June 21, 2018

UPDATED: Caps Players’ Reactions to Coaching Change

Dale Hunter on ice for this first practice as Caps Head Coach (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Here are some unfiltered quotes from the locker room proceeding Dale Hunter’s first practice with the Washington Capitals, taking over from Bruce Boudreau, dismissed after four years, 200-plus wins, four Southeast Division banners and one President’s Trophy.  Some players were genuinely upset, some were matter-of-fact, and some were simply resolved.  But to a man, they all recognized that as players, their lack of effort in recent weeks led to the dismissal of a very good hockey coach.

Alex Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin addressing media re Boudreau and Hunter (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Reaction to the news:

“I think everybody was in shock.  I had like 50 missed calls, 50 messages.  Kind of a shocking situation, but it is what it is.”

What was the problem?

“I think, first of all, all the guys that work with Bruce knows he’s a great coach and great guy.  For everybody, for this organization makes lots of good things.  We won a lot, and he cares for the team and the person.  We respond as players and I think everybody try, but again, it’s done and we have to look forward.  We’re gonna work hard and play our best.

Did you have any disagreements with Boudreau:

“No.  I have good relationship with him. And it’s gonna be good relationship.  Work is work, but we have good relationship right away when they bring him in.”

On Hunter:

“He’s a legend here.  He play here and he knows how to win games and how to play it.  I don’t know how he is as coach, but I talked to Wides (who played for Hunter’s OHL London team) and he said only good things about him.”

“They say he’s a straight-up coach.  If he wants to say something to you he’s gonna say it, and I think that’s good.”

On going forward:

“Everybody knows, right now we just have to play our game.”

Do you think the team will be re-energized with the new coach?

“I hope it’s gonna be like that.  You can see today at practice everybody was flying everybody was concentrating.  It was a very good practice.”

Did the team tune out Boudreau?

“I don’t know.  You can be tired from the coach telling you made mistakes and something like that.  Again, it’s a decision that’s been made and we just have to look forward, don’t look back at what happened. Or if you’re gonna look back, I think we don’t have to talk to [the media] about it, it has to be, again, back in our locker room.

What needs to change?

“We just need to win games.  It’s as simple as that.  We just have to play harder and together.  Sometimes when you have a kind of slump, you just have to fight through that.  Again, it’s all about us.  We play on the ice.  We just have to score the goals, make some hits, make something how we do.”

Dale Hunter checking with Semin and Orlov to make sure that they can understand his English (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

John Carlson

(Carlson played for Hunter’s OHL London Knights)

Reaction this morning:

“I was very surprised.”

 On Hunter’s style as coach:

“I think I was one of the better players on my team there and I certainly didn’t get a free pass so can’t see much changing there.”

“I think that anytime we get a new coach in there it really does energize you, especially him, I think he’s a good guy.”

“He played hard all the time and I think that will trickle down to us.”

“At the end of the day he’s going to hold everyone responsible.”

Do you feel, as a player, responsible for Bruce’s departure?

“Yes, we weren’t playing the way we really should have. We have the team in here to do it and we just didn’t do it. Sometimes it falls on other people and not the players.”

On playing under Hunter:

“My best hockey year and my most important so far was with him. I really learned a lot and got a lot better in that year and obviously he’s doing something right.”

“I think he’s a great coach. He was unbelievable to me.”

“I think that Bruce was great in areas and I’m sure that all of the coaches out there are great in some areas, but lack some areas. I think that [Hunter] is going to really nail things down that really need to be nailed down. The finer details out there like you saw in practice today. He’s not going to let it slide when it’s not his way.”

“We’ve still got the same team in the room. We’ve still got the same components to the team, skill and grit and the whole nine years so I don’t think he can change that much. But if we hammer home the points that he wants in respects to the fore-check and the d-zone and neutral zone not huge things, not monumental where it’s going to take a few weeks to get used to it, but we need to get those things done.”

On today’s practice:

“I thought it was a very good practice. I think that he was trying to get everyone to push the pace and I think that we certainly did that.”

