Under the gun

SCOTT ZERR -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:19 AM ET

Being an NHL coach is a great gig - if you can survive.

There's an almost constant threat of being replaced, dealing with temperamental players, game planning, charity work, travel and responsibilities to one's own family. The stress can build, and build.

This season, Hall of Fame defenceman Larry Robinson became so ill under the strain that he resigned from coaching the New Jersey Devils.

Two years ago, Joel Quenneville stepped down from guiding Team Canada, on the eve of the world championship in Prague.

Quenneville, a former coach of the year, had been fired by St. Louis two months earlier, and a combination of the flu and stress forced him into the hospital before he headed home from the tournament.

As a preventative measure to avoid being over-stressed, Oilers bench boss Craig MacTavish has long had a handshake agreement with assistant Craig Simpson. It's Simpson job to reel in MacTavish if he ever gets close to going over the edge.

There hasn't come a point yet when Simpson has had to keep MacTavish from jumping into the deep end, but it hasn't always been smooth sailing.

SOMETHING WAS MISSING

"There's never an absolute absence of stress, and it compounds after every loss," said MacTavish. "I got up (one) day and I knew something was missing. It was stress, because we'd won a bunch of games and we were playing well."

GM Kevin Lowe figured his coaches keep their sanity by staying in shape. Even on road trips, MacTavish, Simpson and Charlie Huddy can often be found in the hotel gym early in the morning, working up a sweat on the treadmill. What's good for the muscles is also good for the brain.

"They get some of their mental relief by having a good physical workout. I know myself if I go a couple of days without a workout, then things tend to build up," said Lowe.

"You have to be able to put everything in perspective. I was always bad the night after a game, but the next day things became a little clearer. Hockey's a game of mistakes and you've got to figure out where the mistakes are coming from."

The expectations are always high in Edmonton, and MacTavish senses that every time he walks around town. For the most part, the fans he runs into are passionate, yet polite.

IT'S A FINE LINE

And as the hopes of Oiler fans were raised this season, so too was MacTavish's belief in his team. But the line between hype and hopelessness is fine.

MacTavish pointed out that problems arise when the expectations surrounding a team don't mesh with the reality of the abilities of the players.

That's when everything can come crashing down on the shoulders of the head coach.

"It's a high-pressure job, but at the same time it's just a game,"said Barry Trotz, who has guided the Nashville Predators to a spot among the elite teams in the league.

"I work as hard as I can on the things that I can control, and the other things just aren't as important. We have our meetings and confrontations if we need to, and then I have to let them go.

''People who can't let go of things are going to get chewed up and spit out in this business."

Trotz relies on his family to maintain mental fitness. Five years ago, he and his wife Kim had their fourth child and their son Nolan was born with Down's syndrome.

Right then Trotz learned that the struggles behind the bench couldn't compete with what his son was coping with every day.

While Trotz has his family around him while the club is at home, Andy Murray spends the entire season on his own. Murray's family resides full time in Minnesota while Murray is completely immersed in his work with the Los Angeles Kings.

"If you're going to do a good job, that's the way it has to be. It is a grind, but it beats having a real job," laughed Murray.

"It's on your mind all the time. It's your passion, it's your hobby, it's everything you do."


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