Sunday, August 30, 2020

Blues coach Craig Berube

ST. LOUIS -- Looking back since his arrival, what's the been the only thing that has derailed Craig Berube's coaching teure with the Blues?

The opposition? Not really.
Blues coach Craig Berube

Being outcoached? No. 

His on-ice decisions and player personnel decisions? Hardly.

COVID-19? Well, now we have something.

It's taken a pandemic to curb what Berube's done as coach of the Blues.

Once Berube took over in early in the 2018-19 season, it was a bit of a slow start, but once the Blues got their engines revved up, Berube instilled a tough demeanor and built an identity with the team, the Stanley Cup was not far behind, and even in defense of the Cup, Berube had the Blues primed and ready to defend it, first overall in the Western Conference and feeling confident with a good number of the same players that were part of the franchise's first Stanley Cup.

But when COVID-19 shut the NHL down on March 12, it shut down the Blues' momentum, and when the season resumed following a 71-game regular season where the Blues were 42-19-10, the Blues just couldn't find their mojo again.

It started with the exhibition and round-robin games inside the Edmonton bubble, and it continued through a first-round playoff series loss against the Vancouver Canucks.

Berube is 155-96-44 in less than two seasons with the Blues in the regular-season and another 18-17 with a Cup title under his belt, but the disappointment of being eliminated in the first round didn't sit well with the Blues coach, who vows his team will get back on the horse and be a Cup favorite moving forward.

He discussed the season, the disappointment of the playoffs, certain players and their seasons, what they need to do to be better moving forward, among other topics here:

Why didn't you have it in Edmonton?
We just didn't play well enough as a team. When you're in the playoffs, you need everybody going at their best and you need a real strong team game, and we didn't have that. I think we had spurts of it at times, but not consistent enough and not everybody going at the same time. That's basically the bottom line.

Why don't you think there was that?
Energy was a big part of it. I think it lacked at times, but I don't have an answer for that. I guess it could be a lot of different scenarios and situations, but it's hard to give you an answer on all of them. It's up to myself, the coaching staff and the players to be more prepared, and we didn't do a good enough job. That's the bottom line. We weren't good enough, and that's why we're out.

Seemed like you were going really well in camp. Did you have a good feeling going to Edmonton and surprised that didn't translate to the bubble?
Yeah, I did have a good feeling. I thought camp was good, I really did. I thought they worked hard, they looked good out there, but something seemed to change when we got up there. We didn't perform very well in the round-robin games. There were spurts of good hockey where we played some decent hockey but not for 60 minutes and I think that really boils down to we didn't play games for 60 minutes up there and that's a big part of the reason we're out. We had spurts of real good hockey, but not consistent enough.

Could you see this coming in the round-robin?
I thought that we could still perform at a high enough level to build our game, maybe get to the top of our game in the first round. Vancouver's a good team though. I thought they played really well against us. Game 1-2 could have went either way. It's a bounce here or there and maybe a 1-1 series or who knows, maybe we're up 2-0. We battled back and tied it, but Game 5, we had the game in hand and again, kind of just let it slip away. You can't do that in the playoffs. It changes momentum so much for the other team. Obviously they had a lot of momentum going into Game 6, a lot more than we had and that showed when we got beat pretty easily in Game 6.

Is it hard for you to let this go and move on?
It eats away at you the whole time. I'm not going to lie to you. It's tough for me. We had a chance to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. I think that was a big motivation for us as a team and now it's over, we can't do it. We'll move on and prepare for next year and get our team ready, but it eats away at me, I'm not going to lie to you.

Do you watch the other playoff games?
Yeah, I do watch the other games. It's hard to watch, but I think it's important that I watch them and see what's going on and how the teams are performing.

On Binnington's play and his ability to move on:
Yeah, he does a good job of that for sure. He does have a short memory. He moves on from things. He wasn't at his best, just like a lot of our team, but he'll move on and he'll be OK. He's performed at a high level obviously, you guys know that. He's done it for half a season, playoffs and then this season, he played extremely well, one of the top goalies in the league for wins. He'll move on from it and get over it. He can look at some things and work on some things too and get better, just like we all have. We all have to improve. When you get beat out in the first round, it's unacceptable, myself included, and we've got to get better, I've got to get better and the team's got to get better.

