For Ralph Krueger, it’s about keeping the ship on course while the captain is in sickbay.
Heading into Sunday’s game against the Vancouver Canucks, the Edmonton Oilers associate coach is still looking for his first NHL win while in charge.
Krueger will be filling in for the fifth time in two years, as head coach Tom Renney took the weekend off trying to regain his bearings.
“It’s a tough league to score your first goal, it’s a tough league to get your first shutout, and for a coach, it’s a tough league to get your first win,” said Krueger, following Friday’s 3-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche. “But we’re going to rollup the sleeves and battle hard on Sunday.”
Last year, Krueger filled in for a pair of games while Renney attended his father’s funeral.
This season, a puck to the head during a morning skate felled the Oilers head coach, who tried to battle through it but couldn’t shake the post-concussion symptoms.
It was decided the best option for Renney was to take the weekend off, leaving the team in the capable hands of Krueger and the rest of the coaching staff.
“One of the messages from Tom, which shows the character he has, was to go with your heart and go with what you were feeling,” Krueger said. “There are no two coaches that are the same, but we’re very similar in that we’re looking for solutions continually during games.
“Philosophically, the way the Oilers are playing right now has been a project of all of us together, so it’s very easy to keep right on going. It’s no fun to lose, but it’s a great honour to be coaching the Edmonton Oilers.”
Having spent a good portion of his life behind the bench Krueger is hardly out of his element.
After a playing career that took him from the WCHL — now the WHL — to the German Bundesliga, the Winnipeg native settled into a coaching position.
Eventually he ended up in charge of the Swiss national team, which he led to three Olympics and 12 World Hockey Championships.
The Oilers brought him on board last season to work with Renney, Kelly Buchberger and Steve Smith.
For the most part, the transition from associate coach to head coach has been a seamless one for Krueger, other than the fact he’s still looking for his first win.
“They’re pretty similar to tell the truth, there’s not all that much of a difference,” said captain Shawn Horcoff. “Obviously they’re not exactly the same person, but their demeanor is kind of the same and they both have a lot of passion for the game.”
As the man in charge at the moment, Krueger is responsible for making calls on the fly during the game when it comes to line match-ups and such. He going with his own instincts as opposed to trying to figure out what Renney would do in a certain situation.
“What happens when you get in the game, you love the process, you try not to think about the score until it’s over to let it effect you emotionally,” said Krueger. “I definitely go with my heart and the information that I have, and try to make decisions that are best for the team. Whether people around me like it or not, that’s the way I kind of tick, I go with the way I feel based on the information that I trust from the people around me.”
Unfortunately for Krueger, he didn’t get much in the way of effort from the players he kept sending over the boards Friday in the loss to the Avalanche.
It’s something the team will try to remedy Sunday with the Canucks in town.
“It’s fairly consistent behind the bench,” said winger Ryan Jones. “But once they throw guys out there, it’s on our shoulders. We didn’t win enough shifts (Friday) in order to win a hockey game and the onus is on us as a group in the locker-room, not so much the guys behind the bench.”