“No Game Tonight”
The scowl on his face pretty much told the story. The measured tones of his answers were restrained. The resolute body language reflected his feelings.
Dallas Eakins, the successful coach of the San Diego Gulls, was near despondent after his season ending exit meetings with his players, and his end of season comments with the working media.
There’s a finality, like a jolt, or maybe like a head on collision, when your team fails to make the playoffs on the final night of the season. Horrid disappointment for at team that 10-days ago was in 2nd place, got beat, and finished fifth, out of AHL postseason play.
He said a lot, but he bit his tongue a lot. You got the sense he wanted to scream, blow his lid, and throw things across the team room. Except there were no players left in the room, as they cleared out, headed for home and a longer than expected off season.
Eakins stood in there answering every tough question thrown at him:
..This is a jolt..it does not sit well with me…it’s gut wrenching…we will move forward.
..The AHL Pacific is a tight division, we kept moving up and down till we ran out of time
..We didn’t lose this on the final weekend in Tucson.
..Over 68-games, lots of bad losses come back that would have made a difference.
..That’s what makes this so hard-my constant message-every game is important.
..We were streaky all season..in the NHL you can pinpoint where it goes wrong.
..In the AHL, it can be a struggle, callups-injuries and more.
..I can’t remember but it’s been a long time since I felt this way..it hurts.
..Losing our experienced players, Fehr-Rassumussen-Abbott in trades hurt us.
..You need younger players to step up when veterans leave.
..Maybe I need to be more encouraging or maybe more firmer…tougher.
..I knew playing Ontario-Tucson last five games could age a problem.
..We need to reassess how to get younger players up to speed.
..Younger players need constant learning to become the core group.
..Young players need to invest in time in San Diego
..My contract is up in June…this is only AHL coaching job I want
..My first NHL experience was not a good one..I am a better coach now
..I have a chip on my shoulder
..I’d never rule out being an NHL assistant…but I have a strong personality
..Sometimes you need different personalities on coaching staffs
..The same 2-personalities in a room doesn’t always work.
..Missing the playoffs is unacceptable to me and to our fans in San Diego
..You play to win, then win again in the playoffs.
..I work for a great leader in Bob Murray and the Ducks
..Callups of our kids are important-help the team..help the kids learn about NHL
..When you’re around Getzlaf-Perry-Kesler-it helps them grow in practice and games
..The Ducks will likely call up 5-to-7 of our players to keep them on a ready list for game
And with that he exited quickly, just like his team exited the playoffs with 3-straight losses, when all they needed was one point to get to the postseason.
3-Gulls players praised Eakins, despite the last week of setbacks, saying he is not only a strong hockey coach, but a strong teacher of life. They said they learned so much about hockey and how you should approach hockey.
The Ducks need to sign him, and at the same time, find a way to give him a couple of more veteran players to anchor the roster. Too many kids, struggling to learn at this level, on a game by game basis. It’s not like playing in the Quebec Junior League, or at St Cloud State, or in the Finnish junior league.
There will be no playoff hockey tonite or Friday or on the weekend. A successful franchise shuts it down for this post season. The raging success, a franchise averaging a league leading (9,305) per game, won’t have a place to go. Our playoffs will be on TV watching the Kings-Ducks-Penguins and Golden Knights
The off season never tasted so bitter, despite the sunny weather in San Diego. Unless you’ve been in the room, worn the crest, rode the buses and flights, you cannot understand the culture, and how important the postseason really is.
This hurts. You could tell it by his words, sense it by his body language, understand it by the sadness in his face. Dallas Eakins, the Gulls coach ,reminded us of this time and time again on Monday..
And we are reminded, ‘no game tonight’