Welcome to a brand new, every-so-often blog topic. Like those reflective gents from Mumford and Sons, I too have been recently asking myself “Where are you now?”, except my question pertains to NHL’ers. Where are those guys we grew up watching night after night, wearing their names on our backs, cheering them on as they won Cups and made their marks in hockey history?
The thing about hockey players is that once they fall in love with the game they can never leave it. It’s a culture. As my one of my favorite pieces of text explains,
Never get caught telling a hockey player it’s just a game.
Never get caught trying to explain to him all the things in the world that matter so much more.
His mind might well acknowledge the truth to your point, but his soul would be powerless to accept it, considering the immensity of what he gives to the sport, and the immeasurability of what it offers in return.
Nothing ever feels as perfect as a moment of flawlessness on the ice.
No bond as strong as one that compels brothers to bleed for one another.
Not many leaders are this versed in the craft of motivation.
Not many pursuits can evoke such visions of brilliance.
This is why it hurts so much when skill falls short of what the will desires.
This is why it’s so unforgettable when absolute passion yields ultimate reward.
And that’s all still just the start of what the game can do.
Once a hockey player, always a hockey player.
So where are those good ‘ole favorites?!
Well some eventually become coaches, some become analysts, and most will be playing beer league until they can no longer physically lace up their skates.
Rick Tocchet has done it all. Player, coach, and analyst, he has seen many sides of the game, and we at Babes Dig Balls had the opportunity to catch up with this household hockey name in our inaugural “Where Are They Now?”
Tocchet, born in Canada, worked his way up the OHL and was drafted 6th round by the Philadelphia Flyers in 1983. He started with the Flyers during the 1984–85 season, scoring 39 points and helping the team to the Stanley Cup Finals. In the beginning Tocchet was primarily known for his crowd-pleasing fight skills, but put in the long hours and hard work to evolve into a key offensive player on the ice.
During Tocchet’s first year in the NHL, Flyers head coach Mike Keenan led the team to their best regular season record in the League. They padded their 53-20-7 record with two extended winning streaks and amassed a total 113 points.
In February 1992 the Flyers traded Tocchet, along with Kjell Samuelsson, Ken Wregget, and 3rd round pick (Dave Roche) to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Mark Recchi. Tocchet was captain of the Flyers at the time of the trade, and although leaving his team was difficult, he didn’t miss a beat and scored 19 points in 14 playoff games to help the Penguins repeat as Stanley Cup champions.
During his career Tocchet played for the Los Angeles Kings, Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, and Phoenix Coyotes. He returned to his roots with the Flyers in 2000, adding 11 points to an Eastern Conference Finals berth. After the 2001–02 season, Tocchet retired as a player with an impressive 440 goals and 2,972 PIM.
In 2002 the coaching bug bit as Rick took on the role of assistant coach for the Colorado Avalanche. Through no fault of his own, so began a rocky trek through his coaching career. He moved over to assist the Phoenix Coyotes in 2005, a team that had just convinced The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, to become head coach (who at the time was partial owner). Stepping up as interim head coach for the Coyotes in December 2005, and then having to do the same for the Lightening less than three years later, Tocchet had a lot thrown at him in a short span of time. He became head coach of Tampa Bay on May 11, 2009 and stayed in the position for one season.
Tocchet has since returned to where he began, once again, in Philly. The four-time NHL All-Star serves as a Flyers Postgame Live panelist on Comcast SportsNet.
We had the absolute privilege to ask Rick some questions, so please Babely hockey fans, enjoy a little time with the infamous Rick Tocchet, and be sure to catch his sweet spaghetti-making-skills video below! (You’ll see)
Q & A WITH RICK TOCCHET
Q: You played an astounding 18 seasons in the NHL and were able to succeed as both an enforcer and a high-scoring power forward. What was it that gave you such sustainable momentum and longevity as a dynamic player?
A: To play in the NHL and try to stay there I knew I had two things I had to make sure were musts in my preparation. One being that I would have to be in the best shape I could possibly be (summer off-season training in California with my personal trainer), and two, maximize your talents. I wasn’t the most talented but I tried to improve everyday on my game. Skating extra after practice and shooting countless pucks!!
Q: In your first few years you skated under Mike Keenan with the Flyers. Keenan received a lot of flak for his coaching style, but he has always greatly intrigued me. As your earliest NHL coach, how was Keenan to play for and do you think he played an influential role in shaping your professional career?
A: Mike Keenan was a very tough coach to play for. He could be very brutally honest, stubborn, and wacky at the same time. Some things you might not agree with him on but one thing for sure is he made me a better hockey player; made me tougher physically and mentally. He challenged me every day to not accept mediocrity. His practices were at the head of his time; 55 minutes of intense, quick and fundamental hockey, followed by a workout session in the gym. He also made sure there was lots to eat and drink for recovery. And gave us plenty of days off.
Q: People always ask, why is fighting allowed and/or necessary in ice hockey. Being a player known for the occasional scrap, what would be your response to this reoccurring question? Do you think fighting now is different from 15-20 years ago?
A: Fighting will always be part of the game. It helps keep the stick work, and players going after your best players, down so the game isn’t chippy. When it’s for that, it is passionate and exciting for fans. If it is staged and has no relevance to the game then I agree it has no purpose. I love a good intensity-filled game with the odd scrap!!
Q: Going back to retire with the team that drafted you seems like a terrific way to bring your career full circle. Had you wanted to return to Philadelphia for your last few seasons, and how did it feel to be a Flyer again at the end of your career?
A: It was a terrific time for me to come back and finish my career in the orange and black. My body was wearing down but the fans and my teammates help me through a lot of pain. The 2001 team run to Eastern Conference Finals was one of the most fun times I ever had. Our team was close, funny, believed in each other, and inspiring. A lot things happened that year that gave our team an excuse to lose. We fell short but I was proud of that team !!
Q: In a similar vein, you were able to play for the Phoenix Coyotes, and then return to the team in a coaching role. What was it like to see two very different sides of the same organization?
A: I really enjoyed coaching. Being with the Coyotes I learned a lot. [In] Both instances if we were allowed as an organization to spend just some more money I really believe there could have been more success. Especially when I played there, we had a very good team but needed one or two pieces (but money was a factor) to really challenge the Cup . We traded Cliff Ronning to save more money and then things unraveled.
Q: Your coaching career had some lack of continuity, and there were multiple instances when you became an interim coach. Discuss the difficulties with that, and if it contributed to your decision to work as an analyst instead.
A: I love coaching and had a blast teaching, especially young players. It would be my dream to coach a very stable and committed franchise. I envy coaches who have owners that want to win at all cost. Spend to the cap and treat everybody in the organization in a first class way. Teams like Detroit, Philly, Pitt, NYR to name a few have that reputation.
Q: One last question, do you mind if we show all the babes out there your sweet spaghetti making skills video? 🙂
A: I’d rather be cooking spaghetti with a babe in the kitchen with me!! Lol
Rick often gets chirped for this video, but it’s the kind of thing we here at Babes Dig Balls just love.