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STU COWAN: Larry Robinson has high praise for Blues coach Craig Berube

St. Louis Blues head coach Craig Berube hoists the Stanley Cup after beating the Bruins 4-1 in Game 7 of the final on June 12, 2019 at TD Garden in Boston.
St. Louis Blues head coach Craig Berube hoists the Stanley Cup after beating the Bruins 4-1 in Game 7 of the final on June 12, 2019 at TD Garden in Boston.

Former Canadien Larry Robinson and Craig Berube now have something in common that makes them unique: they are the only two men to win the Stanley Cup as an interim head coach.

Robinson won the Cup as interim head coach of the New Jersey Devils in 2000 after replacing Robbie Ftorek on March 23 that season. Berube won the Cup this season with St. Louis after replacing Mike Yeo on Nov. 20 when the Blues were in last place in the Central Division with a 7-9-3 record.

One of the first things Berube did was ask Robinson to join him behind the bench as an assistant. Robinson had been working with the Blues as a senior consultant.

The 68-year-old Robinson spent 15 games behind the bench with Berube before the travelling became too much for the Hall of Famer and he returned to his consultant job. But Robinson was with the Blues throughout their playoff run, providing another set of eyes from the press box and offering advice to the coaching staff and players. Robinson also went on the ice for some practices to work with the defence.

The Blues went on to win their first championship in franchise history and Robinson earned his 10th Stanley Cup ring, including six as a defenceman with the Canadiens. He also won two as a Devils assistant coach.

Robinson was impressed by Berube’s no-nonsense approach.

“He made everybody accountable, he held everybody accountable,” Robinson said last Friday from his Florida home. “It didn’t matter who you were or what you did. If you screwed up you heard about it. He’s a really good communicator … if he’s got something to say he doesn’t waste any time saying it. He just grabs the guys right away and talks to them about it.”

When St. Louis lost Game 3 of the Western Conference final to the San Jose Sharks on an OT goal scored off a blatant hand pass that wasn’t called, Berube found a way to turn it into a source of motivation for the Blues, who were left trailing the series 2-1.

“I mean we were all upset,” Robinson said. “But he just came in and he told the guys: ‘Mistakes happen, stuff goes on in hockey and you just got to live with it. Don’t let it affect your play … use it as motivation.’ That really calmed our team down and got us focused and I think he kept everybody focused. He never let anybody get too high or too low and I think that was a big strong point in the way that we played.”

Robinson has said in the past that his greatest day in hockey was when he won the Cup as a head coach.

“The only reason I said that is because when you’re a head coach you’re the man in charge and you make the final decisions,” he explained. “You’re not just making decisions about yourself. When you’re a player, you jump on the ice, you play your game and the only guy you got to worry about is yourself. But as a head coach, you’re worrying about lineups, you’re worrying about the way guys are going to react, you’re worrying if the flights are ready and if the players are getting enough rest and so on and so on. So there’s a lot that goes into being a head coach preparation wise compared to a player. That’s why I felt that one was the most memorable. But this one was kind of special in its own way, too.”

Berube had assistant coaches Steve Ott and Mike Van Ryn behind the bench with him during the playoffs while Robinson looked on from above. Robinson was very impressed with how Van Ryn handled the defence.

“He works with those guys every day and he just did a terrific job,” Robinson said. “Mike and I talk a lot and we have the same philosophies. We’re both excited for next year to come and start with these guys from Square 1 because we introduced a lot of different things that these guys haven’t had before in how to play defence, use of the stick and angles and all that kind of stuff. He’s already got stuff written down for next year for training camp and we’re looking forward to getting the guys from Day 1. They’re good right now, but I think we can make them even better.”

Robinson doesn’t have a contract for next season but is hoping to re-sign with the Blues. He said he could stay in the game forever if it wasn’t for the travelling.

“You’re here one day three hours behind (with a time change), you’re off to Los Angeles and then you come back the next day and you’re home for a day and then you’re off again,” he said. “So it’s just gotten a little bit too much for me.”

But the Hall of Famer was still able to help the Blues win their first Stanley Cup.

scowan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/StuCowan1

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Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019


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