Effort And Toughness Highlight Melrose's Coaching Style
As a bruising defenseman who amassed 728 penalty minutes, Melrose spent time playing for the Winnipeg Jets, Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings. After his playing years, it turned out Melrose was more than just a tough guy.
Shortly after wrapping up his playing career, the Kelvington, Saskatchewan, native turned to coaching and emerged as a successful educator of the game. There were championships with the Western Hockey League’s Medicine Hat Tigers and the American Hockey League’s Adirondack Red Wings. There was a run to the Stanley Cup Finals with Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings in 1993.
In 1996, Melrose showed yet another side of his hockey-savvy personality. Proving to be a fountain of hockey knowledge, Melrose joined ESPN as a hockey analyst. He spent 12 years in the position, calling regular-season and playoff games while frequently contributing to programs such as NHL 2Night and SportsCenter.
When the Tampa Bay Lightning contacted him recently about a coaching position, however, the opportunity to return to the NHL coaching ranks seemed too good to pass up.
“A friend of mine… approached me and said, ‘Would you ever consider coming back to coaching?’” Melrose said. “I said I would love to. I miss it, I miss the passion; I miss the competition.”
Combining his love of competition with his experience as a hockey analyst is something Melrose plans on using to his advantage. As he sees it, being behind a sports desk has unique strengths. After all, he has spent years following an entire league of teams on a regular basis.
“I probably saw Tampa play 70 times last year,” Melrose said. “There are not many players in the NHL that I don’t have a read on… So, I think that’s probably the best thing about the NHL, what I know now, is the personnel.”
Combining that knowledge with a positive, winning attitude, Melrose aims to inject a new sense of enthusiasm into his new team and its fans.
“When you walk into the building and you see our team play, they’re going to work their butts off – they’re going to be very, very tough to play against,” he said. “I think that’s been a hallmark of my teams from when I started coaching and it’s what I believe in.”
Considering Melrose is remembered as being a hard-nosed defenseman, it seems natural that his interest in playing hockey with an edge translates into his coaching style. With a roster full of talented young players, Melrose feels the Lightning will offer the perfect opportunity to blend skill with attitude.
“We have a good group, and an underrated group,” Melrose said of his new team. “Vinny [Lecavalier] is one of the five best players in the world. Marty St. Louis – his passion, his speed, his courage – what a role model for [Steven] Stamkos, coming in, seeing Marty play the way he does.”
Emphasizing the skill on the Lightning roster, Melrose will encourage the sort of effort he expected of himself on a game-by-game basis. Working hard will translate into a vision that includes energy, speed and aggression from his team.
It will mean out-skating the opposition for loose pucks and fighting for possession along the boards. It will mean finishing checks, creating odd-man rushes and forcing mistakes. It will mean an exciting transition game that emphasizes speed.
“I’m a big believer in transition,” Melrose said. “When a mistake is made against us, the puck’s going to be turned and gone the other way in a hurry. I just think the game should be played fast and you use your speed defensively and you use your speed offensively.”
Melrose also likes to encourage creativity amongst his players – with, of course, respect to defense.
“I believe in letting guys be creative, use their imagination,” he said. “I give them a lot of freedom. All I ask in return is that they compete defensively and most people love playing for me.”
New Lightning owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie discovered the positive attitudes toward Melrose’s coaching style while contacting friends in the NHL ranks. Barrie was particularly impressed with the reaction he received from one of the league’s premier defenseman, Rob Blake.
“I phoned Rob Blake… and I said, ‘What do you think about Barry Melrose?’” Barrie said. “He starts to laugh, and I let him finish and he goes, ‘Len, Barry Melrose is the best coach I had in 17 years played. But the other thing? He was the best person I played for.’”
Ultimately, the positive feedback helped land Melrose in Tampa Bay. In taking over a young, talented roster, Melrose will not only be testing his players, he will be testing himself.
As someone who hates to lose, Melrose loves a good challenge. Besides the fact that the timing of joining the Lightning fits on a personal level – especially meeting his desires for his family – the return to coaching gives Melrose an opportunity that fits his tough, hockey-bred personality.
“I wanted the challenge again,” Melrose said. “I wanted to find out if I could still do it. I’ve missed it since I left… I hate being a guy on the outside looking in. I want to be on the inside again. This group and this team has really rekindled my passion about getting back into coaching.”
Ideally, Melrose wants to inject his passion into a successful team that other clubs will fear playing. Combining his hockey knowledge with his experience as both a player and a coach, the message Melrose sends will be simple – be tough, be intimidating, be aggressive, and do it by leaving as much effort on the ice as possible every night.
“What we’re trying to build here,” Melrose said, “… I’m not talking about fighting and I’m not talking about hitting. You intimidate by speed, you intimidate by talent, you intimidate by good defense, you intimidate by goaltending. That’s the type of team I want to get here in Tampa Bay.”