Berube: We've got a long way to go

Posted: March 14, 2014

THE UNASSUMING eyes belie his reputation as a tough guy, the incessantly bemused face contrasts the role he played, too. If you met Craig Berube today and didn't know how to navigate the Internet, you might guess that he once was a stay-at-home defenseman, or an analytics guy, maybe even a special-teams coach.

"I've known the guy a long time," Keith Jones, a former teammate and current television analyst has said, "and I didn't know he'd be this good at it."

Good? Berube's not so sure about that.

"We haven't done anything yet," he spit out yesterday, when asked how aware he is of the accolades he has received, and when you suggest that just making this team relevant again to the postseason discussion after that inauspicious 1-7-1 start is something, he responds with a mix of disdain, disgust and indifference, flashing an expression more representative of the player he once was.

"Yeah, whatever," he said. "We've got a ways to go."

That they do, a month's worth of hard-labor hockey against many of the NHL's best teams that could make those words prophetic, and render any discussion of his coach of the year candidacy comically premature. With the exception of a few players, the Flyers are virtually the same team that began the season so poorly, and the same team that was thrashed by San Jose at home in its first game back from the Olympic break, and a team that was a soft goal away from being shut out by low-scoring New Jersey Tuesday night - again at home.

As hopeful as their string of successes were before the break, the Flyers are 3-2-1 since returning. Slow starts, which plagued their December growing pains and led in part to their duplicitous reputation as a third-period team, seem to have cropped up again as they head into their back-to-back games this weekend against the Penguins.

If the season ended today they would make the playoffs. If the season ended after this weekend, who knows? Back in the days of Hitchcock, Stevens and Laviolette, there was a chalkboard at the entrance to the showers monitoring such daily swings, but it has become a casualty of remodeling and the current coach's indifference.

It's not about where you are in the standings. It's about where you are upstairs. The Flyers' success under Berube has been a process, not a potion, and there is still a razor's edge difference between their winning efforts and their losing ones.

That edge has been sharpened by the coach, who has over the course of this season removed and reinserted Kimmo Timonen on the top power play, scratched players like Steve Downie for stretches and pulled up minor leaguers to replace ineffective guys for a game or two at a time. That's not unusual. What's unusual is that the affected players seem to understand why, or at least responded to it in a positive vein.

"He explained exactly why he did it," Downie said. "And I had no problem with it at all."

"I don't think you want to make it personal," Berube said. "I don't think there's any reason to make it personal. If you have a bad guy on your team, I think you need to get rid of that bad guy. There are no bad guys on this team.

"People need to understand whether you are a player or a coach, it's constructive criticism. It's nothing more. This is the way it is. This is it. You've got to tell the guy. Because if you don't tell the guy, he's not going to get any better and it's going to bother you. It's going to bother me, anyway. Constructive criticism is good. It's good for everybody. I think it's important to evaluate yourself without making excuses."

As a journeyman pugilist, there were no free rides for Berube as a player, and there are no free rides for his team, either. A franchise that has too often responded to the prevailing winds of the time, the Flyers seem to be forging an identity under that theme these days. Terry Murray, who coached their Lindros-era teams of the 1990s, is now the head accountant for their minor league team. John Paddock, with his own resume of success as a head coach and general manager, is one of Berube's assistants. And Ian Laperriere, whose career ended prematurely because he blocked a shot with his face, is his assistant.

Just try BS-ing that group.

"We want to bring that culture here of accountability," Berube said. "Evaluate yourself and don't make any excuses. That's the kind of culture that we want around here."

The coach looked up and pointed at the scrawls along the top of the wall of the new locker room at the practice facility. Every shift matters. Every day matters.

"You come in here, you've got a responsibility," he said. "Do your job. And do it while having fun. You should enjoy coming to practice. You should enjoy it for your teammates. That's where you get that chemistry. In the past, I think this team has had chemistry off the ice. But I never thought it had it on the ice. And I think we're getting there. We're still not there yet. But we're getting there. We're getting close."


Email: donnels@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @samdonnellon

Columns: ph.ly/Donnellon

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