Inside the Flyers: Berube settles in as Flyers' head coach

Posted: October 28, 2013

UNIONDALE, N.Y. - Even before he was promoted from a Flyers assistant to their 18th head coach in franchise history, Craig Berube would run several miles a few times each week, especially when the team was on the road.

The pattern continues.

"I like doing it. It helps relieve stress," Berube said the other day.

With his new position, and with the Flyers struggling for wins and goals, the stress has intensified. There are a lot more duties, a lot more headaches.

And, he hopes, a lot more satisfaction.

Berube, 47, went from being in charge of the penalty kill to running the whole show. It was like going from a little-used fourth-liner to a top-line center, like going from Jay Rosehill to Claude Giroux in the blink of an eye.

Nicknamed "Chief" because of his Indian heritage, Berube isn't complaining about the increased responsibilities. He may not like how he got the job - he replaced his friend, the fired Peter Laviolette, after the Flyers' 0-3 start - but he is comfortable in his position, and hoping he lasts longer than his current contract. (Oddly, the Flyers will say only that it's a multiyear deal, and are tight-lipped on its length.)

Like his predecessor, Berube was thrown into a difficult position - trying to incorporate a new system without the benefit of his own training camp.

Laviolette replaced John Stevens early in the 2009-10 season, and it took the Flyers several months to get comfortable with his attacking system. In fact, the Flyers' point percentage under Laviolette that season (.535 in 57 games) was actually lower than when Stevens was fired (.540 in 25 games) in December.

The Flyers qualified for the playoffs with a shootout victory over the Rangers on the last day of that season, then rode the momentum all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Similarly, the Flyers are going through the expected growing pains under Berube, whose system is more about an aggressive forecheck and creating offense off the team's defensive play. Berube, who doesn't have a particularly fast team, stresses quickness.

"We're not totally there, but we're getting there," he said. "I think we're doing a better job without the puck."

"I really like his system - a high and hard forecheck," defenseman Erik Gustafsson. "It's a lot of skating for the forwards, but I think that way you get into the game. Unfortunately, it hasn't paid off yet [in goals], but I think we're getting more scoring chances since he took over."

Maybe it will take a few more weeks for the players to get the system down. Maybe it will take a few more months. The Flyers hope that by the time they are all on the same page, the playoffs are within their reach - not an outlandish possibility in the ragged Metropolitan Division.

"I like the hockey sense of the guys in here and their ability to grasp things," said defenseman Braydon Coburn, whose team was 2-7 overall and 2-4 under Berube heading into Saturday night's game against the New York Islanders. "From what I've seen in practices and meetings, it seems like guys are fairly comfortable with what we're trying to accomplish out there. I think nowadays, by the time you get to this level, you've been exposed to a few different styles of play - from junior hockey to minor hockey levels. Guys have gotten a taste of other systems as they've come up along the way."

Berube, who is seventh in penalty minutes in NHL history, has a wonderful, dry sense of humor.

"He's the same old Chief," Gustafsson said. "A great guy who always pushes you to be at your best."

The push usually comes with playful verbal jabs, though he may have backed off a bit since replacing Laviolette on Oct. 7.

"Assistant coaches joke around and have fun," center Brayden Schenn said. "Obviously when you're the head coach, you're a little more serious. Chief's been awesome. He demands a lot, he obviously wants us to play a speed game and work hard, and I've learned a lot."

"He still has one-liners," Schenn said, smiling. "He's still Chief, but he's just a little more serious."

Back when he played for five NHL teams, including the Flyers, Berube was all business on the ice - an enforcer during a time when that job was more important than it is today.

"I like players like him," his Flyers coach said in a 1990 interview with The Inquirer. "I have a soft spot in my heart for guys who play like him."

For that coach - Paul Holmgren, who is now the Flyers' general manager - the soft spot never went away.


scarchidi@phillynews.com

@BroadStBull

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