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More work, less talk

Carlyle likes to leave the interviews to his players, but there is a reason that his Ducks command the NHL with 60 points

December 23, 2006|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

The man who rules behind the bench of the team with the best record in the National Hockey League looks more rough than regal.

His long, curly hair may be a distant memory, but Randy Carlyle is still the guy who won the Norris Trophy in 1981 as the NHL's top defenseman: a stocky 5 feet 10, quick eyes and a fire in his belly as he barks out orders to his high-flying Ducks. He is the best coach in hockey that nobody knows, long on substance and short on -- well, Carlyle doesn't give a hoot about style in a region that often worships it.

He is stubborn.

He is intense.

Most of all, he knows the game. How a player thinks.

Honesty and hard work are the currency he values, even if it's expressed through the use of a choice four-letter word or two.

"Hard work is no big deal in my mind," Carlyle said. "I'm expected to work hard. If a player comes to me and says he's working hard, so what. Everybody has to work hard. That's a norm."

Teemu Selanne, the Ducks' popular forward, has seen it all before. Their paths crossed as teammates on the Winnipeg Jets when Carlyle was on the last leg of a long NHL career and Selanne was a hotshot rookie on the way to a record-breaking 76-goal season.

During a recent period break, a period in which the team played poorly, Carlyle launched into a tirade in the dressing room and Selanne couldn't help but reminisce about that 1992-93 season. His coach might wear tailored suits these days, but that's the only difference.

"Oh, he's the same guy," said Selanne, now 36. "He's very tough on us. But he was like that when he was playing. No, he hasn't changed."

The Anaheim Ducks, as a franchise, have been the better for it since the 50-year-old Carlyle was named coach on Aug. 1, 2005. They've become one of the NHL's success stories since the end of the bitter lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season.

Much of the credit has gone to Brian Burke, the team's high-profile general manager. In less than two years, a rejiggered roster of superstars, youngsters and role-playing veterans is now a juggernaut with a league-best 27-4-6 record and 134 goals scored.

But it took Carlyle, Burke's handpicked leading man who shuns the spotlight, to make it work. In the dressing room, Carlyle is front and center.

"He is a players' coach, but at the same time, like any good coach, he likes control," defenseman Sean O'Donnell said. "It's his way or the highway. Let's just say that I don't know how many one-on-ones you can win.

"I think he's pretty stubborn. I don't think he makes decisions without thinking ahead first. But once his mind is made up, it's pretty much made up."

Assistant coach Dave Farrish has seen that side of Carlyle for more than 30 years, watching it up close when the two were defense partners in junior hockey with the Sudbury Wolves.

"Randy's been a take-charge kind of guy since he was a young age," Farrish said. "Anybody who knows him knows he's not afraid to speak his word. If you're offended by it, so be it. That's just the way he shoots. There's only one way in his book."

Asked about his intensity, Carlyle said, "Oh, I don't know. Just part of my personality, I guess. I guess I'm not mellow. I say that I'm a 'sometimes volatile' person. Sometimes."

Would his wife, Corey, agree on the sometimes? "She's got another view on it," he said, smiling.

From his first day as a rookie NHL coach, Carlyle installed a system that puts the Ducks in a relentless-attack mode, even on defense. That kind of play has made them the team to beat, but after Carlyle's first few months on the job, things looked bleak. By Thanksgiving Day last year, the Ducks had eight consecutive losses, tying a franchise low, and were 8-11-4.

Playoffs? Carlyle was more concerned with getting his Ducks back on track, even as his resolve was tested.

"I think we stayed committed," he said, "and that comes from ownership, all of management. Our players were working hard. It wasn't like they turned us off. They were listening."

From the beginning, Burke knew he wanted Carlyle -- then coach of the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League -- and once he got his man, left no doubt about who was in charge.

"We've made it clear from the get-go that with Randy, buying in is not an option," Burke said. "If you're not buying in, then you're buying a new ZIP Code.

"We put body armor on Randy from day one. The players know Randy is in charge here."

Anyone seen as a poor fit or who struggled to keep up with the fast-paced game Carlyle preached was sent packing: Sergei Fedorov, Petr Sykora, Sandis Ozolinsh, Keith Carney.

Burke made the deals, but it was Carlyle who said they had to be made.

Throughout, the message was clear -- the players would do things Carlyle's way. Period.

After that Thanksgiving Day low in 2005, the Ducks went into high gear. With Scott Niedermayer, who won the Norris in 2004, and Selanne leading the way, the Ducks were 35-16-8 over the next four months and had a franchise-record 43 victories.

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