Collected wisdom: Barons coach Todd Nelson

Interviewed by John Rohde, jrohde@opubco.com Published: September 3, 2011
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Mario and those guys treated me so nice. He could have been a guy who had his nose turned up in the air, but he was great to the young guys. That's why he led those guys to the Stanley Cup twice. I have nothing but respect for him. He's a terrific icon for hockey.

I'm glad I got to the NHL, but there was frustration it wasn't for longer. At the time I got drafted, Pittsburgh was winning back-to-back Stanley Cups and it was pretty tough as a young kid to crack that lineup. I was always one of the first call-ups, but for me to get an opportunity in Pittsburgh, something would have had to happen to quite a few guys. You can't look back and say, “What if?”

Hockey is a bit different in Helsinki and Berlin. There are subtle differences. European hockey is more puck possession, a bigger ice surface, a different style of play. Over here, there are smaller rinks. It's a lot more harder-hitting and definitely rougher.

It was pretty neat playing in Berlin. Germany is big into soccer, so we kind of had a soccer crowd there cheering us on. It was a really cool atmosphere and exciting to play there, but the NHL is the top league in the world.

You like certain coaches, and other coaches you don't see eye-to-eye with. I don't know what it was at the end of my playing career, but I was doing all I could to impress the coach. It didn't really work out in my favor, but it taught me a lot of things. It taught me there has to be a better way to motivate your players than just beating them down every day.

Sometimes as a young player, you get an ego. That kind of knocked me down a peg. I learned from that. As I got a bit older, I had to retool my game. I became more defensive-minded so I could play more years in the AHL.

I wanted to make sure I had fun as a player, and losing is not fun. Hoisting the (Colonial) Cup in your last hockey game, that was a nice way to go out. Just like Jerry Seinfeld, I guess — go out on top.

I love sports movies where someone overcomes tough odds. That's why “Remember the Titans” is my favorite sports movie. “Seabiscuit” is another.

I'm a firm believer that you can make people winners. Going through that experience has certainly helped me out. In Atlanta, I didn't make the playoffs either year, and that was very new to me.

Your first year after becoming a head coach, you really want to make an impression. You're driven, you want to do everything right. We won every playoff game in all three series my first year — 11 games in a row. That was a remarkable feat. I've been blessed to have such good players.

After winning a second straight title, I always had high expectations from that point forward. Right after you win a championship, you've done it so you think it's always achievable. You always think you can do it again.

Once you get that taste of winning, you crave it. Then you start thinking back to how you did it, and it's such a fine line. You have to play for each other, but you also have to have the hockey gods on your side. You have to have them point in your favor. Bounces can go one way or the other. A quarter-inch on the post is a goal, or no goal.

I think the sports pulse of Oklahoma City is excellent. There's a very passionate group of fans here for all sports. Obviously, football is huge. The Thunder has tremendous support. It's a very exciting time here in OKC.

I think we can get a lot better, all the way around. The people here are so nice it's been a very easy transition from Atlanta to come here. It's been a wonderful time.

When you have success, it breeds success. That's what we're trying to do here in Oklahoma City. We're going after the Calder Cup. Last year was a step in the right direction, but in my book, that's not good enough.



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