Brooks Laich

“When I first found out this morning my first thought was ‘I wish I could have done more.’”  “[This morning was] Pretty tough. [Boudreau] is a man that himself personally that I owe a lot to. The job he’s done in Washington is amazing. Before he got here, we were a last place team. He’s taken us from a team that started to win, and won consistently, made the playoffs and ultimately had Stanley Cup expectations so it’s tough on a personal note to see him go.”

“It’s the nature of the beast. It’s a business and we understand it and I feel terrible for Bruce because he is leaving his dream job.”“If you rip one of our players out of the locker room, if you rip me out of the locker room, that’s how I think it would feel.”“I haven’t had a chance to talk with him yet, but I’m sure that he’s disappointed, but we all understand it’s a business and sometimes these things happen.”Does it go beyond a coaching change?

“The world of sports kinda sucks in a way that he takes the fall for stuff that we do. It’s not him that took a penalty or missed his assignment or turned the puck over. It’s the guys in this locker room.”

Under Hunter:

“Now Dale is here and today I thought we had a great practice. Guys are upbeat.”

“He’s had a lasting effect and his name is still talked about a lot, a guy that is really respected. I’m sure that he’ll take control right from the get go. And it won’t be too hard to follow that guy.”

Was a change necessary?“No. I had never lost belief in any of our coaches, especially not with Bruce.”“I thought we could play better, but it’s not up to him to try to motivate guys or to try to inspire guys. As professionals you’re paid to do a job and come to work every day. You should be giving your best effort all the time. That is what we expect as professionals.”

Dale Hunter with Dave Prior on ice for this first practice as Caps Head Coach (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Jeff Schultz

What went wrong?

“As players, it’s something that we never want to happen, but in the direction that we were going, we knew something was going to happen. We didn’t know if it was coaching or players. It was tough to see Bruce go.”

Was it a surprise? Or did you see it coming?

“A bit of both. As players, its something that we never want to happen, but in the direction that we were going, we knew something was going to happen. We didn’t know if it was coaching or players.”

On Bruce Boudreau:

“I think guys had a lot of respect for Bruce. Bruce did a great job and he worked real hard preparing for games and practices and stuff. The way that the last month has gone, things weren’t going our way or his way, a change had to be made.”

 On Dale Hunter:

“He’s very up front, coachable person that expects a lot of his players from what I’ve heard from other guys and who doesn’t take crap from anybody.”

 First Practice:

“It was a good first practice today. I’m sure it will take a little bit of time to work things out, but it was a good day one.”

Nick Backstrom

Reaction this morning:

“Well honestly a little surprised, but at the same time we have higher goals than being number eight [in the conference]. “

Thoughts on Hunter:

“He has a lot of experience and he’s been playing in this league and coaching in Canada so hopefully he can bring a lot to this team and teach us and help us.”

“I’m sure that he’ll teach us good things and we’ll learn from him.”

Did the team need a change?

“It’s hard to say, but we can just blame ourselves for not playing good enough. I think Bruce is a great coach and a great personality too.  It’s just us I think. We gotta blame ourselves. It is what it is. We gotta go from there and I think it will be good for us.”

“Right now we have so much challenge and we just got to figure out how to deal with it.”

Downfall of defense:

“Too many odd man rushes I think. Pretty much everything has been a little frustrating, especially when you try and it doesn’t work and we can’t get a puck out from the offensive zone. I think we gotta switch it up somehow and that is how it is now.”

Mike Knuble

On Hunter:

“Everybody knows his track record as a player and what he accomplished on the ice, what type of player he was and I think that will carry a lot of respect.”

“Sort of puts you on edge though that when a guy is talking about it, you know he’s done it and you know he’s done it well in our league and for a long time.”

“You see his jersey retired here and there is a lot of tradition.”

“Bringing that pride will be good for us.”

“He brings a lot of clout and everybody knows his name in this city. Players know what he’s accomplished here and in our league and I think that is a lot of immediate respect you want to play hard for.”

Mike Knuble (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Jeff Halpern

On what went wrong:

“We’re not executing things that are asked of us.”

“Some things we’ve done well and some things need a lot of improvement.”

“It’s hard to blame one person for that, especially when he execution of those plans are on the players.”

“I know the expectations of this team are incredibly high and we had a really good start and have fallen lately.”

