As his 17-year-old son steered from campus to campus on their summer college tour, Rick Tocchet sat shotgun and went to work. With hours to kill and a new roster to learn, he fired off calls and texts from the open highway, introducing himself to players, setting expectations for his first season coaching the Arizona Coyotes. Upon hanging up from one such chat, Tocchet heard some helpful advice from behind the wheel. “Dad,” explained Trevor Tocchet, “just tell them what you like. You don’t have to keep mentioning Pittsburgh.” The kid was correct, of course. “Sometimes you forget you keep saying the same thing,” Tocchet admits with a laugh. But he simply couldn’t help himself. After three seasons and two Stanley Cups as an assistant on the Penguins’ bench, Tocchet had gathered a wealth of systematic knowledge and inspiration for what he now plans to implement in Arizona. It was only natural that he draw upon recent experience. “In Pittsburgh, there was a no-excuses kind of thing,” he says. “When a player got to the rink, the organization gave that player every opportunity to succeed. I love that. I want to supply that here.” A long road separates Tocchet from replicating what his former team has accomplished in recent years. Last season the Coyotes finished with a 30-42-10 record and 70 points—third-to-last in the Western Conference, third-to-last in the NHL, third-to-last in goals allowed, fourth-to-last in goals scored. But there is hope on the horizon. Under normal circumstances, Max Domi (22 years old), Christian Dvorak (21), Dylan Strome (20), Clayton Keller (19) and Jakob Chychrun (19) might be attending the same colleges that Tocchet and Trevor toured; instead, they are core members of the rebuild. Goalie Antti Raanta and center Derek Stepan arrived via trade from the Rangers this offseason, while defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson remains one of the league’s most hidden gems. There is speed, and there is youth. In Tocchet’s eyes, this makes his role glaringly obvious. “Listen, I get it,” he says. “We have a lot of youth. We’re an inexperienced team. But you’ve got to let these guys spread their wings and grow. There are going to be mistakes. Absolutely. But if the mistakes are hard-working mistakes, or their hearts are in the right place when they make a mistake, that’s fine. I’ve got no problem with it. “The way this team is built with youth and speed on the wings, we have to pick the pace up. We’ve got to be relentless on the puck if we’re going to be relevant in the league. A lot of stuff I do is puck possession, a lot of onus on the puck carrier. I’m a big believer in that. When the puck carrier goes, I want everybody to go. I think if you give that latitude to the puck carrier in September, October, he’s going to make better decisions as the season goes on, and the skill level of making those plays will get better by putting this guy under pressure.” Pressure? Tocchet knows plenty about that. As a player he won the 1992 Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh and appeared in two more Cup Finals for Philadelphia in the mid-1980s. He was an assistant under Wayne Gretzky in Arizona, a midseason hire as Tampa Bay’s head coach in ‘08-09, and most recently became a trusted voice for the likes of Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh. And so, less than two weeks before the Coyotes open their inaugural training camp with Tocchet at the helm, he spoke with SI.com about returning to the desert, fielding late-night calls from a future Hall of Famer, and a YouTube video that will haunt him forever.
Coyotes' Tocchet: Crosby 'made me a better coach'
SI | Sep 9