WILMINGTON, Mass. — Wherever he has coached, Craig Ramsay has lent a hand to the development of plenty of would-be star defensemen.
Some combination of his lengthy career as a star two-way forward in the NHL, his demeanor and his teaching ability has allowed him to speed the progress of young blueliners — think about Dan Boyle in Tampa and Wade Redden/Chris Phillips in Ottawa — during their transformation into top talents.
After three years as an aide to Bruins head coach Claude Julien, Ramsay is now the head coach of the Atlanta Thrashers. He’s working his magic, as much as he can, on the likes of Dustin Byfuglien and Zach Bogosian. Now for the first time since leaving Boston, he’ll have to draw up a game plan to stop former prized pupils like Johnny Boychuk, and even Zdeno Chara, Sunday night when the Bruins visit Philips Arena.
An entertaining, recurring moment at Bruins practices the last couple years often occurred after a handful of Bruins players had left the ice and others remained out for extra work. Prior to, and even after, winning the Norris Trophy as the best defenseman in the NHL, Chara would work on his stickhandling with Ramsay — a former Selke Trophy winner — poke checking, hooking and slashing away in an attempt to take the puck away from the weaving Chara between the blue lines.
“It meant a lot. Obviously I learned so much from him and I was so happy to have him as a coach,” said Chara. “Obviously, he deserved to be a head coach. He’s such an experienced guy and he’s got so much poise and passion for the game. It’s very hard to find. Obviously, we have good enough coaches now. But I will obviously remember those times, especially after practices and having those little 1-on-1 meetings. Sometimes those things stick with you and you always remember.”
Boychuk credits Ramsay a lot for his development from AHL player to seventh defenseman to top-four blueliner with the Bruins. Pretty much any Bruins player that came through the dressing room during Ramsay’s time, defenseman or forward, learned at least a little something from the former mainstay of the Buffalo Sabres.
“He was a great coach and he just tried to instill all the right things, all the right messages to guys,” said forward Blake Wheeler. “He always was a positive coach and guy that he told you how it was. That’s the thing the guys respect about Rammer the most, good or bad, you were going to hear the truth. That’s what you want, you don’t like to be toyed around with. You like to hear it how it is and he did that all the time.”
How it is right now is, Atlanta has won four in a row using a system that Julien says is almost identical to Boston’s. So in some ways Sunday night’s game will be like looking in the mirror, while in other ways it’ll be like looking into the past if the Bruins glance behind their opponents’ bench.