Coach Ramsay believes defense can be Thrashers strength

So, how did new Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay spend this past holiday weekend? Well, taking advantage of the beautiful weather that was experienced here in Atlanta, he and his wife checked out some of the sights in Buckhead and did a little shopping. Being out and about in the fair climes of the south is something Ramsay says he could get used to.

“I spent 22 years in Buffalo and was asked if I would ever leave”, he told me. “I said ‘yeah if they ever put a team in Florida’. So I’ve been with both teams in Florida and now Atlanta”.

Of course, the weather down here wasn’t the only thing about Atlanta that coach Ramsay had heard of, “The traffic has been found to be everything it was proposed to be”.

However, his commute to the Duluth Ice Forum has been nothing but a pleasure, he insists. The coach says that’s because he truly is enjoying the people he is working with. He and general manager Rick Dudley and team president Don Waddell have known each other for years and Ramsay really is looking forward to building something special here in Thrasherville.

”Don is a great worker, student of the game and he’s going to be an invaluable tool for me and the coaching staff”.

Craig Ramsay, seen here with Milan Lucic, says making the Thrashers defense a team strength will be his top priority (AP Photo / Mike Dembeck)

Craig Ramsay, seen here with Milan Lucic, says making the Thrashers defense a team strength will be his top priority (AP Photo / Mike Dembeck)

He added that he knows what Rick Dudley expects from this team given that they went through the same “changing of the culture” experience while in Tampa. There, the two taught a Lightning team how to play and how to win at the NHL level.  Because of it, their names were etched in the Stanley Cup in 2004.

When discussing what it takes to create a winning environment, the coach said, “If you’re going to be successful you have to have good people in the organization and everybody has to be in this together and they have to understand that they’re part of something”.

He added that the presence of those necessary ingredients is what helped him to make the decision to head south and coach the Thrashers. “They’ve got good people here and that’s what really made it fun to come in”.

Joining Ramsay behind the bench are two other coaches that he’s excited to work with, John Torchetti and Mike Stothers. I asked Ramsay about sharing coaching duties with a man like Torchetti, whom many felt just as qualified to be head coach himself. Among other things, he plans on using him to help address the team’s biggest shortcoming throughout the years…defense.

“[Torchetti] will run the defense during the game and he’ll be overseeing the power play. I’ve generally done the defense with every team I’ve been with, but he will run that during the game”.

When coaching in Boston, Ramsay admitted that they felt comfortable exposing the Thrashers’ Achilles heal saying, “We thought we could take advantage of Atlanta in their own end, but I think we will turn that around…that will be a priority for us”.

But he doesn’t merely want to improve the play on defense… he actually feels it has the potential to become an asset.

“We want to change that attitude, that’s for sure. I think looking at this [team] that our defense could be our strength. That’s what we did in Tampa when we won the Cup. In Boston we were very strong on the blueline. Rick understands that value…and we’ve got good people here and we think they can make this defense work and it can be turned to our advantage”.

“We believe strongly that we have to be good at getting the puck out. Boston became probably one of the best breakout team that I’ve had, probably better than Tampa was, because we did a good job as a team. I have every confidence that we can make our team good in our end. And once you’ve established that, you can break out quickly and strongly and now you can start playing an up-ice and up-tempo game that I feel we can play”.

Ramsay and Torch have also been discussing the team’s power play. The key to success here, he says, is to just keep it simple and get the job done.

“I think our power play can be very effective. I think we have some people that can make it work. John’s got some good ideas on the power play and simplicity is something we’ve talked about already…and that’s something I couldn’t agree with more. We want to start off by getting to the point and shooting it. We’ve got a couple of people who can shoot it. And that’s going to help us get some net presence”.

“I think our power play is going to be [run] simple. We’ll make some tweaks to it but generally we want to make sure we’re not trying to do too much. Just go out and get it done”.

Mike Stothers will start the year off upstairs, maybe coming down for the third period.

