Flyers have responded to Berube's blunt approach

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Flyers coach Craig Berube still wants to see some improvement from his team in its final eight games.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Flyers coach Craig Berube still wants to see some improvement from his team in its final eight games.
Posted: April 17, 2014

Never mind that Luke Schenn was traded for James van Riemsdyk, a winger who had a breakout season in Toronto. Schenn was struggling earlier this season, so he was benched.

Never mind that Vinny Lecavalier has credentials that may get him into the Hall of Fame someday. The veteran center wasn't producing as a second-line left winger, so he was dropped to center on the fourth line late in the season.

Never mind that the Flyers traded popular center Max Talbot to Colorado for Steve Downie. The winger played without discipline and was a healthy scratch in several games.

Detect a pattern?

The gruff man behind those decisions, Flyers coach Craig Berube, doesn't worry about hurting feelings. There is no coddling, no mincing words.

"He lets you know exactly where you stand," defenseman Braydon Coburn said. "I think that's a good thing."

"He's a no-frills, no B.S.-type of guy," general manager Paul Holmgren said. "I think he's refreshing to the players, and they respect him."

You can't argue with the results.

Berube, 48, replaced the fired Peter Laviolette after the Flyers lost their first three games. Their record slipped to 1-7 as Berube implemented a new system. An attack-oriented team under Laviolette, the Flyers adopted Berube's defense-first system, one that relied on an active forecheck and increased backchecking from the forwards.

The turnaround has been stunning.

After their 1-7 start, the Flyers went 41-23-10 and finished in third place in the Metropolitan Division, two points behind the New York Rangers, their opponent in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Holmgren, whose team opens the series Thursday at Madison Square Garden, said he was "not surprised at all" by the team's success under Berube.

"Whether it's at practice or the locker room or the game . . . whether it's good things that are happening or bad, he keeps an even keel," Holmgren said. "He's always in control."

"When Chief took over, we weren't having a good year, and we were pretty disappointed with the way we finished the previous season," winger Wayne Simmonds said after Tuesday's practice in Voorhees. "And to start the same way, I don't think the guys were too confident."

They are now.

"Chief started doing high-tempo practices and we started working better as a team," Simmonds said. "We all started rolling and we started gaining confidence. You could see game after game after game we were getting better with our new system."

Berube's system creates offense off its defense. The numbers have been eye-opening. After 20 games, the Flyers were 28th in the 30-team NHL, averaging just two goals per game. But as they adapted to Berube's system, they flourished, averaging 3.16 goals per game - third in the league, behind Boston and Anaheim - over their last 62 games.

"I give him a lot of the credit," defenseman Nick Grossmann said. "It's pretty much the same group that started the year, and I think we were kind of out of sync, and he did a good job of putting it all together and getting everyone on the same page."

Berube, an enforcer during his playing days who Holmgren says has a "great hockey mind," said he won't change his coaching style in the playoffs.

"You have to make decisions that are best for the hockey team at that time," he said. "In the regular season, you have a little leeway at times to make decisions. Maybe you're making some decisions for the future a bit, but in the playoffs, it's about right there and right now.

"I want my team to play under control, [play] with emotion and play disciplined hockey."

Grossmann said Berube's hard-driving persona brings out the best in players.

"He always expects you to bring your 'A' game, and at practice he expects you to work hard and be professional," Grossmann said. "That creates good habits, and that's a cornerstone as to why we were more successful than the start of the year."

The players, Grossmann said, appreciate Berube's "straight-shooting" style.

"It doesn't matter who you are. He lets you know what you did wrong and what you did right," said Grossmann, whose foot injury is improving. "It's fair game for everyone; instead of having guys who don't understand [their role], he's putting all the cards on the table - and you've got to read them. I like that."

Grossmann said Berube has made it clear "what he expects of us, and it's what everyone in the room expects of each other."

"He talks to the players and treats you the way you want to be treated," Simmonds said.


scarchidi@phillynews.com

@BroadStBull

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