Sometimes the strongest relationships are the ones where both sides are free to butt heads and speak freely, no holds barred, no tiptoeing around feelings or judgments. Like the necessary muscle pain after a gruelling workout, it’s the type of temporary, screaming pain that leads to long-term gain.
And it’s the type of connection, one that only builds with time and trust, Toronto Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe seeks to establish with those above and below him on the organizational chart.
"Working with Sheldon in the Soo and in Toronto, he and I would have some blowups in the coaches’ room at each other after [games]," Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas told an auditorium full of aspiring sports-management professionals at a Western University conference earlier this year. "It was fine between he and I because you get to a point in a working relationship where — you might have this with a co-worker — you can get into a massive blowup and you’re trying to help with whatever you’re doing at the time."
In a recent interview, on another drizzly and dreary Toronto off-day between Rounds 2 and 3 of his Marlies’ latest remarkable AHL playoff run, Keefe refuses to detail those heated post-loss arguments he’d engage with his boss in those years leading up to that glorious night last June, when they quenched a mutual thirst for winning and drank from the same championship trophy.
But Keefe does admit that surrounding himself with no-men, be it Dubas or his own staff of assistants, has made him a smarter coach and a better communicator.
"When you have people around you that push back, that’s because they’re telling you what they think. If everything is great and rosy and you get along wonderfully, probably one party is holding back something. It’s human nature that people are going to have conflict, that they’re going to think about things differently and approach things differently," Keefe said in an interview Monday, after running his group through a taxing, 65-minute-long practice.