On good culture, is the culture something that can correct this without it becoming a lingering issue?
Definitely. We have a real good culture. We've got real good veterans in there on our team that hold people accountable and really pushing that culture that we're trying to create and it's my job too for sure. We've got to get everyone on board going next year. They've got to be on board with what we're preaching and what we're trying to do as a team. I'll keep saying it, the team's the most important thing and the team has to come first.

What are some things you think you need to improve on as a team? Mistakes seemed to be an issue up there.
Mistakes for sure. Young guys got to keep improving and getting better as do older guys. If you're an older player, you've got to do certain things to keep improving. I think going into the off-season here or whatever you want to call it, you've got to work on your deficiencies and get get better. I want our team to come in unreal shape next year. I don't want guys coming into camp not in great shape and can't perform at a high enough level. That won't be accepted by us as a coaching staff and as an organization. We're going to be demanding of people and that's the best way to get better.

Was the players' fitness level coming out of Phase 3 OK or not?
Well I think a lot of of guys were good. They took care of themselves they were ready to go, but I don't think as a team it was good enough.

Is there uncertainty when season starts, so uncertain what to do as for an off-season?
Well, it is uncertainty and coming into this year's playoffs, there was a lot of uncertainty. We've got to learn from it and you've got to make sure that you're preparing here. I think guys should take a little time off and get refocused, but then you've got to get after your training and you've got to stay with it the whole time even though we don't know when we're coming back. We've got to just keep training, keep preparing and make sure ... it's like the lockout, all of the sudden, bang, one week where we could be right here and starting camp. We don't know. It's up to the individual and up to us and our strength coach to make sure guys are training and on top of their game and staying with it. You can't just be like, 'Well, we don't know when we're starting, so I'm going to wait a little bit and I think I'll be good.' Take some time and then you've got to get right after it and you've got to stay with it.

Are you worried about being in flux with Pietrangelo situation and his free agency?
It's obviously on everybody's mind, for sure. More Petro and the organization, but I believe something will get done. That's the best answer I can give you.

Can you describe the role of a captain and why Pietrangelo is so important beyond playing defense?
I think as a captain, you have a big bite of the team for sure and what goes on. We talk about culture, well he's the one guy that leads the culture. Petro is in great shape. He's a very good leader in the locker room and on the ice. He leads by example on the ice with his play but also he understands the game very well and he understands the locker room very well and what needs to be said in the locker room. He does a very good job of that and he makes my job a lot easier. There's times where he's coming in and says, 'I've got the locker room here. I'll handle it.' I don't even have to go in there and say anything because he will take care of that for me, along with other guys on our team. We've got good leadership that way. It's all the little things like that, making sure the trainers are looked after and all the little things that go along with being a captain, he does a very good job of that.

Do you feel same beliefs as veterans who are upset with losing in first round and they will be hungrier, and will you as a coaching staff expect that hunger?
We'll be highly motivated for sure. I think they're not too happy, especially our veteran players. Losing out in the first round, that doesn't sit well with them. We've got a good core here. As you guys know, I could name a bunch of players, I'm not going to to, you know who the core is, you know who the players are. We're pretty solid in that area, so there's a good window. We've got young players that are going to get better and and improve. I think we've got a good mixture of core players, some veteran players and some young players to try and win a championship again.

Where can Robert Thomas go with his game and what is expected from him moving forward?
He's like any young player. You've got to remember, he is young still and he's come a long ways, he's won a championship already in the NHL, but he's got to take the next step in his fitness level for sure and then he's got to take the next step in the 200-foot game. He's got to play the game harder and he's got to be able to score goals. He's a very good passer. He'll start executing more on his plays, but he also has to become a scorer in this league to be an all-around player. If he's just going to be a passer all the time, eventually teams will understand that and take things away. He needs to improve his shot, he needs to score goals for us too and just become a harder player to play against. That'll come with time, and also fitness will make that happen too.

