams
November 13, 2001
Rocco Scarfone and Rick Francis recently discussed their three game stint as acting coaches during Graeme Townshend's suspension.
"It was a decision that myself and Graeme made from an organizational standpoint," Rocco Scarfone said during coach Townshend's weekly radio show on November 5.
"Without Graeme having an assistant coach, it was just the next natural thing to do, and [we] brought Rick Francis in and we just went and did it."
Arley Johnson asked Scarfone about his emotions as he undertook the responsibility, and if he was nervous.
"Not nervous. Sometimes in life you get dealt a hand and you go with it. This is the hand we were dealt and you just jump in and do the best job you can."
Arley asked Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Rick Francis, about his hockey family and whether or not he asked his father, Emil "The Cat" Francis or his brother, Bob Francis, for any coaching tips. Emil was a long time NHL player and coach. Bob is the head coach of the NHL Phoenix Coyotes.
"I talked to both of them," Francis said. "I talked to my dad about what were some of the coaching tactics that would be simple, to keep the game simple."
"I talked with my brother a little bit. If you look at the way Phoenix plays the game, they play within themselves. Every road game they play, they play a 0-0, 1-1, 2-1 game."
"They wait for the opposition to make a mistake, they capitalize on that and hopefully they can come out with two points, or at least a point on the road."
"I think that at least from the simplicity of these three games, that Rocky and I pitched in and helped out while Graeme was on the sidelines as the eye-in-the-sky, you try to keep the game simple."
"We tried to win our face-offs, hopefully capture 60% of those, and if you win the face-offs in the defensive zone you have control of the puck, they can’t score. If you win the face-offs in the offensive zone it presents a scoring opportunity, that was number one."
"Number two is the giveaways. If we chip the puck off the wall, get it out of our zone, and capture the neutral zone and then forecheck and win the offensive zone, you are going to take it zone by zone by zone. Keep the game simple."
"Third, which Graeme has expressed right from training camp, is you want to be physical. Hits are number three. It doesn’t mean you have to put a guy up in the penthouse or the rafters, but you need to finish your checks. "
"And if you are making a play offensively, you have to take the hit to make the play. That is just the real basics of the game. It worked in a small arena, like in Columbia, which is as about as short an ice surface as the old Boston Garden, which was 185’ by 85’, so the best way to get puck out of your zone is to chip it up the wall, capture the neutral zone, forecheck and that is the real basics and simplicity of the game."
Townshend said that "one thing they did that I wouldn’t have done was put Chris Brassard out for a shootout [against Columbia], but it worked so who am I to argue about that.
"[Scarfone and Francis] should get a lot of credit because they were put in a situation that was very unfamiliar to them. They deserve a lot of credit because they did stick to our game plan. They didn’t falter and didn’t change things, which led to a couple of victories for us. Both victories were come from behind wins, which says a lot about our guys."
"We always preached from day one that we are an organization that sticks together come hell or high water," Scarfone added. "This was one of those situations. The team just rallied around it."
"All the credit needs to go to the team. They are the ones who are out there, we may have been the ones on the bench and may have made calls here and there, but we implemented Graeme’s system the way he wanted it. The guys executed."
"Through all the adversity, they stood above it all, and kicked tail. They did a great job."
Scarfone was asked if he was happy to be back behind a desk: "I’ll tell you what, it is a little boring as opposed to being on the road and the twelve hour trips, but it’s fine. Either [way] I’m ok."
"I really don’t like being up in the bleachers," Townshend said. "I can’t stand it up there. You couldn’t do anything, and I felt really helpless."
"There were times when I wanted to make some corrections, or just do some teaching, but you really can’t do that there, obviously, so it was frustrating. It is something I do not want to experience again."
"I will be a good boy from this time out."
Francis was asked if he enjoyed his coaching stint: "No. I can’t say, to be real honest, it was as much fun as it might be if you had been doing this a while. It was a challenge to be prepared in a day and a half to go in, learn the players, learn the system."
"It is much easier to recognize and get to know someone face to face. All you are looking at is the back of jerseys, names and numbers."
"The players responded incredibly. This is a team that does not have the word ‘quit’ in its vocabulary. With as many penalties that we had to kill off, especially in those first two games, we were shorthanded 48 minutes!"
"The biggest challenge we found was not only to put the best penalty killing units out there, but to be prepared as to who was going to be the full unit once you got back into your offensive flow."
"You almost have to think three shifts ahead of when you actually are in the midst of killing off those penalties. "
"The guys responded. We killed every penalty off as we intended to do, don’t get into any type of discussions with the other team on their bench or the officials, just do our job."
"As Rocky said earlier, you have to give all the credit to the guys who were sitting on that bench."
"From the beginning," Scarfone added, "a lot of skeptics [were like] ‘My god, you are putting these guys behind the bench?’ And there was a lot of pressure on us, on Graeme, and on the team."
"The last thing anybody wanted to do, let alone myself, was go 0-3 on the road. Thank god that didn’t happen."
"The team stepped right up to the plate. It was a family effort."