Nov. 16, 2010
by Karen Patterson
A hockey coach and a chemist: two careers that would seem completely different on the surface. However, when building the right line combinations, the two could not be more closely related. In this edition of Curt’s Corner, head coach Curt Fraser talks about the creative process that goes into mixing the right elements together to create the best chemistry on all four lines.
What is the main thing you look for when building four deep lines?
We’ve found some real good combinations here, and that’s what coaches look for. We look for chemistry – the guys who seem to work better together – and a good example is Emmerton, Mursak and Filppula. They have done a great job for us.
Do you prefer to keep the lines together or mix it up a little?
Adjusting lines around every game is not something that we want to do. It’s certainly something that we try to stay away from, but we’ve had to make some subtle changes because of injuries. However, I much prefer to keep the lines intact. In practices you’ll see us change them, but you don’t want to do that in a game as much.
Are there times when changing the player combinations is a good thing?
Sometimes when we have a couple days off for practice, I like to interchange everybody and put different players together. It keeps the guys fresh and helps during games. There are going to be games where somebody is in the box or somebody is hurt, and they have to be able to adjust fast and play with different people. We could just go with the same lines every day and everybody would be fine, but over an 80 game season they would get a little stale.
What are the benefits to mixing up the lines in practice?
We’re here to win, but we’re also here to develop. Sometimes taking a player who has been on the fourth line and placing them on the first line helps speed their game up. A lot of times the games here are so intense and so competitive, a fourth line player doesn’t have a chance to play on the first or second line. In practice we like to change around a little bit giving everybody a chance to play with different teammates.
Is there a specific example of a new line producing strong offense?
Minard, Johnson, and Tatar were together, and they got a lot of chances, but they were not producing. Last game we made a small change and tried out Minard, Johnson, and Pare; Pare ended up scoring a huge goal. You have to tinker with the lines a little bit to try and spread out the scoring over the four lines because when you’re playing a team where the Emmerton line is playing the opposing team’s best line, they eliminate each other. We’ve got to find some depth, some secondary scoring as we like to call it, to produce offense. Otherwise, it’s going to be a tough night.
Have fewer games at the start of the season helped establish a rhythm for the team?
Definitely, this year we’ve had a good chance to get everybody on the ice and establish a strong foundation of familiarizing everybody with our systems so we’re all on the same page. Practice time is great and has really helped us. We got into a couple of situations last year where we practiced three times in 32 days and you wonder, “What’s going on here? Why aren’t we able to accomplish the things that we want to do on the ice everyday?” And it was because we were traveling all over the place without much time off.
In the North Division, how important is it to have four strong lines?
As the season will go on, the first and second lines will get shut down and then the third and fourth lines have to come through and if you look at the standings, you can’t afford to lose a game. A team can go from first or second to fifth or sixth in one night. Everybody is winning, in our division especially, so all four lines will have to maintain this level of play throughout all 80 games if we expect to get where we want to go.