Is there still a big step Jordan Kyrou has to make to be a regular at the NHL level?
Well there is. He was a very good player in junior and he came up to the American League and played pretty well up there. But now the NHL's the NHL. It's the best league in the world. He's got flashes of greatness out there for sure with his speed and his agility and his puck-handling ability, but the areas of the game that he has to make sure at is on the walls and he's got to battle for things. When he doesn't have the puck, he's got to check and get it back. There's a lot of areas there that he can improve on and he will, and then also it's about him finishing off plays. I think he gets opportunities offensively, but we need him to finish them off.

Do young guys like Blais, Barbashev, Dunn, Sanford have room to grow?
Yes for sure. If you look at our core group at the age that they're at, I've had some of these guys. I had Brayden Schenn as a young kid like you're talking about right now in Philadelphia. His growth from then to now is tremendous. These players will keep improving. They get to that 27, 28 age, 26, 27, 28, that's when you're probably in the prime of your career and you should be at your highest level.

How much up in Edmonton did you miss Vladimir Tarasenko, Alexander Steen, even Jay Bouwmeester?
Well, you miss them all. They all do different things, but in saying that, that shouldn't have changed the way our team mindset and our team play was. We had players that were able to go in there and do the job, but we missed Bouw for a while obviously with what happened to him. We were fine and we moved on. Marco Scandella stepped into that position for us and did a great job. And Vladi was out all year and we were still one of the top teams in the league in scoring goals. We did it by committee and obviously Steener's the type of player, a veteran leader that does little things for us out there, penalty kill, closes games out, checks. They're all missed, they're all good players for us and they're all missed, but you can't use that as an excuse. I think we had capable guys in there that can do the job. We just didn't.

How much were you missing that element with Tarasenko missing and when he's healthy?
Well, he can score big goals, and that's what he does. He's a big goal scorer. He can score at any time of a game. It's important to have a guy like that. He's a leader on our team too. He wears an 'A.' He's missed for sure. Like I said, he's a big part of our team and always has been. He needs to get healthy and we need him back.

Do you meet with the team when you arrived back, have exit physicals/meetings?
I met with every player personally with Doug Armstrong. They do exit meetings with our trainer for physicals and things like that. We met with all the players. That's all taken care of.

What are the nature of those talks?
What we expect out of them, what they can improve on, fitness level, playing ability, all that stuff. There's players that have questions too about things that we'll answer, but that's basically what it boils down to.

Can you make great assessments off these 10 games from the bubble?
We don't base it just on that. We base it on the whole season. The games that were played up until the stoppage and then in the bubble too. It's not just based on one thing with the bubble playoffs. It's based on the whole season.

Did you find players had a hard time self-motivating without fans?
It's difficult and different for sure with no fans. A big part of the game is fans and why we play and why we're involved in the game. They make it happen, the fans, in my opinion, but you know there's no fans so you've got to find a way to motivate yourself. That's your job as a player and my job as a coach. It's difficult. They're away from heir families and it's not easy for a lot of guys. But at the same time, you're pros and you're getting paid. This is your job, so you've got to do it, so again, you've got to do the job.

Has it been a strange ride going back to when you arrived as coach to all that's happened since?
Yeah, it has. It's been enjoyable for me. I've enjoyed every minute of it. Winning the championship was a great thing and then coming into this year. I didn't really know what to expect, especially early on in the first 25 games, but I thought our team performed very well. I thought the team was motivated all year. I thought we had a real good season up until the stoppage, in first place in the West. Not an easy thing to do. I thought out guys did a good job keeping their energy up most of the season, which is a good thing. Energy is a huge thing and the more I think about the bubble part of it, that energy was lacking in there for whatever reason. We've got to find that energy again next year. That'll be huge. It's a big thing.

Do you expect your staff to be back entirely?
Yeah I do. We really like our staff. I enjoy them. They're very good coaches and very helpful for me. I know that Doug does too, so I expect them all to be back.

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