An Interview with: Doug Armstrong, Craig Berube
Q. Doug, two parts. Your general feeling sitting here knowing you’ve helped take this team to the Cup; and second part how did Binnington, could you say, end up in Providence? Did they call you or did you call them?
DOUG ARMSTRONG: Okay. Well, obviously we’re excited to be here in the championship finals. Getting here is part of the process but not the end goal. There’s another chapter to be written for one of these two organizations. And as I said the manager comes out in here pretty quickly after the third round and you want to tap the breaks and understand that we want to try and win a championship and there’s a lot of work left ahead of us. With Jordan Binnington, for the people that don’t know, we didn’t have our own American League affiliate two years ago. We were allowed to put, we were sharing with Colorado, we were allowed to put one goaltender in San Antonio, we put Husso there. And then we basically sent out a memo to all the teams, anyone looking for a goaltender, an experienced goaltender, and Providence and Don Sweeney and John Ferguson gave us a call and we were able to work something out.
Q. Speaking of Binnington, I think of the great response he gave, do I look nervous? And it became T-shirts. I was wondering if each of you could share your favorite sort of example of that confidence that he has and why you think this stage will not be too big for him.
CRAIG BERUBE: Well, that’s a tough one to point out one situation where, I think the best one is when he had to face his first adversity when he lost a game and we put him back in there the next game and he played outstanding. I think we knew that we were, he was pretty calm about things and just even-keeled all the time. It just didn’t seem like anything really got to him. Whether he didn’t, he let a couple bad goals in or whatever it was. And there was a number of times this year where some bad goals go in or something and then he shut the door. So obviously from a mental standpoint, he’s in a good spot and has been for quite some time.
Q. Doug, obviously everyone talks about the new NHL and how much speed and skill. But what does it this series say about you guys and Boston both being kind of big heavy teams and the fact that you can still win with that style as long as you do have some skill with it?
DOUG ARMSTRONG: Yeah, I think you need a blend. I don’t think that — a number of years ago you would have maybe one or two skating defense men and four defenders and then it goes to three and three and maybe four and two. You have to evolve with the game. I think also coming out of one of the work stoppages it became a smaller man’s game, and I give credit to the bigger players. They got quicker, they got smarter, they got better and size is always still a factor. But I think you have to have a good balance. We believe in big defense. We have had a lot of big defense men over a number of years. It’s probably not as physical of a game as it was those guys but they’re like seaweed, they’re tough to get through back there. Like going through a car wash sometimes when you got Bouwmeester and Parayko up there. But I think you have to have a good balance. We say this and you look at the guy leading us in goals is Schwartz. So ultimately to get to here you have to have a big heart and that’s what excites us about our group is they, we have a bunch of guys with big hearts.
Q. Doug, Bruce Cassidy was just saying that he thinks the Bruins’ biggest advantage in this round is their experience having been here before. Did you considerate all at the deadline going out to get a guy that’s been here and do you think that matters or do you think the experience that you guys have had over last couple years and some of the runs that you’ve had are just enough?
DOUG ARMSTRONG: Well, I’m sure if I was managing Boston I would say our experience is really great. But it is what it is. The puck’s going to drop and the guys are going to have to adjust to what’s happening. I would say if the experience comes in it’s in handling situations like this, media day, things like that. But once they start the game, it’s going to be what they do normally. And hopefully a year from now we’ll say, geez, St. Louis has got a lot of championship experience.
Q. Craig, in Ryan O’Reilly and Patrice Bergeron we have two of the best two-way centers in the NHL in this series. I wonder if you could compare and contrast them for us.
CRAIG BERUBE: Yeah, they’re similar for sure. I think both it starts in the face off circle with both of them, they’re very good face off guys and play a 200-foot game. They both work extremely hard. Bergeron, he’s been here before. Ryan O’Reilly is new to it, but he’s obviously been our best player arguably all year long, and he’s here now. So it’s a great matchup, to be honest with you, we’re looking forward to seeing it, obviously, like you guys are. But, again, they’re both 200-foot players, really good on both sides of the puck and faceoffs are huge, they’re both really good in the face off circle.
Q. To play off of that, if you look at the players but just the teams in general, do you see in a way mirror images of the two, at least enough similarities? And how do you think that matters as you go into a game one when two teams aren’t familiar with each other in terms of playing each other, but maybe can look across and say, they kind of look like us.
CRAIG BERUBE: Well, the similarities I see is like they play — they’re a good defensive hockey team like we are. I think all year long they have been a very good defensive team. They got obviously that top line’s a very good line, it can score goals. And I think both teams want to really get on the forecheck, be a physical team, be a hard team to play against. That’s what I notice in the playoffs watching them. They’re extremely hard to play against, they battle, they play hard. Again, their centermen, they play 200-foot games, like ours do. Defensemen-wise, we’re obviously bigger back there, but they got the big guy, Chara, he’s the biggest one of them all. But they got some pretty good mobile D back there that move the puck well. So I see a lot of similarities in the team game more than anything. I think the way, their style of play and our style of play, there’s some similarities there.
Q. Doug, just wondering looking back now, when you got into December and things weren’t going the way you wanted, why didn’t you make any seismic roster changes, and how hard was it to stay patient with the group?
