Boston Globe: "(Westfield State's) Laviolette Turns Around Flyers"
Laviolette turns around Flyers
January 24, 2010
By Kevin Paul Dupont, Globe Staff
The pace is faster and the record
is improving. Funny, it seems wherever Peter
Laviolette (Westfield State Class of 1986) goes, his clubs
are required to play in a higher gear and usually the L's give way
That's not to say the Flyers are running off and hiding, but they've improved immensely since their Jan. 1 visit here and now look poised to nudge their way back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture. The Flyers beat Carolina, 4-2, yesterday afternoon to improve to 7-2-0 over their past nine games, and are 13-10-1 over the six weeks since Laviolette took over for the fired John Stevens.
"We weren't moving well in December,'' Laviolette said. "We had a hard time changing gears, moving from one team identity to another.
"That's not to say there's a right way to play or a wrong way, because the right way is whatever works. But as a coach, you've got to have an idea of how you want to play, get them to accept the idea, and I think we were caught in the transition for a while.''
It's no state secret that Laviolette desires a hard-charging, up-tempo attack, one that his former boss, Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos, described as reckless when Laviolette was fired by Carolina in December 2008. Of course, it was the same approach, and same coach, that led the Hurricanes to their only Stanley Cup in 2006. "A perfect storm,'' Karmanos said, making it sound as if the championship were more a force of nature, if not sheer luck, than any result of coaching acumen.
However, as a member of the Boston organization, Laviolette won a Calder Cup in Providence in 1999 preaching the speed-and-attack game. In 2001-02, in his debut as an NHL coach after being bypassed for the Boston job, he coaxed the moribund Islanders into the playoffs two straight seasons before being fired after successive first-round knockouts.
The Cup win in Carolina came in only his second season behind the bench there, having picked up the pieces the year before from coach-for-life Paul Maurice (now again in charge of a perfectly horrendous storm in Carolina).
The Hurricanes, who last week curiously had Eric Staal installed as team captain over Rod Brind'Amour, are mired in last place in the Eastern Conference.
"There's a physical and mental part when it comes to a team making a change,'' said Laviolette, a favorite son of Franklin and the former pride of Westfield State hockey. "It was like that my first season in Carolina. By the end of the season, guys were getting it.
"Guys have to adjust to playing the game in their head at full speed, where to be, how to react. And as a player, you have to get comfortable with that. As a coach, you wish it could happen quicker, but . . .''
Laviolette also was instrumental in bringing in goaltender Michael Leighton to stem the perennial bleeding in the Flyers net. Waived by the Hurricanes, the Flyers picked up Leighton about a week after hiring Laviolette, and the one-time Philly part-time stopper went an impressive 8-1-0 in his first nine decisions for the Flying P. It remains to be seen whether Leighton or the recently returned Ray Emery or perhaps Brian Boucher will be the workhorse down the stretch.
It looks as though they've fixed the hole behind their bench.
"You know what, there's a lot of good coaches out here,'' said the 45-year-old Laviolette, who headed up the Team USA bench at the 2006 Olympics in Turin. "Good coaches in the AHL. Good coaches in the ECHL. Good college coaches. Good assistant coaches in the NHL who want to be head coaches.
"So when I tell you that I'm grateful to [Flyers ownership] for bringing me to Philadelphia, I really mean it. This is a great opportunity and I feel extremely fortunate.''
Laviolette will get a 10-day break when the NHL shuts down in mid-February for the Olympics. A two-time Olympian, once as player (captain, '94, Lillehammer) and then as coach, he'll be among the millions of Americans whose ticket to the Vancouver Games is the TV's remote.
"Let me tell you, if Team USA called me, for anything, my answer is always the same - I'll go,'' he said. "I love USA Hockey and what it represents and what it offers everyone in the United States, not just NHL players and the Olympics.
"It's everything . . . the World Juniors, the World Championships, the Under-18 tournaments, and the development programs. It's just such an honor to be part of any of it, and the Olympics, that's the ultimate.
"I'll always be a big fan of the Olympics because of the play on the ice. The best teams from Canada, the US, Russia . . . it's the best of the best from all those countries. I don't know how you beat that.''