And coach Ramsay certainly does not feel threatened at all by having such quality people coaching from his bench. In fact, he rather prefers it that way.

“Part of a head coaches job is to train your successors. These guys [assistant coaches], I want them to be down there working with me. I know for a fact I can work with both of them. So together I think we’re going to have a real good, tight group that works solidly together”.

Of the players he and his staff will coach, Ramsay says he likes the way the roster is taking shape. He is especially excited about the Chicago connection that made their way here along with Torchetti. He’s looking forward to using them them, and veterans like newly acquired Freddie Modin whom he coached in Tampa, to help teach the winning ways of hockey to the other players.

But even those with a few years experience under their belts can still continue in the learning process.

“We’ve got kids coming in from all over the place who have not been together, and I’m going to put in a style of play that’s fun so they can use their enthusiasm to participate with. However, even veteran players have to learn things…they haveto change their games. When you look at a Dave Andreychukand how he came in as strictly an offensive player, but by the time we finished in Tampa Bay he did everything for us…including killing penalties for us”.

For Ramsay, it’s the fine details that can be taught to these players that can make a big difference.

“I’ve always felt my job is not just to tell them to go out and play but to make sure they understand the small subtle differences that separate really good players from just another player…things that will allow them to maximize their talent. But those details make a vital difference”.

“When I talked to Freddie Modin in Tampa about looking big killing penalties, he and the others looked like I had two heads. Well, how do you look big? You can do things with your feet, legs and your body that make you look bigger and scare others from even shooting. Also, you have to be willing to block shots”.

“And if you are willing to go out there and do that, then others will be willing as well”.

Ramsay explains that it’s one thing to try and implement a game plan, but when players have been taught how to cope when “Plan A” goes south then you have a smarter more effective team. This is a lesson that remained with him from his early days from those who taught him the sport.

“I was very lucky growing up. I only played for two coaches until I turned pro. They taught me to look at the game, read the game and try to understand the game. Once you do that, then you can adjust to whatever you have on the ice. If you’re just told to go here or go there then when it breaks down…and in hockey, it does…well, then you have players asking ‘Now what do you do? You didn’t tell us about that’”.

Ramsay he wants to “hopefully make them the smartest team in hockey. And that’s what I consider my ‘job’. They’ll be better players, we’ll be a better team…and that’s what I think teaching is all about”.

Smarter players, he insists, also give him the confidence to place less emphasis on line matchups and more on skating out his best players on his terms.

“We like matchups…we understand the value of matchups…but we’ve also discussed the downside of matchups. You can get so carried away with having you’re ‘matchups’ that you forget to play your players. And have seen that, where at times some of the best players don’t get on the ice because a coach is too worried about his matchups”.

Continuing, “Once you’re on the road, you can’t always have your matchups. So we won’t get so carried away with that that we won’t get our players out on the ice”.

And so, coach Ramsay and his staff will seek to teach the Thrashers’ players how to play the game and instill in them a winning attitude. But Thrasherville’s newest head coach expects his students to participate not only during lesson time, but during the game as well. And not just on one side of the ice…but all sides.

“We want to have at least two sets of defense that can play against anybody. We want to have at least two lines that we can use in situations when we need them…and we expect all of our players to participate on both ends of the rink”.

Give the history in Thrasherville, that’s a lesson we can only hope that everyone on the team takes to heart.

192 comments Add your comment

Thrashers27

September 9th, 2010
3:13 pm

JLH,

Yeesh, you’re right. I totally left Toby out of the mix. Well, I guess that bounces McLaren.

World Be Free

September 9th, 2010
3:14 pm

Smoothie-the money is private in Tronna for the Bills, Ralph or Davis, who will go first? Don’t know, but somebody has to give Al Davis a bath the guy has looked greasy for 30 years.
kracker-as soon as Ralph Wilson dies the Bills are outta Buffalo.

