Coaches following unwritten rules

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:28 AM ET

In the imaginary junior hockey coaches' playoff handbook, high on the first page is an item on deportment.

It is a pleasure to report London Knights' Dale Hunter and Peter DeBoer of the Kitchener Rangers are adhering closely to the unwritten rules.

That is to say, they are engaging in nasty slagging of the other team's tactics, posing serious questions into the motives of the opposing coach and unleashing criticism, veiled or otherwise, about on-ice officials clearly favouring the other team.

It cost $8,000 yesterday via a $6,000 fine to the Rangers and DeBoer for slamming officials and $2,000 to the Knights for florid comments directed at the Rangers from the bench late in Saturday's game.

It has been suggested that Hunter-slamming-Kitchener tactics were a bit rich in that as a player, he devoted a solid 19 NHL seasons to exercising a combination of talent and rules excesses that led to his record as the only player to amass more than 300 goals and 3,000 penalty minutes.

That was then, this is now. And the now part of it dictates every coach play his team to its strengths and, conversely, attack anything negative on the part of the other team.

Hunter clearly has the better team of the two. Faced with that, Kitchener has to be more physical. If their coaching assignments were reversed, you know DeBoer would be launching a few broadsides into Hunter's tactics.

In short, they are playing their roles admirably, costly as it has been in dollar terms.

Any hockey series is subject to verbal outbursts from the unwritten handbook. It's not as though it's midseason and you won't see the opponent again for weeks or months.

It's a concentration of games in a relatively short span and along with a lot of other things, you know what familiarity breeds. And there was plenty of that in the penalty- and insult-filled 6-1 wipeout the Knights administered last night.

Playoff hockey is about power plays and penalty killing and goaltending but it's also about words. It's a war of them.

When Hunter issues a broadside at the Rangers and DeBoer and they respond with some florid counter-attacks, it's part of an ancient debate. Every team is looking to get an edge on the ice and off it.

Off the ice, it's like the hockey version of an aside on stage. The coach uses the media to make his case and all of the intended audience gets it.

Most diatribes are designed for the ears of the league: "My guys are getting pitch-forked to death out there and nothing is being called." Maybe (but more probably, not) it might draw some league attention to the complaint in future games.

But it's also for one's own players and fans, who, seeing their coach standing up for them, formulate an appropriate response.

In the end, it's all about whose ox is being gored. When Toronto Maple Leafs coach Pat Quinn decries opponents' liberal application of the rules, for example, it's probably because somebody like his own Darcy Tucker got more than he gave.

And Quinn, for those who recall his playing days, was hardly the soul of restraint when it came to treatment of the other team's players.

The defence for one accused of employing extreme tactics typically involves a reference to hard-nosed hockey without ever adequately explaining how the hard noses got onto the ends of elbows and sticks.

As mentioned, coaches play with the team they've got. And all the words they can muster.


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