Marc of success

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:56 AM ET

RIGA, Latvia -- As a junior, Marc Habscheid had a superb career. As a junior coach, Marc Habscheid has had an equally superb career.

But as a professional player? Well that wasn't so good.

It's quite possible, however, that there were extenuating circumstances.

When Habscheid was asked yesterday if his ho-hum playing career could be blamed on a concussion, he said, "Not really. There were a lot of guys who were playing ahead of me who were pretty good players."

That's typical of Habscheid's nature. He doesn't make excuses. That's one of the reasons that he's such a good coach and that he's here heading Team Canada in its quest for a third consecutive world championship.

But two decades ago, the approach to concussions wasn't what it is today. In those days, you got your bell rung and you went back on the ice as soon as you could get your eyes aligned.

Today, a concussion is a serious injury, requiring a step-by-step rehabilitation process that doesn't even allow physical exercise until a player can be symptom-free for a week.

But when Habscheid, who had been the leading goal scorer on the 1982 junior Team Canada that ended years of futility with a gold medal at the world championship, went to the Edmonton Oilers, he did so with a great deal of fanfare. He was expected to develop into a great player. He never did.

"I got a concussion my last game playing junior," he recalled. "I got the concussion and I was taken off on a stretcher and overnighted in hospital. Then three days later, I was back in Edmonton and on the ice. It wasn't a big deal. I felt okay, so I went back. But things were different then. That was the way it used to be."

These days, players who suffer concussions of that severity can be out for months. Jason Allison and Eric Lindros know all about it. Adam Deadmarsh's career was ended by the type of concussion that Habscheid suffered.

It should, therefore, come as no surprise that when Habscheid tried to show the scoring prowess that had made him such a highly rated junior, he couldn't do it.

The Oilers of the 1980s were setting offensive records that stand to this day, so an offensive player who couldn't live up to his billing was in for a tough time.

"I had to change my game," Habscheid said, "and I had to change because the offensive guys who were playing ahead of me were pretty good players"

That's safe to say. The top five offensive seasons in NHL history were produced by that team.

"I had a difficult time changing my game in order to play," Habscheid said. "But then once I got with the national team, that helped, and I became more of a two-way player and had a couple of good years in Minnesota, then I was in Detroit."

Then he was in Ausberger, Zug and Bern in the Swiss league. The NHL no longer wanted him.

But it may have been just as well. Coaching careers last a lot longer than playing careers, and it was because of his setbacks that Habscheid had to study the game more and learn what ingredients are required for success.

His coaching career has progressed well and now he's facing a new challenge in that he's handling players who succeeded where he himself did not. They're the cream of the NHL's crop.

"I wasn't nervous about it," he said. "I have my beliefs in terms of a style. I feel good about the assistants that I have and I just felt it was important to be myself.

"These guys are smart enough. I'm not going to be something that I'm not. I'm just going to keep being me, but at the same time these guys are elite NHL players, so I take that into consideration too."

That's an approach that can win. One that was learned the hard way.


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