04/20/2009 - As seen in the game program
Jim Starr, BEARS Staff Writer
Coach Bob Woods has had a colorful career as a player, and now he's establishing himself as a competent coach at the AHL level. Even though the BEARS started off with a spectacular record of 8-2-0, and then began to start losing a few, I personally believe that 85 to 90% of the AHL teams would love to have Hershey's current record and points, and the talent that time will once again reveal in Chocolate town.
Coach Woods was kind enough to sit down with me for an in depth interview about this years team. Here are the BEAR Facts ... from the WOODS:
Jim Starr: Coach Woods, you and the team are having your pictures taken today with the Assistant Dogs for this years Calendar. What kind of Dog were you paired up with?
Coach Woods: A Labrador ... Chocolate color I believe. (smile) Selling these calendars is how they raise money and it's a good cause.
Starr: Everyone is wondering how an 8-2 team, formally a 5-0 road team can lose that magic over night and then begin playing "win two / lose two", (which in my opinion is still a very solid pace.) Could this be considered a slump, compared to the start Hershey had?
Woods: Well, if it is a slump, you want to have them early and learn to deal with them and how to change things up ... it's good mental and physical practice for handling such situations during the playoffs. The players are handling it well, they know the mistakes they have been making, and they are all focused on correcting those mistakes.
We were hot for a while, we couldn't do anything wrong and I think we started to gamble and break away from the system a little bit and our results began to suffer, and a little frustration set in and we are re-focusing back to the basics and our system that works well in this league.
It was a good reality check and we have all talked as a team and we all know that we will be a better team in the long run by learning these lessons now. You learn a lot about yourself and as a team in these situations. It's helping the new guys to handle the pressure and it's helping the whole team to meet the high expectations of our fans.
Starr: In the early winning streak, were these teams weaker clubs than us or were some of them very good teams, but we were that much better?
Woods: We were playing that well in the first 5 to 10 games that it didn't matter who we were playing, chances were that we were going to win. We stuck to the system, everything went our way, the power play was working, we were killing penalties, so a lot of good things were happening.
It's not always going to be like that, we also became a marked team that clubs wanted to beat bad to make a statement around the league. Our loss to Philly here at home was disappointing ... we just came off a couple road games and Philly was well rested coming into GIANT Center. That's not a good excuse but bus legs and fatigue do factor into every team's chance to win.
Starr: In the early games, the BEARS were breaking out well, nice cross ice passes ... but with the home game loss against Philly our boys were forced into a dump and chase game, which usually gives you a 50/50 chance of getting to the puck first in the offensive zone, gaining control and setting up plays and shots. Why did Hershey fall into the trap of playing the Phantom's game?
Woods: Our system works, Bruce has proved that! It's not the system that's not working, it's the guys getting away from the system. Because we started out so good, the guys started thinking they could do anything and it would work. Our biggest obstacle was being able to enter their zone and set up, we could have shot a lot more too.
The guys were doing things that were bad habits, and because they were getting away with them and were still winning, the guys began to think they could do whatever they wanted and we would keep on winning. That doesn't last very long.
Our strength is in the corners in the offensive zone, and setting up plays, but we have to go in even strength like a 2 on 2 or cross the blue line with a 3-2 man advantage. Our guys tried to gain Philly's zone and get control of the puck when we had just two guys going in with four Phantom defenders already in the zone waiting for us and that created a lot of turnovers. Our legs ran out of steam in the 3rd period against a very rested Phantom team which has a lot of speed.
Starr: Does the team watch the game on the bus coming home?
Woods: No, just the coaches watch the game on our laptops on the bus. We then meet with the players individually or in a small group and go over specific footage with them. The coaches don't have a great view of the game all the time on the bench, and we can miss specific mistakes a player makes.
When we play back the video, we can see everything and we can begin to work on changes and have one on one discussions with various players.
Starr: Let's talk about some of the players and their roles on the ice. What does it mean to have Graham Mink back in a BEARS jersey?
Woods: He's a great team guy, he can make things happen and change the pace of the game, and he wants to be here! He's great on the ice, on the bench and in the locker room, and you know what you're going to get from him every game.
He's a grinder, and he can force puck turnovers, he can score and he's a tough guy.
Starr: Do you think this is a better shootout team than past seasons?
Woods: I do, we have some of the most talented players and shooters this year, and I have a lot to choose from when we need a goal, whether it's during regulation, overtime or a shootout.
Starr: What does Alexandre Giroux bring to the team?
Woods: Again, he's a guy that wants to be here, he's the kind of guy that can make things happen. He can score goals, he's a leader in the locker room, and he can control the game if he wants to.
Starr: Are the current lines set in stone, or are you still tweaking?
Woods: Our team is very loaded and well balanced, and I have to keep them all focused and keep them all playing on a regular basis. I will probably make a few changes in some of the lines, and I have to make sure I'm using everyone in their best positions and on lines where they can use their best skills.
Starr: Jay Beagle was a fourth line grinder last season, yet he managed to score 18 goals and 19 assists. Why is he not being used as a second or third line sniper?
Woods: He had a great camp with Washington, and they look at him as a big hard working guy with special skills down low, as well as, a physical guy that can hit ... and Beagle can go into any corner, against any opponent and come out with the puck. I would like to see him keep scoring like he did last year, but his role is being on the fourth line and shutting down visiting top lines and scorers.
I literally have too many talented scorers to pick from, so Beagle is being groomed by Washington as a shut down player because of his ability to keep opponents chasing him for the puck, he also has size and speed. That's his ticket to the NHL and Beagle has totally embraced that role to help the BEARS and to be ready to fill that role when he gets the call from Washington. He is also very good at drawing penalties.
Starr: The BEARS seem like a team that will drop the gloves if they have to. How many players would you put in the category?
Woods: I believe the whole team are fighters when they have to be. There may be only one or two guys on the whole team that would not be as quick to drop the gloves.
Starr: How is Deano and his physical status, is he back to 100% and ready to play all season?
Woods: Arsene isn't back to 100% yet. We are going to play it by ear and see how he feels as time goes in. My goal is to give him as much ice time as he can handle.
Starr: Are we going to see a turn around by the players, are they going to start using the system again immediately?
Woods: Yes! We have all talked about our last few losses and the entire team has bought into the fact that they did get away from the system, and they are all focused on us getting back to what we know works, and the whole team is ready to turn this thing around and get back to basics and stick to the system.