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The Vancouver Canucks Bench Boss Wins Major Award

The Vancouver Canucks may not have gotten all they wanted this year, only one team does! However, they got as much as they did in large part because of Head Coach Rick Tocchet. And now he has been recognized for his contribution by winning the Jack Adams Award.

Rick Tocchet in Tranquil Landslide to Win Award

Tocchet easily won this year’s award, garnering 82 first-place votes out of 114 total cast. He also took 24 second-place votes and four third, meaning he showed up on 110 ballots. Coming in second was Andrew Brunette, behind the bench of the Canucks first-round opponent the Nashville Predators.

In his first full season with Vancouver, he guided the team to their third 50-win season in team history. The only other coach to reach that mark was Alain Vigneault. Tocchet joins Vigneault and Pat Quinn as previous winners of the Jack Adams Award as Canucks coach. Vigneault and Quinn also won in their first full seasons, a recurring theme with Adams Award winners.

Tocchet didn’t have a completely clean slate for 2023-24, however. He took over a team that was flailing in Bruce Boudreau‘s second season, replacing the very popular coach mid-season. The decision to immediately bring Tocchet instead of going with an interim was met with some frustration among fans who wanted the move to kickstart a complete team rebuild.

The rebuild was already underway, initiated by Jim Rutherford and Patrik Allvin. It just wasn’t in the way fans are familiar with. Instead of moving talent out on the ice, with one massive exception, they brought talent in off of it. New coaches, new management, and entirely new management positions appeared, with arguably the biggest being Rick Tocchet and his crew.

Style Matters

We’re not here to bad-mouth Boudreau. After years of high pressure and low results, he was a much-needed breath of fresh air for players and fans alike. But his coaching systems require confident, veteran players who will be given plenty of room to improvise. The quintessential “player’s coach” who is much beloved, but not what would work here.

Boudreau’s first season did give a hint of what was needed though, confidence. After taking over for Travis Green, players found their footing in the wide-open style and the team went 32-15-10 to end the year. Unfortunately, what might have worked 30 years ago is easier to plan against now, and the positive vibes didn’t last.

What made Tocchet’s approach so different was breaking down the team entirely. He took a reasonably skilled squad and went right back to the basics. He stopped practice drills often, quizzing players on where they were and what the next move was. Everything from zone entries to boxing out opponents to special teams was back at Square One. Rick Tocchet was known as a firebrand in his playing days, but here he became a teacher instead. Drills were repeated not just for rote effect, but to make sure their purpose was understood. You can’t effectively break the rules without knowing why they exist, after all.

In the Game

The best evidence of how much the team changed is how they handled themselves in the playoffs. Five times in their 13 games they fell behind only to win. Eight goals were scored on goalies in the last two minutes of play.

Except for late in Game Six against the Edmonton Oilers, the Canucks never doubted they could win. Through the entirety of the regular season, they had one four-game losing streak and a half-dozen back-to-back losses. That added up to a very successful season.

Rick Tocchet and his team kept their cool and gained confidence in each other and their systems as evidence piled up. They knew they could win because they were winning. On the road, at home, missing starter, didn’t matter. If things started to slip out of control, go back to the system. Trust it’ll get you the win. And for the most part, it did. Now he has the trophy to prove it.

Main photo credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports


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