Penguins appreciative of Tocchet’s contributions to back-to-back Cups
PITTSBURGH — When Rick Tocchet returns to Pittsburgh, he will see another Stanley Cup banner in the rafters and be celebrated for his part in the championship.
Tocchet doesn’t plan on reminiscing too much about the Penguins’ back-to-back titles, except perhaps for one important moment.
“I’m looking forward to my ring, yeah,” he said.
Tocchet will get his third Penguins Cup ring, his second as an assistant coach after one as a player, when he visits as coach of the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday night. Whether it was fostering relationships with Phil Kessel and younger players or running the power play that scored on 21.9 percent of its chances during the 2016 and 2017 Cup runs, Tocchet was a valuable piece of the organization.
“The role he had, he did it extremely well,” Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said Monday. “He had a good read on the players and was able to communicate on a one-on-one basis with whatever they were dealing with hockey-wise and personally or whatever. He did a terrific job for us and played a key role.”
Tocchet settled into a comfortable spot on Pittsburgh’s coaching staff, especially once Mike Sullivan took over for Mike Johnston in December 2015. Sullivan values Tocchet’s knowledge and said over the summer they grew to trust each other through some challenging times.
Tocchet doesn’t want to claim an oversized chunk of the credit for the Penguins’ back-to-back championships.
“You just do your part,” Tocchet said after the Coyotes’ morning skate in Washington. “The players for me are the major contributors, Mike Sullivan obviously making the decisions. … Even a team that wins a Stanley Cup, your fourth-line player has to do something. To win a Cup, everybody has to kind of pull the rope, and that’s the way we did in Pittsburgh. Whether you’re a player, coach, a scout or whatever, I think everybody contributed.”
The Penguins are planning a video tribute to Tocchet to play during the Coyotes’ only visit of the season, and fans no doubt feel a special connection with him after he also played on the 1992 Cup team. But the 53-year-old pointed to his Stanley Cup party over the summer as closure on his Pittsburgh days and insisted his focus is on helping Arizona rebound from losing 14 of its first 16 games.
Of course, one text he got in the middle of the struggles shows how likable he was to Penguins players. It was a simple message from captain Sidney Crosby: “Hang in there.”
That kind of camaraderie is already building with the young Coyotes, who routinely ask Tocchet about Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and others to pick his brain about some of the best in the game.
“Obviously guys are interested in what (Crosby has) done because of how successful he was and his relationship with coach Tocch,” Coyotes rookie forward Clayton Keller said. “It’s good to have that relationship. Not many guys get to work with Sidney Crosby. He definitely has a lot of information.”
Tocchet feared early in his Arizona tenure that he was name-dropping Crosby and the Penguins a little too much. Only his new players keep asking, and he has enough in the memory bank from the past three years to keep it coming.
“It’s mostly the players engaging: `Hey, what does Crosby do in these situations? What does Malkin do in this situation? How does this guy do that?'” Tocchet said. “So that’s the engagement, and I love that because they want to learn. If you’re 20-year-old kids, they watch YouTube. They want to see how these guys do certain things, and I love that about it.”
As Tocchet passes on what Penguins stars did at practice or in key situations, he’s conscious that their success as a team helped him get his first head coaching job since parts of two seasons with Tampa Bay from 2008-2010.
“I was very fortunate to have a great staff, work for Mike Sullivan,” Tocchet said. “I learned a lot from him. And I also learned a lot from the players. I was lucky enough to coach the Crosbys, Malkins, Kessels, Letangs — high-end guys that keep you on your toes.”