Red flags pop up over coaches' steps

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

These are indeed strange words coming out of the London Knights dressing room.

These are words that have been rarely heard, at least this late in the season.

Phrases like "disobey," "don't listen," "aren't playing the game the right way," speak volumes about a team that in the last month or so has struggled.

Knights coaches felt their message wasn't being heard so they opted to sit out one of their most high profile players, Nazem Kadri, Sunday against the Sarnia Sting.

It caused quite a stir, with promises of more "discipline" if the players continue ignoring the way coaches Dale Hunter and Pat Curcio want them to play.

When this happens this late in the season, there is always a red flag that pops up. There are a number of reasons why players don't listen or can't put instruction into action this late in the season.

Some of the options aren't particularly appetizing.

They may be not good enough to absorb the information and put it into practice.

Or there are too many individuals who believe everyone else should put the information into practice while they go about playing the way they want. That's plainly selfish.

Maybe the makeup of the team and the personalities on it, simply dictate that no matter what the coaches say, they won't be able to put a harness on the players and get them to change.

It's been a while since the Knights coaching staff has made a point in as strong a fashion as they did Sunday, probably not since they sat Rob Schremp for a time during the Memorial Cup year. Since then, they have rarely come out with as clear a warning as a healthy scratch of a high-profile player and Curcio's comments that "there will be more if they don't listen."

Then there's the question of whether some players are listening at all. It's the losing-the-dressing-room scenario and when things don't go well, that's always the hot rumour.

There was a public chastising here. It wasn't just Kadri. Even though he paid the price, it was a public scolding of many of the players on the team and Kadri was the guy the Knights used to make their point.

But when there's an obvious struggle to get a team playing the way a coaching staff wants them to play and talent isn't an issue, the rumbling starts that some of the players might have tuned out.

That's not the case, said Curcio.

"I don't think we worry about that," Curcio said. "We've got a lot of guys who have been here a long-time. London Knights, three-, four-year players, that provide leadership in the dressing room and they know what we expect and what we expect of players that come in. I don't think there's a problem with that at all.

"We communicate a lot with the players one-on-one. We're constantly talking to them. We bring them in if we feel we need to talk to them, if we feel they are heading in that direction. But we don't see that at all."

Curcio was asked what the reaction has been in the dressing room to the coaching staff's 'tough' approach.

"When you say tough . . . they have to understand they have to play within a certain system," Curcio said. "If you can't do that, you can't play at this level and you certainly can't play at the next level. All the individual stuff has to stop and it's been ongoing all year."

Every coach has lost players. There are times when one or two players won't buy into a system or don't like what the coach is selling.

It would be a surprise if every player in every dressing room, liked their coach.

But that doesn't cost a coach the dressing room nor does it cost the team a season. That hasn't happened here.

No, this is not about losing a dressing room or deliberate obstinacy. It's about convincing more than 20 individuals to help and trust each other on the ice. The Knights have left themselves a handful of games to do just that.

It's been a while since the Knights coaching staff has made a point in as strong a fashion as they did Sunday.


Videos

Photos