This weekend, Agganis Arena kept running promotions for an event next weekend with Cesar Millan, the “Dog Whisperer.” (Aka, a dog behavior expert that dog owners turn to once they realize that raising a dog may, in fact, take actual work.)
My immediate thought during the first ad Friday night was, “Gosh, Jack Parker could use a Dog Whisperer. He’s got a whole roster of Terriers that keep giving him trouble.”
What would happen if during his Agganis visit next weekend, Millan spent some time analyzing the problems of this year’s Terrier team? I think it might go something like this:
Parker: I can’t believe I’m turning to you.
Millan: Oprah does.
Parker: Fine. I guess I’m desperate. As I mentioned in my post-game comments after Friday’s tie to Vermont, “my team does not know how to get ready for a hockey game.” They then went on to emphasize that point with a 4-1 loss against BC on Saturday. What changed between my 2009 national champions and this team?
Millan: If you watch my television show, you’ll know I am all about owners quitting babying their dogs. If you baby your pets, they’ll walk all over you and develop behavior problems that you’ll end up paying me thousands to fix. I see you with somewhat of the same problem – this team is walking all over you.
As hard nosed as you are, you lost a huge part of your bite when a coach’s dream of a captain, Matt Gilroy, graduated. His age and superhuman-esque determination gave you an extra coach in the locker room. And let’s not forget about John McCarthy, a quiet, but impactful leader, especially among his classmates. Then you had that whole senior class – essentially, you had five or six captains.
According to many accounts (including a close reading of Burn the Boats), Gilroy and McCarthy did a lot of your coaching for you last season. They called out guys when they got lazy. They set the tone at practices. They instilled the goal-setting mindset of the team as a whole. You also allowed them much more reign than other captains had. And with this age group, acceptance by peers can be much more powerful than by authority figures, giving your captains that much more clout.
Parker: But Shattenkirk has a lot of captaincy experience. He was captain of the USA Under-18 Team and the World Junior Team.
Millan: But there is only one of him, he’s a junior, and he thought he’d be assisting a captain Brian Strait this season. No doubt Shattenkirk is a good player and leader, but he now leads alone a team made up of a bunch of individuals who have been spoiled by a national championship.
Parker: A bunch of individuals?
Millan: Two glaring examples: On the ice, Colby Cohen always must take the slapshot instead of passing it to a more open or closer to the net teammate. It is as if he honestly believes his overtime winner in the national championship game will happen every time he shoots the puck. It won’t. It was a fluke play that bounced off a Miami player’s leg.
Then you have Vinny Saponari, who has decided that he wants to be the Southern Alex Ovechkin. His puck handling could win him points for presentation, but this isn’t figure skating – it’s hockey, and if he would stop his focus on being fancy, he could be a national leader in goal scoring.
Parker: Two out of twenty-six. Fine, I’ll figure out what to do with them, but something else has to be ailing us.
Millan: Speed. The North Dakota-like speed that signaled that this was a different team than usual during the October 2008 Icebreaker has vanished somewhat. Every team is now catching up in terms of speed, and while there have been games where you come out of the gate all speedy, you lose it much too quickly.
Secondly, the team needs to work on breakaways and rebounds. They are tending behind on both. They are not taking advantage of opportunities because they’re either focused on making the fancy play or thinking too much about what to do with the puck. There’s only one thing to do with the puck – get it somewhere where it can end up in the net. Is that a closer or open teammate? Is that the net? This thinking needs to be snappier.
Parker: What about my goalies?
Millan: Last year was like adopting a dog and having me with you for a year training it, then taking me away and expecting everything to be normal. You had two freshmen goaltenders in front of some of the most outstanding defensive players the program has ever had. You also had forwards who understood their defensive roles. This year, you still have massive, pounding defensemen, but you also have three of them thinking they are also forwards. Plus, your forwards are no longer defensively minded. No one is there to help the goalies, so you now see what they are really made of.
Am I saying either Rollheiser or Millan (who must be a distant cousin of mine or something) are bad? No, but they need to adjust to the lack of help they have in front of them. Their own teammates are screening them. Defensemen seem to be maintaining some set distance from the net – did the two goalies put out a restraining order on the team or something?
Parker: The boys and I have a break coming up. What can I possibly do to turn this season around? I mean, I’m beginning to think I should have hung it up after last year.
Millan: First off, bench kids. Bench kids with names. Bench seniors. Bench juniors. You were never afraid of benching “stars” in the past – why are you now? Bonino wasn’t prolific until you benched him last November. Tough love – you’re not their mother. But you do demand great things from them, and you can’t do that if you are afraid of hurting their feelings or thinking they can fix themselves. Bench unproductive players. Bench selfish players. Tell them that they don’t play until they take the game and the team seriously.
We also know you’re stuck on this, “Let’s not mention the National Championship bit,” to the team, with the team not allowed to be announced as the defending national champions and all. But hockey players crave motivation, and maybe putting the title out there – hey, we’re defending national champions, but we aren’t going to be able to defend until we have non-selfish, consistent effort – could be just the motivation that will click.
Break out every single passing drill ever known to man. A team that can pass to each other can score. This team is dropping passes right and left.
And tell the team that if they can’t make fancy plays until they make some All-Stars skills competition in their pro careers. But if they can’t score on rebounds and breakaways, there will be no All-Star skills competitions.
Order Gilroy make a video where he threatens to make them run the Charles hungover at 4:30am if they don’t win a game. Or tell Shattenkirk to get amazingly angry, and let Gryba get mean with him, and then get Gryba involve his other seniors. If the balance of the team won’t listen to you, they should be listening to their angry, older peers.
Parker: Well, as much as I can’t believe I am accepting your opinion on this, some of it seems pretty legit. By the way, I hear you’re gonna have dogs in my arena. You leave my arena clean next week, you hear me? So help me if there is dog anything stuck to my ice…
Millan: Tsst. Tsst. Down.