Nate

September 9th, 2010
3:23 pm

I’m out of the loop. What did Dan Ellis tweet/say?

Red Light

September 9th, 2010
3:27 pm

Move Toby to center. He’s the best passer on the team!

DWTOO

I have no problem with trying to create competition at training camp, just as I have no problem with doling out two-way contracts. But, the problem with two-way contracts is that those guys who signed them typically have to far outshine those who have one-way deals during camp. For instance, if Dawes doesn’t really show something in camp, he’ll be sent down. Ditto for Rissmiller, Meyer, etc. As you, and others, have so correctly pointed out, there are a ton of 3rd and 4th liners on the roster, and like opinions everyone has them. That’s why I believe there is no question that Ladd will play on one of the top two lines, as he is the one most capable of scoring consistently. I also believe that in the right situation and added ice time, that Dawes also can score when on a line with the right linemates, like Peverley and Little for instance.

Right now, Antropov (if and when healthy) will have to stay at center. I have serious reservations about Little’s hockey sense and don’t want to see him at center. All of us would enjoy seeing Burmistrov take a roster spot, but if he is sent to Junior, then someone will have to move to the middle.

Red Light

September 9th, 2010
3:29 pm

Meaning, that if Burmistrov is sent down, then it’s conceivable that Cormier and Slater could be the 3rd- and 4th-line centers? That doesn’t provide much confidence at all.

Smoothie

September 9th, 2010
3:33 pm

Oh boy Nate, there’s so much, but the gist of it was that he expressed worry and frustration over his money situation and pointed to the escrow process as a main reason for his worry. But he came across as a real insensitive douche by portraying himself as some sort of victim despite making 30 times what the avg American makes after taxes.

Puck Daddy at yahoo.com has a couple of lengthy and entertaining blogs on the subject matter if you want to get more of the nitty gritty.

http://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/blog/puck_daddy

Smoothie

September 9th, 2010
3:37 pm

Why are so many folks assuming that Cormier, if he makes the team, will be the 3rd line C? It’s Jimmy Slater’s job to lose. He pretty much earned it over the last 60 games playing between Kaner & Army.

Red Light

September 9th, 2010
3:50 pm

Slater is not a third line center. His career high in assists…14. In this day in age, the third line has to score Smoothie, and lets not forget he was a third line center between Kane and Army on a team that finished 10th in the East.

kracker

September 9th, 2010
3:53 pm

Red Light – “Move Toby to center. He’s the best passer on the team!”

In one of the interviews with Dudley there was a non-specific reference about the possibility of converting a defenseman to forward. I thought Toby could be the guy. He is a good skater, passes well, can shoot and his lack of size won’t matter as much.

I don’t think there was any serious intent to do it.

Red Light

September 9th, 2010
3:58 pm

Last thought…does anyone else get the sense that training camp will be the last time we see Thorburn and Boulton in a Thrashers uniform?

DWTOO

September 9th, 2010
4:02 pm

R/L – You could be right. We have a log jam of third/fourth liners all of who probably have better skills.

Kracker – Toby shoots? When? He is a good skater and passer, but, when does he EVER shoot?

kracker

September 9th, 2010
4:09 pm

Maybe one of Thors or Boults might be traded. I don’t think both unless we get a fighter(s) coming back.

As for Toby ,I said he can shoot, not that he does it a lot. At forward, wouldn’t he shorten his long stick to be a better puck handler and, presumably, a better shooter?

Smoothie

September 9th, 2010
4:12 pm

Cormier may have better hands than Slater, but he has proven nothing yet. Until Cormier beats him out in camp / pre-season, Slater is your 3rd C, like it or not. And your third line doesn’t have to be dynamic when it comes to passing the puck around. The trio of Kaner, Slates & Army proved you can be very effective by cycling the puck effectively and generating chances thusly when the D gets tired chasing them around. Of course, Kaner won’t be there to help him this year, nor Army, but Ladd/Modin/Pettersson all have one thing in common: they can shoot the puck and shoot it quite well. Can you say that about Cormier?

goose

September 9th, 2010
4:19 pm

Red Light- Slater had one of the best face off win percentages last year after you eliminate all the players that had under fifty or so face offs slater would be in the top ten in the league.

