An interim coach that wasn’t able to get the full-time gig twice prior in his NHL coaching career, Craig Ramsay today officially left his post as an assistant on Bruins head coach Claude Julien’s staff to become the head coach of the Atlanta Thrashers.
In the three seasons Ramsay was on board in Boston under Julien and alongside Geoff Ward and Doug Houda, the Bruins made the playoffs all three seasons after missing the postseason the prior two campaigns. And the club improved defensively from 11th in the league in goals against in 2007-08 to first the next year and second this past season.
While players ultimately control success or failure, a bulk of the credit for Boston’s uptick has to go to Ramsay for his work with the defensemen and the penalty kill. All the blueliners, young and old, lauded Ramsay’s aid in their improvement during his tenure with the Bruins. Today during his introductory press conference with Atlanta, he recalled the point when he realized that the Bruins could become the type of defensive team he and the entire brass envisioned.
“The players were great. They bought into the concepts I was teaching,” said Ramsay. “I can remember sort of an early meeting I had with the defensemen because it didn’t seem like they were buying in right away. And I had a meeting on the ice after one practice and went over what I expected and how they weren’t quite buying in. And Zdeno [Chara] just said, ‘No. You’re asking us to do things that are different. We’ve been trained to do other things. We like it, but it takes awhile.’
“It was a great meeting because they explained it to me and we got it sorted out and that helped move us forward. It was exciting.”
As exciting as it was for Ramsay, it was more enthralling for the city of Boston to see a team winning after some down years. And it was also beneficial to the players. On the same day Ramsay left the Bruins, Johnny Boychuk re-signed with the club for two years. He made major strides in his rookie season, just like Matt Hunwick and Mark Stuart before him, and credited Ramsay for all his help.
“He actually (influenced me) quite a bit,” said Boychuk. “He always would talk to me, even when I wasn’t playing. He would shoot me drills in practice to work on my foot speed and decision making and almost everything as part of my defensive game, just to make it better. He’s a great coach and I wish him well.”
Ramsay said he was truly appreciative for the opportunity Julien gave him to come to Boston, and the tutelage he got from the head coach and other assistants. But at 59, leaving the comforts of Boston and an assistant’s job to be a head coach in a city that’s somewhat indifferent to a hockey club that’s made the playoffs just once in its history is a risk he was willing to take. After all, his former roommate from their playing days in Buffalo, and boss from Tampa Bay, Atlanta general manager Rick Dudley, is now running the show. Dudley had a hand in building the Lightning team that eventually won the Stanley Cup in 2004 with Ramsay as an assistant to John Tortorella.
There will be plenty more young defensemen, and forwards and goalies for that matter, in Atlanta for Ramsay to handle. His stint in Boston proved that he’s up to the task.
“He’s a real calming guy,” said Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli. “He’s really good 1-on-1 with guys. A ton of experience and he can communicate with the guys on a level, that when you’re day to day and you have to tell guys what they’re doing wrong, it gets tiresome from both sides. He can really connect that way to the players and he still can be passionate.”
The search for Ramsay’s replacement in Boston will probably start soon, and in-house and outside candidates will probably be in the mix. Houda should be a candidate to move down from his “eye-in-the-sky” perch to behind the bench, a place he spent his first year in Boston in 2006-07 under Dave Lewis.
Ramsay through his endorsement to Houda today.
“Dougie’s become a very sharp coach,” said Ramsay. “You talk about a guy that wants to learn and work that craft of coaching, Doug Houda’s made great strides in that. He learned from me, but he’s learned from Claude, he hangs around with Geoff Ward a lot, but Dougie just absorbs information and then he’s able to spit things back and teach them in return.”