Johnson: Gelinas proof that nice guys finish first
Flames assistant coach making a difference in club’s locker-room
In any discerning list of nice guys on this planet, let alone in this game, he holds down an exalted place.
Why, next to Marty Gelinas, Mr. Rogers would be considered a cur, Mary Poppins a downer, the Von Trapp family a mob and Ned Flanders a satanist.
“Sometimes,” reckons the Calgary Flames’ first-year assistant coach, “you’ve got to be hard. Sometimes compassionate, sometimes hard.
“That’s the job.”
For Gelinas, the cranky bit, the whip-cracking/heavy-handed/titanium-ass persona, would certainly be stepping out of character. Along the lines, say, of Pat Boone recording a grunge album.
“Difficult? For me?” He shrugs. “It is and it isn’t. I played honest. I try to live my life honest. So at the end of the day, if I have to be hard and then I’m not, I’m not being honest and so I’m cheating everybody else in this room.
“Sometimes you’ve got to step up and pull yourself out of your comfort zone.
“I’m learning tons from Bob (Hartley), just the way he approaches things. He’s hard, but you know what? It is what it is. If we want to win, we’re not cheating anybody, we’re doing our business, there’s a lot of repetition. He’s saying it. I’m saying it. Jacques (Cloutier)’s saying it.
“The same message. All the time.”
Much of the talk as this abbreviated season begins to find shape has centred around the newbies introduced into the Calgary fold, and the impact they’ll eventually exact on the whole. Around Hartley and Cloutier. Jiri Hudler and Roman Cervenka. Dennis Wideman and Sven Baertschi.
Largely lost in the shuffling of the Flaming C deck has been good-guy Marty, the overtime hero of springtime ’04, who grabs a whistle, a sweatsuit and a clipboard and embarks on a new, ambitious career absolutely cold turkey. From scratch. Square 1. Learning as he goes along, day to day, practice to practice, period by period (all cliches apply).
“I love my job,” he says. “I love what I’m doing. I love to try make an impact, a difference.
“This is the closest thing to being a player. So it’s been a good transition. It’d be nice to have more wins but we’ll keep working at that. A lot of teaching is involved. It’s different than just playing, where you come to the rink for three hours. These are 10-to-12-hour days, looking at tape, trying to make a difference. It’s been challenging but very rewarding, too.”
The man who hired Gelinas saw in him the basic ingredients required to fit the role: A knowledge of the game. Integrity. Adaptability. Sacrifice.
The rest will develop with experience.
“For me,” says Hartley, “I never asked myself: ‘How long until he adjusts?’ or ‘How well will he adjust?’ Because he’s so passionate about what he’s doing. This is a guy that always wants to do well, whatever he’s doing. He’s asking questions, looking to improve. Lots of times I sit with him after practice, we discuss things and I tell him ‘In this drill next time, do this or do that.’ He’s so receptive. He’s eager to learn.
“Marty Gelinas, in his career as a player, never cut a corner. So he’s not going to start now.
“He brings fresh air. He’s a great partner for us.”
With goaltending guru Clint Malarchuk a holdover, and Hartley and Cloutier arriving as very much a package deal, Gelinas is the unknown factor, the stand-alone, in the developing Flames’ coaching equation. Scanning the memory banks of nearly two decades toiling in the top flight, he alights on an old friend, former Vancouver Canucks’ assistant Glen Hanlon, as a comparable in terms of temperament.
“In my experience, Glen was always energetic. Always ready to listen. The game is hard enough as it is. He just had the personality to deal with it; to deal with players.
“Before every game, without fail, he’d tell me ‘Gelly, when you skate, you’re a nice player. When you don’t, you’re BELOW average.’ It was a nice way to tell me to keep my legs moving. I wasn’t offended or anything. We had that kind of relationship.
“Everybody’s got their own style. I’m learning my style, my place, right now, as we go along here.”
The Gelinas coaching style is, as he himself said, continuing to evolve but will undoubtedly be based on the trust, the respect, he built up over a career of being a dependable player, a reliable pro, a standup person.
“First and foremost,” says left winger-turned-centre Alex Tanguay, revisiting a familiar theme, “I think Marty’s a great guy. It’s always nice to have guys that you can go out and talk to. He’s played the game. He’s not too far removed from it . . . just a couple, three years. His mind is still in the game, so he still thinks somewhat like a player. It’s fun for us with the two coaches and the experience that they have . . . to have a new guy coming in and viewing things differently. It’s great. I think he’s worked extremely hard. He’s been helping us. I look forward to working with him for a long time to come.”
Gelinas then, is an ear for the players, a sounding board, a conduit between them and the boss, between the room and the office.
“Bob, he’s The Line. We follow his lead. But with a little more compassion and so on. It’s just kind of sitting down with the players and talking to them. I know I appreciated that type of assistant coach when I played. Sometimes just that 1-on-1 touch, a coach coming over to you and saying ‘Maybe you could this better.’ A different voice. And it’s not the boss.
“Sometimes things hit home if they’re just put across a little differently.
“In the end, we’re all after the same thing. We all want to win hockey games.
“And we all have a part to play.”
Even the nice guys.
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at email@example.comFollow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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