Red Light

September 9th, 2010
4:21 pm

I can’t say anything about Cormier at this level, and, you certainly do not know what Pettersson’s capabilities at this level are either. I can say that I have seen enough of Slater to know he is not a good center and is best suited as a disturber and as the cycler as you suggest. I prefer him on the wing. As you also suggest, he won’t be playing with Kane, which was the main reason he was so effective last season. Ladd won’t play third line here Smoothie, he’s in the top 6 on this club.

Both of us will have to play wait-and-see with the young guys. The next few weeks will provide a good indication, but if Slater winds up as the third line center for more than 2 weeks, you can sit with me for several games in November.

Do you have a man-crush on Slater? LOL

Red Light

September 9th, 2010
4:22 pm

goose…He is a solid face-off man. Agreed.

Smoothie

September 9th, 2010
4:29 pm

Part of being an effective 3rd line C is puck possession and control. His 55% F/O win percentage speaks to his value there. Cormier may still prove to be better served playing wing. There are a few youtube videos floating around the internet that illustrate Pettersson’s ability to score the puck. You don’t have to be some genius to know that he has a high degree of skill compared to some of our bottom 6′ers.

But if you have such a problem with Jimmy Slater, then why not move Bryan Little to C on the third line with Slater on the right and Modin on the left, or Pettersson if Modin can’t stay healthy? From the limited footage of Cormier that I’ve seen, and watching him at camp, he does seem to have a good knack for passing the puck in space, but that’s just a 4 on 4 prospect camp.

Slater has his flaws for sure, but his blend of speed, grit, F/O ability, fearless-ness in driving the net a valued asset. Perhaps it is on the 4th line, but my biggest point is that Slater is most definitely ahead of Cormier on the depth chart, for now, despite what Duds rambles on about w/r/t Cormier.

Smoothie

September 9th, 2010
4:38 pm

kracker

September 9th, 2010
4:57 pm

That’s a good debate about Slater. I like him but that’s not worth a lot. I will be getting a Slater sweater so I hope he sticks for a few more years.

We have seen Tobias shoot, however reluctantly, from the point. Does anybody have a feel for how his wrister might be?

Jack

September 9th, 2010
5:10 pm

Chris tweeks that Dawes will be officially announce on Monday. Why does it take so long to annnounce this move??

Jack

September 9th, 2010
5:12 pm

Tobas shot is good but hell freezes over each time he shoots.

Thrashers27

September 9th, 2010
5:48 pm

So, why do we need Nigel Dawes? I just realized he’s 5′9″. Really? It hope it’s a two way contract.

kracker

September 9th, 2010
6:36 pm

Dawes is 5-8 or 5-9. But he is a young scrapper at 25 yr old. He is regarded as a good penalty killer, an area we need to shore up, especially after losing Marty Reasoner. He is indeed on a two-way contract. $600K/$105K so you can see he is regarded as a pretty good AHLer at $105K.

Rhythmpenguin

September 9th, 2010
6:46 pm

His stats for last season are not bad: 32 points (14, 18) in 66 games, about .5 points per game and he is a +1 for the season (+2 career). What do y’all make of his 14.6% shooting average with 96 shots?

Nate

September 9th, 2010
6:50 pm

Smoothie – Thanks. Who knew athletes could be such a$$ clowns??? Oh, wait a minute…

Rhythmpenguin

September 9th, 2010
6:51 pm

Check out some of his goal, there are some nice ones: http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/console?hlp=8470741

The Smooth Spark

September 9th, 2010
7:12 pm

Nate – no problem, my pleasure.