DOUG ARMSTRONG: I thought we had played some really good hockey in October and November. But the reality was we were finding ways to lose games and not win games. We probably, 12 of our first 15 we were tied or leading in the third period and coming out with no points. So it wasn’t like awful hockey, it just wasn’t winning hockey. And you know, trades don’t happen in December in the NHL very often. But we got to January and we had some meetings that we believe in this group, we think it can get it done. But it has to, it has to happen or else you get to February and you have to make hard decisions that you don’t want to make. Thankfully we never got to that part in February. I do remember going to the under-18 championships in Russia. We had made a trade with Buffalo and we had gave them a first round pick and was Top-10 protected. So I wasn’t really sure where we were at that time going to watch that tournament. But I told the guys that when we come back I’m going to know where we’re at. And when we were over there to me the turning point was that Florida game, I was able to watch on television over there, coming back in the third period, winning, then going into Tampa and winning 1-0. And then I think we beat Nashville back-to-back and we were no longer sellers after that.
Q. Your team’s physicality has definitely been a calling card in these playoffs, but the Bruins also have a dominant power play, best power play in the playoffs. So for you how do you get the guys to straddle the line between staying physical and staying out of the box?
CRAIG BERUBE: Well, first play between the whistles, for sure and we have done a good job of that in the playoffs so far. We have been real good with our discipline after the whistle, staying out of the stuff. Yeah, we’re a physical team, we’re going to take the body and that’s the way we play and got to keep it clean, obviously, when you do take the body. But it’s just not about running around and hitting people, we get the puck, that’s the object. So it’s about just after the whistle, we stay out of it.
Q. What would you say is the identity of your team and is that something that you brought to the table from day one or was it something that you had to kind of cultivate as time went on and was it easy for the guys to buy into it from day one?
CRAIG BERUBE: Oh, it’s not easy ever. I mean, it had to be cultivated for sure, but our team identity is our team. We play a team game and nobody’s bigger than the team. That’s really the bottom line. We demand a lot from our players and the team has to come first. That’s our identity.
Q. Doug, from your perspective what was the transition and leadership like from David Backes to Alex Pietrangelo? Do you see some David in Alex? And lastly, Alex says when he picks up the phone he calls David the past couple years and David was very, very helpful. I’m guessing that’s no surprise to you.
DOUG ARMSTRONG: Oh, I would say that they have a great friendship. They’re both great men off the ice, great family men, they shared a lot of the same values away from the rink. I think that as David came in we made him captain when we got there, he grew into it. Thrusting Alex into it too was a team in transition. A group of players had a window of opportunity. We made it to the semi-finals and then the next year we traded the goaltender, we let the captain go away and a guy that scored a huge goal for us in Brouwer. But it was time. We had to open up space for Tarasenko and for Schwartz and for Pietro and a group of other guys. And transition’s always not easy and I thought Alex, every day he’s becoming more comfortable and better at what he’s going through. Going through what he went through this year, having — for the people that don’t know, he had triplets in the summer and then get off to a bad start, there was a lot on his plate. But he was able to put it all in its proper perspective and lead us at the most important time of the year and the way he’s leading us now and it’s only going to make him a better captain moving forward.
Q. Doug, what was the pivotal point in Jordan’s development that helped him get to this point?
DOUG ARMSTRONG: I would just say his ability to battle through things. It would be disingenuous to say that this was all part of the master plan, bring him in January and be here today. But what he did do is he never quit on himself and that’s what I take away — and if I were ever to share that with any young player is, you know, this road was made extremely difficult for him to get to that point, meaning you have to go to different organization, we tabbed another player ahead of you, and he just said, okay, well, we’ll see. At the end of the day he got up here and he’s made the best of it and so I would just say what’s the most impressive for me is his belief in himself and how that’s transferred to obviously where we are today.
Q. Question for both guys maybe start with Doug, but I asked Don Sweeney this question about a so called pitch count on Tuukka Rask this year. About the idea that is there a science behind the limiting the usage of your starter with a good backup. Braden Holtby had his breakthrough moment by playing his fewest amount of games, the Pittsburgh goalies for different reasons. But do you believe in the science? I mean, obviously Jordan ended up playing 40 games this year between the AHL and the NHL and it wasn’t really by design, we all know his story, but now that you see it, do you believe any of this, is this a trend, is this something to keep an eye on moving forward?
DOUG ARMSTRONG: Yeah, I think you keep an eye on it moving forward. Analytics are enlightening in some facets and I talked to Marty Brodeur about it, it doesn’t seem to bother him, you know. So I think every individual’s a little bit different and the travel schedule is more difficult now, I think the condensed schedule is very difficult, when you add the All-Star break and then the mandatory five-day break you can get into some long stretches of play, but you certainly need a group of 25 players and that includes two goaltenders to have a successful season.
CRAIG BERUBE: Yeah, I agree. With the schedule and travel and all that, you need two good goalies. You got to use both of them. I’m not going to give you a number, but that’s, obviously, defending upon the goalie, the feel and everything that goes on, but all I know is you need two guys.
Q. Doug, obviously O’Reilly has produced here, and he produced in Colorado and in Buffalo. But so much was made about what he said at the end of the season in Buffalo. How much did that give you some degree of pause in making the deal and then even before he played a game, how much did you have to just make sure he was mentally where you needed him to be for him to succeed?
DOUG ARMSTRONG: That honestly gave me zero pause. When you’re part of an organization that’s not having success, you probably — he was speaking from the heart. He was frustrated. He wanted more from himself. And so I’ve had an opportunity to work with him internationally, I know what the man’s made of. Also you go back into your experiences at the combine, we would say to players, who is the hardest guy to play against, and his name kept always popping up. We should have drafted him.
But so I, that didn’t play at all into, that was a zero concern for me.
Q. Did you talk to him after you made the deal just to make sure he was in the right frame of mind?
DOUG ARMSTRONG: When I talked to him on the phone I could tell he was in the right frame of mind, I didn’t have to bring it up.