 On Hunter:

“Anyone likes a guy who fights for his teammates and sticks up for his teammates.”

“He plays as tough as he is.”

Joel Ward

Reaction to coaching change:

“I was definitely shocked. I had no clue.”

“I think I’ve only been part of something like this before once in my career in junior hockey so its definitely a different experience for me.”

“We’ve got to just keep moving forward.”

On Boudreau losing team:

“I never blame the coaches or refs. As players you just kinda do your job and there’s a system in place. I guess we had one too many break downs on the ice and resulted in giving up a few goals.”

“At times we played well and at times we didn’t.”

“I don’t know if it is something that we needed, but obviously it is the case.”

“As a group as a whole in our locker room is just to come together and play for one another and give that extra little percent.”

On what Hunter can bring to team:

“Maybe it’s a different style of play that he can enforce.”

Tomas Vokoun

First reaction:

“Obviously it’s something, in my career, I’ve ever been a part of in mid-season a coach getting fired.  I found out on the way to the rink, actually from my wife in Florida.  So I was surprised.  It’s disappointing but obviously it’s something — when things are not going well it’s usually, people make changes and saying that, there’s no one else to blame but the players.  We don’t play well and obviously you feel bad for Bruce.  It’s part of the business, definitely not the best part of it, but that’s how it is.

“We’re all to blame.  Me personally, I’m not playing up to my standards.  I’ll say probably there are 18 other guys in this locker room doing the same thing.  Sometimes, stuff, it’s not always fair.  It’s not up to me to judge.  Sometimes it’s nobody’s fault, just things didn’t work out and it’s unfortunate. It’s not something you wish for happening.  Here, we’re not the kind of team we should be going through it, but we are.  We have a good team, but we haven’t shown enough of that, especially of late, and they felt like they had to make a change and they did.”

Did the team stop responding?

“I don’t think it was anybody’s intention on this team [to get the coach fired]. We didn’t play well. It compounded on us. We got some bad breaks.  You felt like there was a bad atmosphere around.  We would come out for the game and maybe people wanted it too much or we were making mistakes but I don’t think it was premeditated to come to the game and not play hard or lose the game or anything like that.  Sometimes for whatever reason things don’t go your way and we just weren’t getting the job done.  And it wasn’t getting any better, it was getting worse.  I feel bad for Bruce, but I’m sure he knows better than anyone it’s part of the game.”

What’s gone wrong?

“We haven’t been playing well.  Nothing’s was working.  Our defense was bad, our goaltending was bad.  We weren’t scoring either much in the games we lost.  Like I said, it’s not like we were five games under .500, but just the overall feeling of our games weren’t good.  Sometimes we wont he game and we still, it was kind of iffy.  Sometimes you can lose and go from the game and say ‘We played great’ and we lost the game because of this, this, this.  I think our biggest problem was being consistent.  We were making crucial mistakes at bad times.  Never it was one guy, some night it was this guy, the next night it was this one.  It’s hard to pinpoint it.  If we knew, we would fix it.  It’s hard to find that one thing.  Sometimes it’s multiple things.  It’s not up to me to judge anybody’s performance but mine, but I can say from my standard, I’m not happy from my last five, six games.

“It’s hard to change 20 guys, right? Sometimes they just change the one.”

Tomas Vokoun (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Karl Alzner

Did Boudreau lose the room?

“It’s tough. I don’t really know exactly how it all happened.  This is my first time ever going through something like this but he still had — Bruce knows the game, incredibly well.  But for whatever reason, as a team, we weren’t really responding well, or not as well as we should have been.  Where do you go after that?  Where do you go from there?  That’s when they come into play, the guys upstairs, and they do what they have to do.  But I think that Bruce did an unbelievable job.  He’s got a great record in the games that he’s coached.

Dale Hunter's Banner Hanging at Kettler (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)


Additional reporting by Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page.

About Cheryl Nichols

Cheryl Nichols is a Columnist and Photographer for District Sports Page. She is credentialed to cover the Washington Capitals and has reported on the community service and fan events since 2006. Cheryl has been published in The Washington Post and many other local media. She was a credentialed photographer for the 2010 season covering the Washington Nationals. You can follow her on Twitter @cnichols14.

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