Another good thing about Nigel is he seems to be a bit of a shoot-out specialist, he has a very quick release.

So if Nigel and Aliu both make it, we’ll have an African-Canadian (Kane), an Afro-American (Buff), an Afro-Swede (Oduya), a Nigerian-American (Aliu) and a Jamaican-Canadian. Perhaps Kevin Weekes would like to come out of retirement?

Are there any Black Russians available?

Red Light

September 9th, 2010
7:24 pm

I’m not trying to be Dawes’ lone apologist, but I have watched a lot of his games during the past 3-4 seasons. The kid can shoot. He needs an opportunity by playing with more offensive types. He may not prove himself here, but I believe he will. Think of Rich Peverley. Dawes is not the same type of player as Pevs but could make the most of the right opportunity. Some said early on his weakness was in the defensive zone, so he worked at it and got better.

BTW, although used sparingly, he’s 8-of-18 career in shootouts.

Red Light

September 9th, 2010
7:26 pm

Sorry Smoothie, didn’t see your post.

But, while I’m here, thanks for the hockey lesson above concerning the third-line centers.

kracker

September 9th, 2010
7:41 pm

Chris’ new blog: The making of the Philips Arena ice. This is a very interesting read.

http://blogs.ajc.com/atlanta-thrashers-blog/2010/09/09/the-making-of-the-philips-arena-ice-quite-interesting/

The Smooth Spark

September 9th, 2010
8:15 pm

R/L – no problem, my pleasure (chuckles).

Man the NFL Kickoff show is intolerable. Thank God for NHL network!

Jack

September 9th, 2010
8:25 pm

Sparky no doubt tired of listening about those pansy Saints

Hokie P. Clisters

September 9th, 2010
9:07 pm

Can we send MacArthur’s comments to arbitration? They seem to be way over the top.

World Be Free

September 9th, 2010
9:34 pm

Seeing Rammer in his Sabres road blues brings back memories. That’s back when the road team wore dark colors.

Totally off subject-I hate ESPN, but I had to watch the Auburn/Miss State game tonight. Who do I see? That mega-scab Craig James. Give it to ESPN for not dumping this scum when he and his candy-ass son torpedoed Mike Leach last year, with the help of the ego-maniac network.

I know it’s not hockey, but I had to vent.

kracker

September 9th, 2010
10:04 pm

It’s all good, WBF. It’s good to vent and I don’t have any idea what you are on about.

Joe Friday

September 9th, 2010
10:44 pm

If Jimmy Slater is our 3rd line center, we are lottery bound again

goose

September 9th, 2010
11:01 pm

I just saw a great post on the TSN boards: What do the Leafs and the Titanic have in common? They both look great until they hit the ice.

World Be Free

September 10th, 2010
5:44 am

goose-saw that one before – it’s a good one! Some Leafs’ fans do admit to reality.
Joe Friday-totally agree on Jimmy-he’s 4th line or in the press box.

Rhythmpenguin

September 10th, 2010
7:15 am

Nice goosey. The more hockey jokes (especially punny ones) the better. =)

GaVaHokie

September 10th, 2010
8:07 am

I’ll take our Defense over the Leafs Defense… overrated.

Mason > Giggy

kracker

September 10th, 2010
8:22 am

Smoothie, I never did answer about whether or not Dudley is done as Chris thought. I feel sure Chris got the right impression (or was told) that the Thrashers “were done.” With what Dudley wanted to do this offseason, with the budget he was given, he indeed might be finished at this time.

But we know the job for a good GM is never finished. The general composition of your team, the up-to-date assessment of your players’ skills, the availability of players, injuries, the waiver wire, calls to and from – things are always in play. So while Duds may be finished at the moment, it is a pretty good bet that with 4 weeks until open night he is not done .

Hockey Biltong

September 10th, 2010
4:28 pm

+1 above..We are not done…