Kuzma: Arbour’s tough love allowed Green to grow as player, potential NHL coach

 

 
 
 
 
Travis Green become a better player, person and potential coach on Long Island.
 
 

Travis Green become a better player, person and potential coach on Long Island.

Photograph by: Jeff Vinnick, The Province

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BROOKLYN, N.Y. — This isn’t Uniondale.

The quirky Barclays Center in a transitioning new district near the Brooklyn Bridge isn’t the venerable old rickety Nassau County Coliseum on Long Island.

As much as the Islanders are temporarily housed in an odd-shaped, Rubik’s Cube home built for basketball and not hockey — and are far removed from the glory days on Long Island — one adage holds true for anyone who played for the late great bench boss Al Arbour:

You can take team out of Uniondale but you can’t take Uniondale out of the player.

Travis Green not only played six seasons with the Islanders, he finally broke into the National Hockey league in 1992-93 after three seasons in the minors. The hotshot junior centre quickly learned that Arbour would break his bad habits and push him far enough to almost break his spirit.

Arbour was as blunt as a stick to the face. He also knew when encouragement was more important than outrage. It’s how the Islanders won four-consecutive Stanley Cup titles from 1980 to 1983.

Arbour presented the opportunity and let players decide their roster fates. Sound like Green? The 46-year-old rookie NHL coach you see in Vancouver today is a product of the environment he endured in Uniondale.

“Sometimes I laugh to myself when I think of some of the things I talk about,” recalled the Castlegar native. “As a coach, I wouldn’t like the young player I was, but I would like the older player. The older player had a better understanding of how to win and the younger one didn’t.

“But I also understand why. I was nervous as hell for a long time. I was a shy kid. And sometimes, I showed it in cockiness, but deep down I was very insecure. It took me a while.

“I remember my fifth game in the league and we were in the old arena in St. Louis. I was playing OK, but not great. Al kicked me in the ass from behind — like hard. He bent down and whispered: ‘You need to decide if you want to play in the NHL. And you need to decide right now.’

“I wasn’t fooling him with my game. I wasn’t playing well, but he double-shifted me the rest of the game. I never went back (to playing poorly) after that. He forced me out of my comfort zone and made me uncomfortable and said sink or swim.”

Now you know why Green dispensed tough love on his coaching ascension from Portland (WHL), to Utica (AHL) and the Canucks. Everybody from Sven Baertschi to Jake Virtanen to Brock Boeser has been given enough rope to hang themselves, because giving it a timely tug is crucial for any coach.

So is understanding when to soften the blow. Arbour was a master.

That had such a profound affect on Green that he can remember the exact day of the week that Arbour went from menacing mentor to caring coach.

The Islanders were pushing for a 1993 playoff spot — they snuck in and then dispatched the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins before losing to the Montreal Canadiens in five games of Eastern Conference final — and along the way Green saw a lasting side of Arbour.

“It was a Thursday night,” Green vividly recalled of his checking line being outclassed by Adam Oates and Cam Neely of the Boston Bruins. “Our line was minus-3 and I was distraught.

“I was in my stall and it wasn’t even 10 minutes after the game and he (Arbour) was standing right in front of me: He said: ‘Listen, those are Hall of Fame players. They’re going to have nights like that. It’s going to happen again. You need to go home and forget about it, learn from it and not stay up all night and worrying about the game.

‘You’ve got Mario Lemieux coming in Saturday and I’m putting you up against him. I need you to be ready.’

“He knew that (minus-3) could really take away a young player’s confidence and I didn’t realize then how important it was. Years later I did. It was very special.”

Green was a 51-goal, 102-point sniper with the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL and had 25- and 23-goal seasons with the Islanders. More importantly, he had a the guidance and will to reinvent himself and remain relevant.

A 23rd overall pick in the 1989 draft by the Islanders, Green would amass 455 points in 970 career regular-season games with five teams before retiring at age 37. That amazed former Islanders teammate Ray Ferraro as much as the cocky kid one day becoming an NHL bench boss. What were the odds?

“Zero,” said Ferraro. “This is the evolution of Travis: Skilled, lazy, challenged, changed, diligent, hard working.

“Everything Travis is now is not what he was when he broke into the league as a player. This is why I think he has a chance to be really successful. He understands what a scorer thinks, because he was one. He understands what a guy thinks when he gets kicked in the shins because he got booted.”

In Green’s rookie season, Ferraro suffered a broken leg and dislocated ankle and Green played behind Pierre Turgeon. It wasn’t a gift — it was a challenge.

“Al wasn’t into free passes or free rides,” stressed Green. “If he knew the effort was there and you were willing to put the work in, he would give you that opportunity. But he would also give you fair warning if it wasn’t good enough.”

“He had this presence about him that you had a little bit of fear with him. If he barked, you jumped. But he also knew there was a time to bark and a time to let his foot off the gas.”

bkuzma@postmedia.com

twitter.com/@benkuzma

This week on The Patcast, Jeff and Botch dive into the roll Canucks rookie Brock Boeser is on and how his scoring success is starting to attract attention around the league. Listen here:

 
 
 
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Travis Green become a better player, person and potential coach on Long Island.
 

Travis Green become a better player, person and potential coach on Long Island.

Photograph by: Jeff Vinnick, The Province

 
Travis Green become a better player, person and potential coach on Long Island.
Former New York Islanders coach Al Arbour was a mentor to Travis Green.
Michael Del Zotto and his teammates know there are no mixed messages with Travis Green.
Four seasons in Utica helped Travis Green prepare for the NHL stage.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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